Christine Majerus won a hectic and technical sprint in Norwich to claim the opening stage of the 2016 Aviva Women’s Tour and pull on the race leader’s yellow jersey. The Luxembourg champion made her move in the final 150 metres of the race to beat out Marianne Vos (Rabo Liv) and Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle High5) to the top step of the podium. Majerus will start stage two with a one second lead over Vos in the general classification.
“I didn’t come to the race with personal ambitions,” said Majerus. “But we had a look at the finish yesterday, and we knew it was going to be fast, hectic and dangerous in the sprint. The team put all their trust in me today to race for me, and I’m really happy I could deliver.”
The win in Norwich is the third for Majerus this season and her first UCI Women’s WorldTour victory. She won stage three of the Aviva Women’s Tour last year and spent one day in yellow.
“It’s completely different to last year,” said Majerus. “Last year I was pushed into the position, and it also not the first stage. It was not one shot. Today was all really planned.”
“We can here with a really strong team,” she added. “When you see all the best riders in the world are riding for you, it’s putting some pressure on you, and you better do it.”
And she did it – bringing Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team’s win tally up to 22 road victories this season, including nine UCI Women’s WorldTour wins (six one day races, two stages, one general classification) from four riders.
“It’s a bit more special that it’s a WorldTour win,” said Majerus. “Last year it was a 2.2, which was already good, but it’s even better now that it’s WorldTour.”
The 138-kilometre stage between Southwold and Norwich was a day for the sprinters – the only stage amongst the five day British tour that was projected to end in a field sprint. Having previewed the course, Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team elected to save matches for the race’s finale rather than play an aggressive role in the opening kilometres.
“We wanted a sprint, so we never attacked,” said Majerus. “We only followed dangerous moves. There was only one or two of those, and every time we were represented.”
The first breakaway deemed a danger move by the team slipped away between the first QOM (12km) and the first intermediate sprint (33km). Chantal Blaak covered the escape attempt, which never gained more than 20 seconds and returned to the peloton before the first intermediate sprint.
With bonus seconds up for grabs, the sprint was hotly contested. Vos won the sprint, taking three seconds, ahead of Gracie Elvin (ORICA-AIS) and Lizzie Armitstead.
A natural increase in pace as the peloton the second intermediate sprint at the 84-kilometre mark caused the peloton to split.
“Just after the sprint, the move just kept going,” said Majerus. “The girls did a lead out for Chantal. It was a really fast sprint, and the gaps were coming from that. We kept riding out front. It was Chantal, Lizzie and me.”
“The group was big – maybe 20 riders,” Majerus added. “Wiggle and Rabobank only had one in, so they were not turning. It was too big and too far away from the finish to be successful, but it was good we had the numbers.”
The peloton regrouped inside the final 40-kilometres. Several breakaway attempts were neutralised as the peloton powered toward the finish. Ali Tetrick (Cylance) launched a solo bid for glory with 20-kilometres. The peloton was slow to respond. Ten kilometres from the finish, Tetrick had two minutes on the bunch.
Knowing other teams were more invested in the sprint than they were, the Boels-Dolmans riders elected not to chase and instead sat just behind the teams that eventually came to fore to shut down Tetrick’s move. Five kilometres from the finish, Tetrick had 1:10 over the peloton. Her gap was slashed to 40-seconds with three kilometres remaining.
“In the last 10 kilometres, I had to do nothing except follow Lizzie’s wheel,” said Majerus. “She moved me around perfectly and kind of dropped me off in the last left hand corner before it started to go uphill again.”
“I did not turn first because Lucina [Brand] (Rabo Liv) kind of toppled me, and there was still the one rider out front,” Majerus added. “In the last 150 metres, Tetrick still had a small gap, and it was all chaotic with the motorbikes. I had to make some place to open my sprint.”
Majerus won with a healthy advantage, crossing the line with a bike length gap over Vos.
“I was the protected rider today,” Majerus said. “I had to spin to the finish and be fresh for the sprint. That was it. And that’s what happened.”
The Aviva Women’s Tour continues on Thursday with a 140-kilometre stage between Atherstone and Stratford-Upon-Avon. The profile is undulating with two short sharp climbs in the final 20 kilometres before a flat run in to the finish.
“The rest of the stages will be harder than today,” said Majerus. “I think everyone is a little afraid of what is coming, so today was quite an easy day. Tomorrow will not be like this.”