The race today may have had several stops and starts, but that didn’t mean it also wasn’t the most action packed stage of the Friends Life Women’s Tour to date.
Stage 4 – Cheshunt to Welwyn Garden City
It may have started with rain first thing in the morning, but the sun soon came out and the day looked set to be bright if windy for Stage 4. As the penultimate day of the Friends Life Women’s Tour, there was bound to be action aplenty and the pro-peloton did not disappoint.
Racing started at the later time of 11.30am, and though there may have been a 5.4km neutralised section to start the race, that didn’t stop the peloton pushing a high pace from the moment the flag dropped.
The first incident came early in the form of a crash involving riders from Lointek, UnitedHealthcare and Switzerland. Sharon Laws, wearing the polkadot Strava Queen of the Mountain jersey, came down but was up again quickly.
As the crash took place in the neutral zone, the rest of the peloton were halted to allow the downed riders to take service and re-join the race. The idea is that all riders should pass the 0km mark and the actual start of the race together.
The first half of the race was absolutely action packed, both in the front and the rear of the peloton. The high speed of the peloton – reaching over 51kmph at points - combined with the wind caused chaos at the rear of the group, with numerous riders dropping off the back.
Ciara Horne of Team GB was the first to make a significant break for it, gaining a 75m advantage that she grew to 12 seconds as the race approached the first Strava Queen of the Mountain section at Post Hill. Horne held onto her advantage, and was first up the hill, followed by the current holder of the polkadot jersey Sharon Laws.
Jolanda Neff, the Under23 Cross Country MTB World Champion, has been performing well on the climbs too, and was third up the hill for the QOM stage. Fourth were Valentina Scandolara (Orica AIS), then Elisa Longo Borghini (Estado de Mexico Faren) and Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans).
Penny Rowson of Matrix Fitness – Vulpine was climbing well until an unfortunate mechanical issue saw her drop back. Teammate Helen Wyman maintained her position in the peloton throughout the race, coming in 55th overall.
Emma Pooley (Lotto Belisol Ladies) led a successful breakaway around 28km into the race, and was pursued hard by Gracie Elvin of Orica AIS. Pooley managed to extend her lead to 7 seconds ahead of Elvin, herself 16 seconds ahead of the peloton.
High winds caused the peloton to break into several sections, with at least 29 riders out of the back at one point, and around 36 riders in the main group.
Silvia Valsecchi (Astana BePink) and Denise Ramsden (Optum P/B Kelly Benefit Strategies) made a move to pursue the leaders, with Lisa Brennauer (Specialized Lululemon) joining the attack as the group move into the feed zone.
The gap between the leaders and the main peloton closed through the feed zone, swiftly followed by a second breakaway consisting of Pooley (Lotto Belisol), Pawlowska (Boels Dolmans), Holcomb (Optum P/B Kelly Benefit Strategies), Elvin (Orica AIS), Blaak (Specialized Lululemon) and Van Vleuten (Rabo Liv).
At the 50km mark, the leaders managed to grow their advantage to 50 seconds. Astana lead the peloton and chased lead group hard as the race reached the first Yodel Direct Sprint section. Van Vleuten of Rabo Liv took the lead and the points, followed by Elvin (Orica AIS) and Pawlowska (Boels Dolmans) in third.
News came over the radio of a road traffic accident on the route ahead of the race, with 20km to go. The race was neutralised, meaning that the peloton slowed down and proceeded with care, with no racing permitted, until the commissaire gave the all clear. All thoughts are with those involved in the incident.
The neutralisation meant that the lead group were effectively caught by the main peloton, so when the race restarted with 15km there was everything to push for, plus the second Yodel Direct Sprint section and the second Strava Queen of the Mountain section.
A rapid series of short-lived breakaways ensued, with riders fighting to get clear ahead.
The second Yodel Direct Sprint Section at Codicote saw huge crowds gathered to cheer the pro-peloton on, and this was the pattern of things to come. Vos took the win here, followed by Johansson and Armitstead.
A Strava Queen of the Mountain section just 4km before the finish line was bound to push those who wanted to get in position for the final sprint finish, and gain points. The results here are yet to be confirmed.
Armitstead suffered an unfortunate puncture at this point, which brought her in 10th in the race overall.
Wiggle Honda and Rabo Liv worked well together in the final kilometres, launching Vos and Bronzini towards the finish line. Riding hard through a strong wind down the finishing straight, Bronzini and Vos pushed hard, but Vos had just a little more to give and took the win of Stage 4 of the Friends Life Women’s Tour.
The final stage of what has proven to be an event successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams comes tomorrow. Another coastal start, this time in Harwich, will launch riders on a short 108km stage. It’s the final opportunity for riders to gain points, section wins and possibly a final stage win. Tonight, the pro-peloton rests, and prepares themselves for battle.
‘Tomorrow we must give everything we have. In our legs, in our bodies, everything! It’s the last day.’
Giorgia Bronzini, Wiggle Honda
Friends Life Yellow Leaders Jersey: Marianne Vos, Rabo Liv (NED)
Yodel Direct Sprint Jersey: Emma Johansson, Orica AIS (SWE)
Strava Queen of the Mountain Jersey: Sharon Laws, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling (GBR)
Matrix Fitness Best Young Rider Jersey: Rosella Ratto, Estado de Mexico Farens (ITA)
Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Best British Rider Jersey: Lizzie Armitstead, Boels Dolmans (GBR)
Sprint 1 winner: Annamiek Van Vleuten, Rabo Liv (NED)
Sprint 2 winner: Marianne Vos, Rabo Liv (NED)
QOM 1 winner: Ciara Horne, Great Britain (GBR)
QOM 2 winner: TBC
Results of Stage 4:
Overall standings after Stage 4:
For the full results, visit the results section of The Friends Life Women's Tour website.
Catch up on all the action from Stage 1 to 4 with videos, interviews, race reports and photo galleries galore!