The first multi-day event of the Women’s World Tour of 2016, the Tour of Chongming Island, has always been known as a race for the sprinters.
In the past, it's been formatted as a two day stage race, with a one day World Cup, but this year the GC competition spanned from 6 to 8 May.
All stages shared the same start and finish at the end of Xincheng Park in China. The first stage covered 140km, the second 113km, and the third was 99km.
Kirsten Wild (Hitec Products) won in both 2015 and 2014 – marking this race out as a sprinter's delight, but this year she wasn’t back to defend her title.
The women’s World Tour top three – Lizzie Armitstead, Chantal Blaak and Megan Guarnier (all Boels-Dolmans) – were also not present, meaning we were unlikely to see much change in the sharp end of the competition as they all sat with a strong lead ahead of the sprinters likely to shine.
Wiggle High5 entered the event with strong hopes of success for their sprinter – Chloe Hosking, and they were right to be hopeful – here’s the race as it unfolded…
Stage 1 - Friday 6 May - An unexpected winner takes the stage
Stage one of the race – covering a touch under 140km – was expected to end in a sprint finish, and it did.
The key teams carrying sprinters – Wiggle High5 and Team Liv-Plantur in particular – fought to keep the bunch together.
With 40km to go, two riders did manage to force a break: Anna Trevisi (Alé Cipollini) and Olga Zabelinskaya (BePink), however they were pulled back by the finish.
The final kilometres were tricky to navigate – with road furniture making it hard for an organised sprint train to form. In the end, it was 25-year-old Chinese Tapei rider Ting Ying Huang who flung her arms in the air at the finish line.
Huang wasn't a rider most had on their list of those to watch, but having taken 8th place in the 2015 General Classification of the same race, her success wasn’t completely unexpected and she proved to be instrumental as the race went on.
In second, was Liv-Plantur’s Leah Kirchmann, and third was Chloe Hosking of Wiggle High5. She said following the race: “Lucy [Garner, Wiggle High5 team mate] and I were hanging out and talking about what we wanted to do in the sprint. My legs weren't great so I had said I'd lead her out for the sprint but in typical China style the finish was chaotic and there were so many crashes and near misses. Lucy lost my wheel and I was already in position so I just had to make the best out of the situation which today was third. Of course I wish it was the top step but given how my legs were feeling I'm not totally disappointed."
The polka dot mountain jersey was claimed by Emilia Fahlin (Alé Cipollini) whilst Lucy Garner (Wiggle High5) took the white U23 jersey.
Here's a highlights video from the UCI to give you an idea what the race was like..
Stage 2 - Saturday 7 May - Hosking takes the top spot
Stage two saw the peloton break up a little more in the early kilometres – with a group of around 40 riders gaining an advantage. Major teams such as Wiggle High5, Clyance Pro Cycling, Alé Cipollini and Team Liv-Plantur were all represented in the lead, as were all the key jersey wearers from stage one.
The state of play remained largely the same through the bulk of the race. However, with around 25km to go, the attacks began.
Since the finishing stretch is known to be chaotic and strewn with road furniture, most teams wanted to thin the bunch. They found no success, though, each and every move was brought back to the bunch promptly.
Sprint teams began to set up their trains to protect their star rider – but it was Chloe Hosking (Wiggle High5) who opened up an early sprint to take the win and the overall lead.
In second was Leah Kirchmann (Liv-Plantur), and third was Jip van den Bos of Parkhotel Valkenburg, who also claimed the under 23 jersey.
The win meant a shake up of the GC, with Hosking in first, Kirchmann second, and Huang in third.
Hosking said after the race: “It sounds stupid but as soon as the race started I just had a good feeling in my legs so I went for both intermediate sprints and picked up 5 of the maximum 6 bonus seconds on offer. That was a big confidence boost."
She added: “Mum is here watching so it’s fantastic to win with her here. I mean, Australia’s just a short 13-hour flight away, so how could she miss it?"
The race did see a crash for Wiggle High5 Mayuko Hagiwara – who had been providing excellent support for the team thus far. Hosking reported she had hit her head, but that the team would just have to hope she would recover quickly.
Emilia Fahlin of Alé Cipollini retained her grasp on the QOM climbers jersey.
Check out the UCI's higlights video..
Stage 3 - Sunday 8 May- Chaotic finish line doesn't stop Hosking taking the overall
The third day of Chongming Island racing brought very different weather. Heavy rain meant the roads were slick as the riders embarked upon a nine lap course totaling to 99km.
The race stayed largely together, with Hosking claiming bonus seconds through the first and second intermediate sprints that eventually meant her only GC threat was Leah Kirchmann of Liv Plantur.
Hosking was eleven seconds ahead of every rider, except Kirchmann – and the bonus for first place would only give the eventual winner ten seconds.
As the rain continued to thunder down, when the riders approached the finish line, it was Stage One winner Ting Yung Huang of the Chinease Tapei team who clinched the first place.
In second was Roxanne Fournier of Poitou-Charentes.Futuroscope.86, and third was Parkhotel Valkenburg’s Ilona Hoeksma.
The finish line was a wet and chaotic blur, Chloe Hosking commented afterwards: "The sprint was totally crazy and there were some big crashes so I just kept myself upright when I saw Leah wasn't in the points. I mean, the yellow jersey wouldn't look as good on if I had lost all my skin. Also, my boyfriend is waiting to celebrate with me at home and I don't think the whole no skin look goes with my date night dress."
The Wiggle High5 rider crossed the line in 20th, and Leah Kirchmann was in 10th – meaning neither picked up bonus points, and Hosking maintained her GC lead to the end.
Following the race, Hosking said: “I'm so proud of our team. The girls really rose to the occasion today and rode like they were protecting the yellow jersey. I kind of felt like the proud mother hen sitting at the back of the peloton and just watching them control everything.
“This is obviously a big win for the team and myself personally as it’s a WorldTour race. All the girls here can be proud of themselves and how we performed as a team to bring home the yellow jersey."
She added: “It was also special to win the tour in front of my Mum on Mother's Day. I was so glad to be able to share the moment with her."
Emilia Fahlin of Alé Cipollini kept hold of the spotty jersey, and the U23 white jersey remained on the shoulders of Jip van den Bos of Parkhotel Valkenburg.
We're still waiting on the Stage 3 video, but will add it when it's live and kicking!
The next race in the Women's World Tour is the Amgen Tour of California, from 19 to 22 May - we can't wait!