While stage four of the Aviva Women’s Tour may not have unfolded exactly to plan for Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team, race leader Lizzie Armitstead called the day a success. The world champion retained the race leader’s yellow jersey and extended her advantage over Ashleigh Moolman (Cervélo Bigla) in second and Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) in third. Up from fifth to fourth overall, Marianne Vos (Rabo Liv) won the stage into Stoke-on-Trent, closing her gap on the general classification to 15-seconds due to bonus seconds she picked up on the finish line and in the intermediate sprints.
“I can’t rely on other team’s tactics,” said Armitstead when she fielded questions about a confusing finale that saw the front two groups on the road come together in the final kilometre. “We race as a team, and we race aggressively. That’s always our tactics. From a team perspective, we had a good race, and I had good legs on the climbs. The rest – it is what it is.”
KEY MOMENTS: AVIVA WOMEN’S TOUR – STAGE FOUR
Kilometre 0 – Nottingham played host to the start of stage four of the Aviva Women’s Tour. The women’s peloton rolled out of town for a ten kilometre neutral section ahead of a 119-kilometre stage. The attacks began early with a flurry of activity reported in the opening kilometers
Kilometre 8 – The race reached Draycott, the hometown of Nikki Harris. The cyclocross champion’s friends and family showed up to the race in full force wearing “Team Nikki tees and waving homemade signs.
“It was a bit surreal to be honest,” said Harris. “I never really imagined I’d have a race going through my whole village. A few years ago, women’s cycling wasn’t anywhere where it is now. To be in one of the world’s best teams and have my teammates bring me to the front as we went through my hometown was a really special moment I’ll never forget.”
Kilometre 33 – The first intermediate sprint in Woodville inspired a quickening of an already swift pace as the overall contenders and the sprinters duked it out for points and seconds. Vos won the sprint ahead of Armitstead with Leah Kirchmann (Liv Plantur coming third). The trio took three (Vos) – two (Armistead) – one (Kirchmann) bonus seconds.
The acceleration ahead of the sprint put the peloton under pressure and several teams decided to take advantage of the splits that formed. An eight rider breakaway, included Christine Majerus, went clear shortly after the sprint.
The breakaway was short-lived, and Majerus was soon back in the bunch – and then out the back and on the floor.
The Luxembourg champion was involved in a nasty crash that left her with a bloodied elbow, banged-up hip and knee, and tattered kit. After taking a few moments to collect herself, Majerus was back on the bike and pacing herself up to the bunch. She picked up bottles from the team car before rejoining her teammates. It was an incredible effort to witness.
“There’s nothing to say but that Christine is not from this place,” said DS Danny Stam. “She is so, so tough.”
Kilometre 60 – Emilia Fahlin (Alé Cipollini) slipped away solo. The peloton was slow to react, so 16 seconds stretched out to 43 seconds. By the 70-kilometre mark, Fahlin had nearly two minutes.
Kilometre 84 – Fahlin’s gap was holding around 2:20 when the peloton picked up the pace before the second intermediate sprint at Rocester. The Swede pocketed three seconds in the sprint while Vos beat out Armitstead to second place and two bonus seconds. Armitstead, in third, added one bonus second to her total.
Kilometre 94 – The race blew to bits over the two QOMs that came in quick succession – the first at 94.5 kilometres and the second at 99.7 kilometres. Armitstead, Moolman and Longo Borhini powered out of the peloton up the steep slopes of the second climb. Emma Johansson, Longo Borghini’s teammate, joined the frontrunners over the top of the climb, and a leading quartet was formed.
“There was a bit of cooperation for about five kilometres but then Emma and Elisa started attacking me and Ashleigh,” noted Armitstead. “It was a combination of attacks and little bits of work that kept us going.”
A chase group of of 17 riders formed in the wake of the leaders including four Boels-Domlans riders – Chantal Blaak, Amalie Dideriksen, Nikki Harris and Ellen van Dijk. CANYON//SRAM with Lisa Brennauer, Alena Amialiusik and Tiffany Cromwell led the chase.
Kilometre 109 – Armitstead continued to cover attacks by Johansson and Longo Borghini in the final as the gap to the chasers fluctuated between 12-seconds and 25-seconds.
“I thought it was a bit strange,” said Armistead. “It was in [Wiggle’s] interest to work with me until the finish but they didn’t, so that’s the way it goes. I suppose they didn’t want to take me to the line because they thought I could take the stage, but there was a stage on offer for them and to protect Elisa’s position on the GC.”
Kilometre 115 – The gap to the four leaders was down to 10-seconds. As Armitstead continued to work the move up front, Amalie Dideriksen began to prepare for the possibility of a small group sprint.
“I was trying to stay out of the wind as much as possible,” said Dideriksen. “I think all of us thought it was going to be a flatter run to the finish, but it was much more up and down. It was a bit confusing. I saved myself for the sprint as best I could.”
Kilometre 117 – Fifty metres separated the four leaders from the chasers as Nikki Harris launched an attack. Under the flamme rouge, the race came back together.
“Coming into the final kilometre, there was a couple turns with uphill kickers,” said Armitstead. “Again Emma and Elisa were attacking, so it was about covering them. As the group from behind caught on, I tried to put myself in a good position.”
Kilometre 119 – Vos opened her sprint out of the final corner to win stage four ahead of Kirchmann and Johansson. Dideriksen was best of the rest in fourth place while Armitstead slotted into sixth.
“I was on Nikki's wheel through the last corner,” Dideriksen explained. “I thought it was longer from the corner, so I was placed behind her and then Vos just came left and I got a bit blocked, and it was all too late. I should have opened it right before the corner. I would have liked to have delivered something.”
“I got caught out a little bit in the last corner,” Armitstead added. “I was kind of hanging onto the tire grip at one point. It’s very difficult to go into finishes blind. We have Google Maps but obviously you don’t get a real feel for what the finish is like. It was steeper than we expected.”
Looking ahead – With stage five of the Aviva Women’s Tour projected to end in a bunch kick, bonus seconds will come into play.
“I know I can follow Elisa and Ashleigh no problem,” said Armitstead. “And I’m normally faster than them. The challenges com from further down the GC.”
The injuries Majerus sustained in her heavy fall are still being assessed. An official announcement about her start on stage five will come tomorrow.
“We don’t know yet how Christine is after her bad crash,” said Armitstead. “She’s pretty vital for our chances of stage victories. Hopefully she comes okay tomorrow.”