Christine Majerus started the second stage of the Aviva Women’s Tour in the yellow race leader’s jersey. Despite her best efforts and the full backing of a smart and calculated Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team, Majerus slipped to second by stage end.
“It was a good day in yellow,” said Majerus. “It wasn’t a perfect day, but it could have been a lot worse. We handled the race well as a group.”
The Luxembourg champion toed the line in Atherstone for the start of the Aviva Women’s Tour’s longest stage with a one second advantage over Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv). Majerus knew bonus seconds would be crucial to keeping the yellow jersey, so she sprinted at both intermediate sprints – picking up two seconds at both the first and second sprint. Vos also picked up four seconds en route to the stage finish in Stratford-upon-Avon. Majerus hadn’t gained anything out on the road, but she hadn’t given up anything either.
“I did my job at the intermediate sprints,” said Majerus. “The first sprint was better than the second, but they were both good. The girls helped me, especially on the first one.”
After 140 kilometres of wet, wild and hilly racing, it would all come down to the final sprint. Amy Pieters (Wiggle High5) took the win ahead of 2015 Aviva Women’s Tour winner Lisa Brennauer (CANYON//SRAM). Vos rounded out the podium, scooping up four bonus seconds for her effort, while Majerus managed fifth place.
“The group was down to only 25 riders or so in the end with five of us,” said Majerus. “We tried to play a bit in the end with Nikki [Harris] and Amalie [Dideriksen] attacking. I was supposed to save it for the sprint.”
“It was a bit dangerous,” Majerus added. “I had to brake at 300 metres and that made my gap. All I could do was fifth.”
HOW IT UNFOLDED
A calm start belied the chaos that would follow as the peloton hit the unrelenting undulating roads that featured in the second half of the race. The field set off under cloudy skies, and within the first hour of the three-and-a-half hour race, rain had begun to fall.
Mia Radotic (BTC Ljubljana) was the first reported attack. Her gap was small and her advantage short-lived. The peloton overtook Radotic before the first intermediate sprint, which Lotto Lepisto (Cervelo-Bigla) won ahead of Majerus and Vos.
Emilia Fahlin (Alé Cipollini) was the next rider to make her move. She was joined by Esra Trump (Parkhotel Valkenburg). The peloton overtook the leaders on the narrow, technical and wet roads through the town of Warick.
Fahlin attacked again, this time with Laurel Rathburn (UnitedHealthcare) and Sheyla Gutierrez (Cylance) for company, but neither Rathburn nor Gutierrez could match Fahlin’s pace. The Swede fended off the peloton until she hit the feed zone just beyond the 70 kilometre mark.
The peloton began to climb toward the first QOM at 74-kilometres. The rising road marked the start of the hillier second half of the race. The peloton split over the first QOM, regrouped following a technical descent and split again over an uncategorised kicker that followed. The series of hills permanently split the peloton and set the scene for the damage still to come.
“There was no real danger or breakaway of interest in the first half,” said Majerus. “It was pretty calm until then.< From then on, it was climbing, downhill, climbing, downhill. You always had to be in the front.”
Amalie Dideriksen attacked before the second QOM and Malgorzata Jasinska (Alé Cipollini) jumped to cover the move.
“It was a great attack by Amalie,” said Majerus. “We could sit back while Rabobank worked hard to bring it back. It was the first move to really worry people, and from then the race was on.”
Dideriksen and Jasinska hit the second QOM with a 53-second advantage over a chasing peloton. The fast pace set by Rabo-Liv in pursuit of the two leaders shattered the bunch over the QOM. Over the QOM, the remnants of the peloton – approximately 25 riders – overtook the leading duo.
“The end of the race was quite hard and really hilly,” said Majerus. “The climbs were steep and long, and the weather made everything worse. If it keeps going like this, it’s going to be a hard week.”
Race radio reported constant attacks in the final 10 kilometres, and Boels-Dolmans got in on the action with two kilometres still to race. Harris attacked, and when she was caught just beyond the flamme rouge, Dideriksen countered. The Danish champion’s move was shut down before the line, setting the stage for the bunch sprint that followed.
Lizzie Armitstead, who finished in 18th place on stage two and sits in eighth overall, maintains her spot atop the Adnams Best British Rider classification. She’ll start stage three in the distinctive blue jersey.
“We have said as a team that we’re going to see day by day if we can win stages,” said Majerus. “I don’t know if we’ll race for the overall. Obviously if I keep doing good stages and having good days, it will come automatically that I can keep my position or go one higher. The priority is to have every day someone going for the win. If that means I lose places on the GC and others gain places, that’s fine for me.”