The final stage of the Women’s Tour was always going to be quite a display but in the 113km from Northampton to Kettering, the women’s peloton re-wrote the rule book as a group of seven managed to hold off the chasing bunch right to the line where hordes of eager fans awaited their arrival.
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Lotta Lepistö for Cervelo Bigla won stage five of the Aviva Women’s Tour, with Ale Cipollini’s Marta Bastianelli in second and Elena Cecchini of Canyon//SRAM third. They’d been away from the bunch for most of the race, with the peloton only really working to pull them back from the half way point when the gap had reached almost five minutes.
Though not completely demolished, the gap was greatly reduced by the time the riders reached the finished line, meaning Lizzie Armitstead held on to the General Classification jersey, becoming the first British winner of the Aviva Women’s Tour.
The success thrilled deafening crowds in Kettering, demonstrating just a tiny portion of the immense support that the women's peloton has experienced as they raced across the country this year.
How the race unfolded…
The route through Northamptonshire was fairly lumpy throughout, but flatter than the previous days – most of the peloton entered the race expecting a mass sprint to finish the 5 days of riding.
Leaving Northampton, the bunch was fairly calm, but we’d already heard that small gaps in the GC meant that riders were targeting time bonus’ at intermediate sprint – the first of which coming up at just 8.5km in Bugbrooke.
Before reaching the sprint, Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) and Chantaal Blaak (Boels Dolmans) made a move, but didn’t get enough distance, meaning it was Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) who took the honours ahead of Blaak and Wiggle High5’s Jolien D’Hoore. Armitstead told us later the plan had been for her to take the first sprint, to protect her GC lead - saying: “I think Chantal had to put the brakes on for me to take that!"
Soon after, a selection of riders splintered from the front of the race, eventually forming one group made up of Cecchini, Bastianelli, Lepisto, Molly Weaver (Liv Plantur), Eugenia Bujak (BTC City Ljubljana), Loren Rowney (Orica-AIS), Lauren Kitchen (Hitec Products) and Jenneke Ensing (Parkhotel).
The group were together approaching the first QOM, a 1.5km ascent 29km in at Newnham Hill. The climb put Rowney into difficulty, making the group 7 as they upped their lead to 1 minute 12. Bujak was first up the climb, followed by Ensing and Ceccini.
Almost 50km in at the feed station, the riders had a gap of 3 minutes 30, eventually reaching 4 minutes 55 at its greatest. The second QOM in Naesby was 1km long, and despite the falling gap was still one for the leaders to take – it was Bujak who got it, with Cecchini second and Ensing third.
With the GC leaders so close to each other and the gaps created by the previous four days of racing still slim, reports throughout the race made Weaver the virtual leader – meaning should the gap hold she could indeed claim yellow. Of course, Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans), Ashleigh Moolman- Pasio (Cervelo-Bigla), Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) and Marianne Vos (Rabo Liv), with their top four places in the GC wouldn’t want that to happen – and teams began to up the pace to launch the chase.
Boels-Dolmans came to the head of the peloton and began working hard to claw them back. Rabo Liv, despite having just 3 riders left in the peloton after crashes yesterday, joined in and with 30km to go the gap was halved to two minutes.
Coming into the final miles, the leaders were still away at the second CRC Sprint in Desborough. However, the gap was only 1 minute 15. With 15km to go, that gap had only sunk by a few seconds, to 1"08, but it wasn’t reducing quite as quickly as the chasing peloton might have hoped.
With 2km to go, the leaders still had 32 seconds, and though the gap was falling, it didn’t fall far enough. Eventually, it was Lepistö who surged over the line, followed by the rest of the break before the bunch followed, very soon after.
The closeness between the break and the bunch meant that Lizzie Armitstead retained her GC lead, Katherine Hall (United Healthcare) kept the Strava QOM jersey and Marianne Vos retained the CRC Points jerseys. Needless to say, Armitstead kept the Best British rider and Floortje Mackaij (Liv Plantur) the Best Young Rider. Wiggle High5, with their accumulated points, won Best Team.
Last words from Lizzie...
Speaking about her great form in the last couple of years, Armitstead said after the race: “Any bike rider knows it’s just about consistency in training and a bit of luck - and I’ve had both in the last couple of years. I wanted to see how my climbing legs were [ahead of the climbs at the Rio Olympics] and I’ve seen that they’re good [at this race]."
Every rider we’ve spoken to at the Women’s Tour has thanked both the organisers for making the race tougher this year, and the British crowds for being so enthusiastic. Armitstead is no different, and commented: “It’s really important that people tuning in to the race on TV are watching fast and aggressive racing, it’s been a very open race, and there’s been a close GC – but a very open GC. I’m very grateful to the organisers for listening to our advice [and making the route harder]."
She added: “As a British athlete, so many of my team mates comment that the crowds are so enthusiastic. I feel very lucky that cycling is so popular here."
It's been an incredible week - see all our coverage here, and check out the gallery below.