Stage four of the Aviva Women’s Tour was earmarked by some as the toughest – with around 50km of fairly flat riding before 70km of ups and downs and a double QOM separated only by a technical descent. It was also the day that Marianne Vos would flash her greatest form since returning from injury.
The final kilometres of the race proved to be the most active – with a group of four including two Wiggle High5 riders Elisa Longo Borghini and Emma Johnasson, plus Armitstead and second place GC rider Moolman-Pasio splintering off the front on the second QOM, only to be caught by the chasing group, who were obliterated by Vos’ sprint.
GC leader Armitstead told the press conference she was frustrated with the way the race played out, adding that despite being 15 seconds back she still believes Vos is her greatest threat and that the Wiggle riders had been “attacking the break", which caused them to be caught.
How the race played out
The pace was high as the peloton left Nottingham, with the riders stringing out along the road after assorted attacks. However there were no moves that would stick until later.
Approaching the first CRC sprint in Woodville, Liv Plantur and Boels-Dolmans began setting up active sprint trains to claim the honours, where bonus seconds were on the line. These were crucial with small gaps in the GC.
Despite best efforts from rival teams, points leader Marianne Vos (Rabo Liv) managed to clinch the win, followed by race leader Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) and Leah Kirchmann (Liv Plantur).
Not long after came a decisive move from repeated breakaway rider of the week, Emilia Fahlin of Ale Cipollini. The peloton appeared to show little reaction, leaving her to solo away and continue to gain a widening gap. After 70km, with 48km to go, she was still alone and with a gap of 1 minute 24 seconds and this increased to an impressive two minutes on the approach to the feed station.
However, following the feed station, wide roads enabled the peloton exceeding 100 to up the pace, Fahlin’s advantage sinking solidly from there on. This didn’t stop Fahlin from picking up sprint points for being first over the line in Rocester. From the peloton, Vos was first, with Armitstead hot on her heels.
The gap to Fahlin continued to fall, and it was looking like she’d lose her place out front as the bulk of the climbing drew closer and the first QOM loomed. A crash before the climbs slowed the peloton slightly, though most were up quickly and unharmed, save for Rabo Liv Anna Van der Breggen who was forced to abandon.
The two QOMs of the day – one 1.5 miles long in Ramshorn and one 2 miles long in Oakamoor, came in quick succession and were separated by a steep descent that was marked in the race guide as a hazard to be aware of.
The first QOM climb was led by Christine Majerus, who wore Yellow on day two after a win in Norwich but was now dressed in a ripped jersey with signs of wear following a crash early on in stage four. Armitstead sat firmly on her wheel.
Following a fast descent, the second QOM climb was where the race really came alive. Fahlin was caught, and Lizzie Armitstead, Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5), Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo Bigla) and Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5) formed a group and worked to create a gap between the four and the peloton. After the second QOM Wiggle High5’s Johansson attacked – leaving Armitstead and Moolman-Pasio to chase whilst team mate Longo Borhini stayed with the group.
Behind the four was a large chase group, consisting of some of the strongest riders in the bunch: Alena Amialiusik, Tiffany Cromwell, Lisa Brennauer (Canyon//SRAM), Nikki Harris, Ellen Van Dijk, Chantal Blaak, Amalie Dideriksen (Boels Dolmans), Malgorzata Jasinska (Ale Cipollini), Amy Pieters, Dani King, Georgia Bronzini (Wiggle High5), Floortki Mackaij, Molly Weaver, Leah Kirchmann (Liv Plantur), Gracie Elvin, Amanda Spratt (Orica AIS), and Vos - with a gap of 14 seconds.
Following the second QOM, there was just 16km left of the race – at greatest the group of four had 24 seconds on the chasing bunch, but this sunk to 11 seconds at 6km to go – creating a truly gripping finish. It wasn’t until just under a kilometre to go that they were caught. That meant the race was going to come down to a bunch sprint.
Despite having no team mates in the bunch, it was Vos who raised her hands in the air, with clear space between herself and the pack. Behind her was Kirchmann with Johansson in third.
What they said...
Armitstead said following the race: “It was frustrating at the end. There was a lack of cooperation from Wiggle, Emma and Elisa started attacking me and Ashleigh, I thought it was a bit strange, I would have thought it would be in their interest to work with me until the finish, but they didn’t. Maybe they didn’t want to take me to the line – because they thought I could take the stage, but I think there was a stage on offer for them there and they could have protected Elisa’s place on the GC. I can’t rely on other team’s tactics, it is what it is."
The result means that Armitstead stays in yellow as the race leader, with Moolman-Pasio 8 seconds behind, Longo Borghini 10 seconds back and Vos 15". Despite Vos having a greater gap to bridge, Armitstead told us when asked who she feared the most in terms of taking the yellow jersey: “Definitely Vost. I think tomorrow will end in a sprint. It’s more about the potential of losing it from bonus seconds and seconds on the climb. I know I can follow Elisa [Longo Borghini] and Ashleigh [Moolman-Pasio] no problem and normally I’m faster than them, but it comes from further down the GC… the problems."
Vos was of course happy with the win, speaking about chasing without any team mates in the bunch, she said: “I saw some girls of Canyon//SRAM, some of Liv Plantur, they wanted to go for a sprint and catch the four ahead, I looked around and saw not many team mates so I knew I had to work with them."
Coy about her expectations for the final day – she said: “It’s going to be difficult. I can try to take some seconds, but Lizzie won’t give the yellow jersey away that easy. There’s a lot of teams still empty handed who will want to go for a stage win, it’s going to be a fast and interesting stage."
Katherine Hall [United Healthcare] retains the QOM jersey, Vos the points jersey, Floortje Mackaij the young rider jersey and Fahlin was awarded most competitive.
Check out the images and video below...