Wow, what a race. The fifth and final stage of the inaugural Friends Life Women’s Tour delivered on every promise, with beautiful scenery, epic battles and a nail biting finish.
There was a lot of expectation about how big it would be, and it was.
Marianne Vos, Rabo Liv
Stage 5 – Harwich to Bury St Edmunds
A blustery and cold start to the day in the coastal town of Harwich, with the odd raindrop threatened a wet race. Despite this, riders seemed in largely in good spirits as they signed on for the final stage of the Friends Life Women’s Tour.
Sharon Laws, who has consistently worn the Strava Queen Of The Mountain jersey since Stage 1, arrived to find her bike had received extra decoration from her team in the form of orange polka dots all over the frame. Apparently it was quite a surprise: “I went to get on it this morning at the start, and I saw it. I think it was our swannys. I was very nervous then, because I thought if I don’t win it will be very embarrassing!” says Laws.
80 riders signed on for the last day of racing, with Lizzie Armitstead sadly not in their number. The Boels Dolmans rider retired from the race due to illness.
High winds meant the peloton was slower off the 0km mark than yesterday, but still reached speeds of 30km per hour and over in the first part of the race. Repeated short-lived attacks were swiftly brought under control by the peloton.
The peloton were still together when they reached the first Yodel Direct Sprint Section at Mistley, 13.7km into the race. Marianne Vos of Rabo Liv took the win, with Emma Johansson of Orica AIS and Lauren Hall of Optum P/B Kelly Benefit Strategies.
Hayley Jones of Team GB retired from the race, also reportedly due to illness, as the peloton approached Holton St Mary.
With the peloton stretched out into one long line, Emma Pooley of Lotto Belisol and Lauren Hall of Optum P/B Kelly Benefit Strategies managed to gain a small advantage, which they worked together to expand to 40 seconds. Lisa Brennauer (Specialized Lululemon) and Loes Gunnewijk (Orica AIS) split from the peloton and gave chase, bridging the gap and joining Pooley and Hall. The breakaway group maintained their advantage for most of the race from Hadleigh onwards, despite the peloton chasing hard and reducing the advantage to below 30 seconds at one point.
This lead was maintained into the second Yodel Direct Sprint Section, with Brennauer first past the post, followed by Gunnewijk and Hall.
The first Strava Queen of the Mountain section came in quick succession and Emma Pooley in the breakaway group, was first up the hill. Gunnewijk placed second and Hall in third. Brennauer, Laws and Neff took the fourth, fifth and sixth spots, with Laws looking safe in her polkadot jersey for the win.
Calamity struck Pooley in the run up to the second Queen of the Mountain as she suffered a puncture, though quickly repaired, it meant she dropped out of the breakaway and back into the main peloton. She was later awarded the stage 5 combativity award for her hard work and fighting spirit.
This left Gunnewijk, Hall and Breannauer to take the top three spots for the second and final Strava Queen of the Mountain of the Friends Life Women’s Tour. Neff took fourth, Laws fifth and Roxanne Knetemann of Rabo Liv the sixth spot.
This position confirmed Laws as the overall Strava Queen of the Mountain for the Friends Life Women’s Tour. “I was having a very bad day yesterday after the crash at the beginning. I was really tired and shaken and I didn’t think I was going to make it and then I could see the flags. I was like no, I really, really want this! But I did have to come from a really long way,” says Laws.
With 10km to go the peloton, driven hard by Wiggle Honda, caught the breakaway group, meaning that once again it was going to be a close finish. A final attack involving eight riders, including Vos, made an attempt to get ahead but were swiftly recaptured. In an incredibly dramatic finish through the crowded streets of Bury St Edmunds, Marianne Vos flew ahead to take the win on the final stage.
With her previous stage wins, the Olympic and World Champion cyclist was also crowed the overall winner of the inaugural Friends Life Women’s Tour. “It’s the best feeling when you are in yellow and your five teammates can control the breakaway,” says Vos.
Giorgia Bronzini of Wiggle Honda again fought hard, and was close behind Vos to take second place. In third was Amy Pieters of the Netherlands national team.
The final awards presentation was an emotional moment. With hundreds of people packed into the centre of Bury St Edmunds, a large screen showing action from the previous stages, and dramatic music pumping out from the speakers, it really felt like something momentous had been achieved.
The riders all commented on the support they had received from the crowds, not just at the start and finish but also along the route. “The support [of the crowds] was the base of my win. I would have given up if the people weren’t there when I was solo, on my breakaway,” exclaimed Rosella Ratto of Estado de Mexico Faren.
Britain was well represented in the victory ceremony, with Lucy Garner of Team GB taking the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research Best British Rider jersey and Sharon Laws of UnitedHealthcare retaining the well deserved polkadot Strava Queen of the Mountains jersey. “Every single day has been incredible, every single village we come to there are hundreds of people supporting us, I get goosebumps every time I see it,” said Garner at the press conference this afternoon.
As the riders took the stage to receive their awards there were cheers and shouts, and confetti flew through the air – a fitting end to a historic event. With response, support and coverage of the scope and scale this event has received, we are sure there will be more Women’s Tours to come.
“To have a finish like this in Bury St Edmunds and then the podium fully crowded, it brings back memories of other big races – World Championships and Olympics. I think this is making a standard; now other organisations will have to match this to keep up with the Women’s Tour so this is already making a difference. I think we’ve had a perfect stage to prove women’s cycling,” says Vos.
The Friends Life Women’s Tour – Overall Winners
Friends Life Yellow Leaders Jersey: Marianne Vos, Rabo Liv (NED)
2nd place: Emma Johansson, Orica AIS (SWE)
3rd place: Rosella Ratto, Estado de Mexico Faren (ITA)
Yodel Direct Points Jersey: Marianne Vos, Rabo Liv (NED)
Strava Queen of the Mountains: Sharon Laws, UnitedHealthcare (GBR) Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Best British Rider: Lucy Garner, Great Britain (GBR)
Matrix Fitness Best Young Rider: Rossella Ratto, Estado de Mexico Faren (ITA) Overall Combativity Award: Susanna Zorzi, Astana BePink Women’s Team (ITA)
Results of Stage 5:
Stage 5 Section Results:
Yodel Direct Sprint 1 winner: Marianne Vos, Rabo Liv (NED)
Yodel Direct Sprint 2 winner: Lisa Brennauer, Specialized Lululemon (GER) Strava QOM 1 winner: Emma Pooley, Lotto Belisol (GBR)
Strava QOM 2 winner: Loes Gunnewijk, Orica AIS (NED)