Wiggle High5 have had a pretty stonking Women’s Tour so far. Day one kicked off with a podium position for Italian Giorgia Bronzini, and yesterday they grabbed the stage win in Stratford-upon-Avon with both hands.
Now the race moves into the Peak District – and the riders are expecting a stage that could be influential in the overall result by the end of the week.
Speaking about her success yesterday, Amy Pieters told us: “I didn’t expect that much from the race [yesterday], we have a super strong team. Georgia [Bronzini] was there too, and she felt good, so we had two chances in the sprint. I started sprinting quite early, and I knew she was behind me, so I knew we had a second chance if it wasn’t working. But in the end I got it and we had a team win."
This is the first year Pieters has ridden with the well-established team, and the squad took a little while to form the kind of camaraderie it takes to be at the top of the game at World Tour events. The Dutch rider told me: “At first everyone was new – you’re used to riding against each other and suddenly we have to ride with each other – but we’re getting so close with each other now. We’re all in such good shape and I think it helps a lot that we’re feeling good, we all believe in each other, we have a lot of fun off the bike, and I think that’s really important."
Today’s Peak District stage is the hilliest of the week, and Pieters told me: “I hope I can be there for the team, at the end we’ll have to see who is there and what we can do. I think today is most important for GC, so we can have a look and see how we are and how other teams are at the end of the stage. It is a very important day and I hope we can play the game – of course we want a good GC result for the team."
For a team with British based sponsors, the Women’s Tour is big news – it gets the most coverage in the home country of the squad’s supporters. Team manager Rochelle Gilmore explained: “For the riders – they want to win this because it’s big and it’s important, it’s a World Tour race. For me it’s important because one win gives so much return on investment for British based sponsors."
She added: “It’s important that in my role I don’t put pressure on the athletes. It really is the most important race in the year for our partners and our sponsors, but they need to win bike races for themselves, because when you feel that it’s for another motive, it can be counter-productive, so I just need to support the riders to be the best that they possibly can be."
The importance of the race means that the riders are here with their very best game – Gilmore explained: “It’s pretty unique that you come to a race that’s super important that everyone arrives in really good form, healthy, fit, and with no injuries. I think that’s the strength that we’re showing at this Women’s Tour. We have sacrificed another few races before this one, to make sure that the riders weren’t over raced, or they could have their preparation at home – specifically at altitude. Rather than having riders travelling for Philadelphia [for the Philly Classic] we went without our strongest team, to ensure that we could be strong here."
So far the team have shown excellent strength – but they’re going to have to continue to do so – Gilmore said: “To have the stage win now takes a lot of pressure off. Now we can concentrate on the GC. That’s probably a harder target for us – we have a team of winners and fast finishers. To win the GC would be a dream come true for a British team at The Women’s Tour. Normally, the home team doesn’t win because everyone else knows that they want it so much, that they have to take on the majority of the work. It means so much more to us than everyone else, that we are expected to do more work. It will be hard to win GC for those reasons."
The Women’s Tour has become a huge favourite among the peloton, because it brings such huge and enthusiastic crowds. Describing the scenes at the side of the road, Gilmore said: “The first year was so big in comparison to other races, I can just remember watching the crowds as we drove by, thinking ‘how is that possible? Have they paid all these people to come out?’ When I look at all the crowds this year, I still say to our director in the car ‘how do they manage to have so many people?’. They say cycling in England has really come on in the last 5 years, there’s a lot of people really getting behind it and interested – but still – I can’t really comprehend how so many people come out on the road to watch. People just love watching cycling here, and that’s very inspirational."
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