The long anticipated Friends Life Women’s Tour kicked off today in Oundle, and if the reception that the pro-peloton received is anything to go by, it marks an evolutionary leap in the development of women’s cycling.
Organisers SweetSpot have planned for this to be a regular feature of the racing calendar, with the ambitionof making it the world's premier women’s road race in just three years. Given the reception in Oundle, that may be closer than they thought.
"I think it’s already there. It doesn’t need three years. I mean the crowds were amazing, all the school kids were there. I didn’t recognise Northampton and I live five miles away, so it was great."
Hannah Barnes, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling
The pretty town of Oundle must surely win the town spirit award today. With three days of celebrations already underway, and every window along the main street incorporating bikes into their displays, it was no surprise to see crowds lining the streets in anticipation.
Crowds roamed the pit area, talking to riders and taking photos. Up on the stage near the start line, each team that came up to sign on received rapturous applause. It’s clearly a new and welcome phenomenon, as several riders commented that they had never seen such a big turnout at the start of a women’s road race before. The atmosphere was electric.
Lead out by local schools children and Breeze champions, at 11.00am sharp Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson dropped the flag and the inaugural Friends Life Women’s Tour began.
Stage 1 – Oundle to Northampton
Undulating terrain and winding country roads were the order of the day, and look set to be the general pattern for the week ahead.
The peloton stayed close together for the majority of the first part of the race, bar a few short-lived breakaways, and small crashes that saw riders drop from the back but rapidly re-join the peloton.
The weather threatened rain but in the event this was limited to a short shower around the midpoint, and the sun returned shortly thereafter, limiting any effects the rain might have had on road conditions.
The first sprint section at Rushton came just over 30km into the stage. Ellen Van Dijk of Boels Dolmans sprinted ahead to take the win in this section.
Italian Rosella Ratto of Estado de Mexico Faren made an early break and maintained an 18 second lead going into the first Queen of the Mountain section at Harrington, to take the win.
Just over 13km later,the second Strava Queen of the Mountain section win was taken by Marianne Vos of Rabo Liv. From the press car it looked like most of the population of Spratton had turned out to line the straight road up the hill through the town.
The route for stage one swung into the grounds of the stately Althrop Hall at around the 60km mark. A narrow entrance, speed bumps, cattle grids and warnings of free-range sheep were concerns. A crash split the peloton in two but without too much distance between them. An attempted breakaway group were swiftly caught.
Elise Delzenne of Specialized Lululemon made a break at around the 62km mark and maintained her distance, growing it to a significant 45 seconds and winning the second sprint section at East Hunsbury.
The Rabo Liv and Boels Dolmans teams chased hard, and reduced the lead to 5 seconds before Delzenne managed to extend it again coming into the final 5km. Delzenne was finally caught with 1km to go.
The final 5km were action packed, as riders made their moves. Lizzie Armitstead made her move with 450m to go with Emma Johansson at her wheel. Marianne Vos sprinted on to take the lead, but was pipped to the post at the last minute by a final burst of speed from Johansson in what was an incredibly close finish.
Johansson took the Stage 1 win, the overall race lead and enters the history books as the first women to wear the Friends Life Women’s Tour Yellow Jersey.
"Really nice to see so many good riders out there, to win a bike race these days is not easy, you need to fight really hard all the way into the finish. Teams are riding very tactically which makes it really interesting."
Emma Johansson, Orica AIS
Armitstead later stated that she felt she had made her move too soon, but with another 4 days of racing, we’re sure there’s more to come from Lizzie.
“I started far too early. Emma Johansson was in my wheel and I gave her the perfect lead out. I am confident after the sprint, I am in good sprinting shape just not clever enough!"
Lizzie Armitstead, Boels Dolmans
Hannah Barnes took the third spot, and with it the Best Young Rider and Best of British jersey.
"I was coming into the day a bit nervous about how I was going to go as I haven’t raced these girls for quite a while so to come away with best British rider makes me pretty happy."
Hannah Barnes, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling
Fellow UnitedHealthcare teammate and compatriot Sharon Laws won the Strava Queen of the Mountain (QOM) Jersey through points accumulation over both QOM sections. Sharon Laws had stiff competition from Marianne Vos on the second climb. “When you are trying to sprint against Marianne Vos, it is quite a challenge," laughs Laws.
“It was fantastic, I didn’t think we would see women’s cycling like this in Britain, it’s been amazing, all of the people there on the road supporting us. It is bigger than any race that I have been at including the Giro in Italy and to have all of the support of the children out supporting and waving, it was such an incredible experience!"
Sharon Laws, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling
Yellow Leaders Jersey: Emma Johansson, Orica AIS (SWE)
Yodel Direct Points Jersey: Emma Johansson, Orica AIS (SWE)
Strava Queen of the Mountain Jersey: Sharon Laws, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling (GBR)
Best Young Rider Jersey: Hannah Barnes, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling (GBR)
Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Best British Rider Jersey: Hannah Barnes, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling (GBR)
Sprint 1 winner: Ellen Van Dijk, Boels Dolmans (NED)
Sprint 2 winner: Elise Delzenne, Specialized Lululemon (FRA)
QOM 1 winner: Rossella Ratto, Estado de Mexico Faren, (ITA)
QOM 2 winner: Marianne Vos, Rabo Liv (NED)
Stage 1 results:
Overall standings at the end of Stage 1:
For the full results, visit The Friends Life Women’s Tour results page.
Don’t forget to tune into ITV4 at 9.00pm tonight to catch all the action from what was an exciting first day of racing!