Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team put on a master-class in team tactics for the Women’s Tour de Yorkshire peloton on Saturday. Otely-born Lizzie Deignan emerged victorious in Harrogate off the back of endless attacks from her teammates and a perfectly-timed late race move of her own. To the delight of her home crowds, Deignan soloed to victory nearly a minute ahead of a chase group of nine.
"As always my result is a reflection of the work of my teammates,'" said Deignan. "Without their selflessness and total commitment to the plan, which we executed perfectly, I couldn't have done it."
Deignan’s win is the ninth of the season for a Boels-Dolmans squad that has recently rediscovered its footing. The 28-year-old said she and her teammates carried heightened confidence coming into the one-day event off following their Ardennes week success.
Deignan’s performance at Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège proved that her top form was returning following an early season hampered by illness. Her win in Harrogate is her first, save team time trial wins, since she parlayed a stage win into overall victory at the Aviva Women’s Tour last June.
“It was really special for me to finish here and feel so much support,” said Deignan. “It’s been awhile since I’ve had a victory. It’s been a tough year. To crown it like this, to move on and to move on with local support was very special.”
During the opening hour of the 122-kilometre race, Chantal Blaak and Amy Pieters launched countless attacks. The pair played off one another, countering each other’s attempts to get up the road. If there were any lingering questions about Deignan’s intentions in Yorkshire, her teammate’s early aggression provided a clear answer.
Eventually a move by Pieters gained some traction. The Dutchwoman was part of a ten-rider escape that formed on the run-in to Côte de Lofthouse. The only categorised climb on the route topped out at kilometre 60. Averaging 11 percent over 1.7-kilometres, the QOM served as a launching pad for the next phase of Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team’s plan.
“The plan was to get someone in the breakaway – we had Amy Pieters there – and for me and Anna to bridge on the main climb,” explained Deignan.
Pieters led the breakaway up Lofthouse as Deignan and Van der Breggen lifted the pace in the peloton. By the time the race reached the QOM point, only eight riders remained out front. With Deignan, Pieters and Van der Breggen amongst the leaders, Boels-Dolmans had a numerical advantage.
Pieters drove the pace in the leading eight until Deignan saw an opportunity to attack on one of the many rises across the course. Deignan’s acceleration saw all but Van der Breggen and Dani King (Cylance) fall away. There were 46 kilometres still to race, and the leading trio had nearly two minutes on an elite chase group.
Van der Breggen assumed the most responsibility from the three out front although both Deignan and King took turns. Deignan lifted the pace on every rise, testing her compatriot. King repeatedly proved capable of responding.
Shortly after the second intermediate sprint in Ripton, Deignan again lifted the pace on a small ascent. King could follow Deignan’s wheel. Van der Breggen, initially, could not.
Over the uncategorised climb, Deignan sat up, waiting for Van der Breggen. The slight reduction in speed played into the hands of the chasers. With the gap below the minute mark, Deignan decided a long-range attack was her best option.
“I went on instinct,” she explained. “I saw a moment where it was good to go and didn’t look back
"I’m not used to going solo, particularly from such a long breakaway,” Deignan added. "It was really difficult.”
Deignan settled into time trial mode as the chase group struggled to organise and eventually fractured. By the time Deignan reached the outskirts of Harrogate, her victory was all but assured. She had time to savor the roar of the home crowds, smiling on the rise to the finish line.
“I didn’t dare believe it until that ‘1km to go’ banner,” Deignan said. “It was a bit of a climb up to that, and I thought I’m just getting slower and slower and they’re getting faster and faster.
“It’s special and surreal,” she added. “I still can’t get my head around how many people came out to support us.”