Words by Maria David
Now in its ninth year, the Matrix Fitness Tour Series has grown in prestige, with the top UK cycling teams contesting eight town centre criterium races over three weeks. The aim is to be the top-ranked team in the series as well as to win the individual competition. The most prominent teams in the series, Storey Sport, Team WNT, Team Breeze, and Drops all included national, world, and Olympic champion riders, meaning that this was a fiercely contested series, and shows how much women’s road racing in the UK has grown in strength and depth.
The 2017 rounds took place in the following order:
Round 1: Redditch
Round 2: Stoke on Trent
Round 3: Northwich
Round 4: Wembley
Round 5: Croydon
Round 6: Bath
Round 7: Motherwell
Round 8: Stevenage
In a reversal of fortunes from 2016 when Drops narrowly missed out on winning the overall series, the team did the double over the bank holiday weekend when they clinched the overall team victory, and their rider, Rebecca Durrell won the individual competition.
"We said at the start of this year's Matrix Series that we were determined to win and that's exactly what we've done" - Tom Varney, Team Manager
Team manager Tom Varney expressed his delight at the result. Speaking at the final round last Monday in Stevenage, he said, “I'm just so chuffed with our result tonight. We said at the start of this year's Matrix Series that we were determined to win and that's exactly what we've done. Becky really deserved her win tonight, she's worked so hard over the winter."
From the opening round in Redditch, the team made its mark by taking a clean sweep thanks to a victory by Alice Barnes who also took the Brother fastest lap, and the Eisberg sprint jersey. From then on, the team’s riders, in particular, Annasley Park, Lucy Shaw, Annie Simpson and Rebecca Durrell featured prominently in the races.
But it was not one-way traffic for Drops, now in its second year of existence. The different rounds saw various winners: Katie Archibald (Team WNT) at Stoke on Trent; Emily Nelson (Team Breeze) at Northwich; Jess Roberts (Liv Epic Coaching) at a new venue under the arch at Wembley; Elizabeth Jane (Ejay) Harris and Neah Evans doing the Storey Racing one-two in torrential rain at Croydon; Eileen Roe (Team WNT) on the twisty, technical circuit at Bath; and another one-two in Motherwell care of the dynamic duo of Roe and Archibald. All of this proved strong resistance to the Drops challenge over the first six stages.
Team WNT, with its strengthened squad that includes Olympic Team Pursuit Champion Katie Archibald, British Criterium Champion Eileen Roe, and Irish Road Race Champion Lydia Boylan has made an impression in the series, not just with victories but with Archibald winning the fastest lap competition at Stoke on Trent, and Roe becoming the most decorated racer in the eight-year history of the Tour Series, with six victories.
Speaking after the race in Bath, Roe was delighted with the form of her team. She said, “It was a good race for Team WNT so I couldn’t be happier. I love the crowds, and racing with the British Champion’s jersey, you just can’t beat it."
For Archibald, who went to the Tour Series immediately following a stage race in the Basque country, she likes the speed of the racing at the Tour Series, which helps her track cycling. Speaking to Total Women’s Cycling she said, “There has been a substantial jump since when I raced in the Tour Series two seasons ago. The top level hasn’t changed, but it’s the depth among the teams that has made the racing so much harder. Crit racing suits a rider with track training in them because of the speed and on-off nature of the race's attacks and the terrain. It has fitted well with me this summer season."
Team Breeze, a British Cycling team which nurtures young riders, was heavily involved in the three-way battle for the top spot too, with Ellie Dickinson challenging for the Eisberg sprint jersey, and Manon Lloyd finishing in third place in the final individual standings.
Another team to make its mark was the eponymous squad led by Barney and Dame Sarah Storey, who, with Ejay Harris and Neah Evans secured respectively first and second at the round in Croydon, with the former going on to win the Eisberg sprint competition in the series. Harris, who is also a doctor in the army, has had a phenomenal rise in her racing career. Speaking at the Stevenage finale she said, “I am over the moon to come away with the sprint jersey. Coming into this race I knew it wasn’t guaranteed and I’d still have to fight for it. My victory in Croydon was a bit surreal too, as I was not expecting it. This has been a team effort and I had a lot of help from my team mates to get me where I am."
For Drops, it had been touch and go between themselves, Team WNT and Team Breeze, but after solid performances at round six in Bath, the team began to flex its muscles and steam ahead, so much so that coming into the closing rounds at Motherwell and Stevenage, it looked unlikely that their lead would be overturned.
All that was left for the Drops riders was to race intelligently at Stevenage without taking any risks. That strategy worked, leading to Rebecca Durrell bagging her first victory at a Tour Series round, as well as becoming the overall individual winner, thus bringing glory to her Drops team in the final team standings.
In an emotional evening for the team, they laid to rest the ghost of 2016 in which victory had been snatched away from them by Podium Ambition in the last round.
This was a pretty special achievement for Rebecca Durrell, who had been determined to do what she could to help the team to victory. Durrell said, “After our bad luck in the final round last year I wanted to return this year and help the team to win the overall team classification.
“At Stevenage, we wanted to go out with a bang and bag the stage win. It's the most nervous I'd felt for the whole series, but it seems the extra pressure worked well for us. It's been a real team effort, which has been great to be a part of. To win the individual overall too was a bonus!"
Team WNT finished second in the overall team standings, while Team Breeze completed the podium.
In the individual standings, Durrell’s team-mate Annasley Park finished second, while Team Breeze’s Manon Lloyd came third.
The winning teams will now just have time to get their breath back before they embark on the Ovo Energy Women’s Tour in the coming week.