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Lesser Known Road Racing for Women Thread

Page 22 - Get up to date with the latest news, scores & standings from the Cycling News Community.
You don't have to contribute full length race reports or anything in a Giro thread though, you can just comment on what's going on, who you want to do well and don't, link to coverage (always helpful) and so on! I don't want it to be the case that the fact I go into detail in posts deters others from following and posting and discussing the subject; I know that I can get carried away and start a brief summary of an event, and then get sidetracked into editorials etc. and before you know it the post is eight paragraphs long, but I don't want to drown discourse and make this into a thread people read but don't contribute to (or, worse, a thread people don't read OR contribute to), or feel they can't or don't want to contribute to.

Stage 2 in Brétagne: different route by which to get there, but same outcome; rather than being a slightly technical/uphill finish but the whole bunch getting there, this time the group that made it to the line only numbered 26 - but missing a couple of names you might have thought would be competitive in a race like this, such as Rasa Leleivyte, Nathalie van Gogh and Emilie Moberg. The others, however, were all present and correct, and Kirsten Wild took advantage of a similar but easier finish than yesterday to take back to back stage wins, with Anna Henderson picking up another 2nd place. No bonus seconds in the sprint for Cille today, however, as 20-year-old French youngster Clara Copponi snuck through for 3rd in front of the Danish star. The other key names - Nosková, Koppenburg, Borgli, Labous, Cordon-Ragot, Muzic and so on - were all in the group.

Tomorrow is an ITT which should move the GC more towards the stage racers with a hilly stage and a Tro Bro Léon type stage to come. The simplistic view given it's an ITT is to say that we're probably looking at Audrey vs. Cille, but it's quite technical so a few others might interject themselves into the proceedings.
If someone finds a link with coverage, that can be watched after the stage is over, I'd appreciate it being shared. Due to being in the US and the type of work I do I'm not always able to watch live streaming. Which is a big reason I prefer things to be shown on TV so I can DVR it and watch it when I have time. Now that I at least know the names of a few of the women in the women's peloton it would be nice to watch.
Unfortunately these smaller races tend not to have much online, as there isn't much coverage outright, but next week is the Women's Tour which usually has an excellent hour-long highlights package every day. You can see quite a bit online where it's available - for example, to whet your appetite for the Giro Rosa, here is last year's stage to Monte Zoncolan, from which you should be able to get links to all of the other stages - this is, however, the Italian-language coverage which came out the evening of the stage; Eurosport broadcast the same coverage with English-language coverage, but did it on tape delay to allow them time to dub the commentary. The Emakumeen Bira coverage was predominantly in Spanish, but featured sections in English in recognition of the international fanbase; all of those are still online. There's a fair amount of coverage collected by a few youtube channels you can hunt down if you're interested in old races.

The Tour de Brétagne continued with an ITT today, which saw Bigla succeed in their bid to defeat home favourite Audrey Cordon-Ragot. Unfortunately for them it was not with GC head of state Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, but instead with 20-year-old New Zealander Mikayla Harvey, in what is her first UCI win. Now, Bigla have done very well with their younger riders and secondary riders like Banks this season, I had thought they would lean almost exclusively on Cille for results much of the time, unfortunately for them Harvey had been dropped in stage 2, so her beating Audrey by a few seconds did not prevent the Bréton home favourite from taking the advantage. Juliette Labous was 3rd, just one second behind Audrey, so the French national squad is taking control of the GC, what with Wild losing 41 seconds and the inexperienced Henderson losing over 2 minutes in the race of truth. For her part, Cille was 6th, only 17" back from Audrey, but with only a couple of seconds' advantage in the GC that moves her down the line, and means she's got work to do in the hilly stage tomorrow if she wants another victory in Brittany to follow on from Plumelec. Séverine Eraud and Claudia Koster are also looking threatening, while Clara Koppenburg will need her climbing legs tomorrow if she wants to challenge too.

By my calculations, Cordon-Ragot has the maillot jaune by 3" ahead of her younger compatriot Labous, with Cille at +9", Eraud at +15", Koster at +16" and Koppenburg at +20". A good time by Marie Le Net means she's still in the mix too, as is Shara Gillow, but Copponi and Borgli lost a minute, while Nosková lost almost two. And spare a thought for poor Amaia Malatsetxebarria Ibaibarriaga. She may have the Basquest name in the entire péloton, but she's struggling mightily, having lost an hour and a quarter across the two road stages thus far and being second from last today. She was nearly 20 minutes down on anybody else yesterday; in Burgos she was similarly at the tail end of proceedings but surviving where others were missing the time cut, lending her race a bit of a Kenny van Hummel 2009 Tour de France kind of feel. I hope she makes it to the finish now.

Libertine Seguros said:
You don't have to contribute full length race reports or anything in a Giro thread though, you can just comment on what's going on, who you want to do well and don't, link to coverage (always helpful) and so on! I don't want it to be the case that the fact I go into detail in posts deters others from following and posting and discussing the subject; I know that I can get carried away and start a brief summary of an event, and then get sidetracked into editorials etc. and before you know it the post is eight paragraphs long, but I don't want to drown discourse and make this into a thread people read but don't contribute to (or, worse, a thread people don't read OR contribute to), or feel they can't or don't want to contribute to.

Stage 2 in Brétagne: different route by which to get there, but same outcome; rather than being a slightly technical/uphill finish but the whole bunch getting there, this time the group that made it to the line only numbered 26 - but missing a couple of names you might have thought would be competitive in a race like this, such as Rasa Leleivyte, Nathalie van Gogh and Emilie Moberg. The others, however, were all present and correct, and Kirsten Wild took advantage of a similar but easier finish than yesterday to take back to back stage wins, with Anna Henderson picking up another 2nd place. No bonus seconds in the sprint for Cille today, however, as 20-year-old French youngster Clara Copponi snuck through for 3rd in front of the Danish star. The other key names - Nosková, Koppenburg, Borgli, Labous, Cordon-Ragot, Muzic and so on - were all in the group.

Tomorrow is an ITT which should move the GC more towards the stage racers with a hilly stage and a Tro Bro Léon type stage to come. The simplistic view given it's an ITT is to say that we're probably looking at Audrey vs. Cille, but it's quite technical so a few others might interject themselves into the proceedings.
OK, I will chime in here and there as long as you promise to keep up the good work.
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Well, that's a disaster in some respects! Cille could therefore have been winning, but at the same time it necessitates her attacking which could be better for the race as spectacle. Jessica Roberts won stage 4, the best chance left for a puncheuse or grimpeuse to make a difference, and Audrey and Juliette Labous comfortably defended their positions at the top of the leaderboard, leading into a ribin battle on the final day.

Across the Atlantic, the Chrono Gatineau took place, one of the bigger standalone ITTs. Its proximity to the well-liked Women's Tour, which has some of the best coverage and organisation on the calendar, as well as being almost certainly the best supported women's race of the season (even if the routes have generally left something to be desired, being either in flat parts of the country, hampered by poor stage design from having maximum effectiveness from a racing point of view, or both), has harmed the field, but you still get the North American péloton taking part plus a few fly-ins from North Americans on European teams and the occasional European to accompany them. Amber Neben, 44 years young, won the race by almost a clear minute from Leah Kirchmann and Tayler Wiles. Neben does almost no racing outside of the USA these days, certainly not a massive amount of races that aren't ITTs (every UCI race she entered bar the national RR in 2018 was a TT event), and is on Cogeas-Mettler which is possibly the weirdest team in the WWT - a mixture of very experienced riders, some of whom have some dubious history - Neben, Zabelinskaya and Pitel between them tot up 135 years - and very young Russian and Uzbek prospects, most notably Maria Novolodskaya - but then they've also thrown in the occasional random pickup like Valentina Scandolara and Virginie Perizzolo. Very weird.

Simultaneously, another standalone ITT event was going on in Europe, the Ljubljana-Domžale-Ljubljana event which also doubles up as the Slovene national championships. Eugenia Bujak finished 7th, and this was enough to pick up her second straight Slovene championship, to go with the two Polish championships she won in 2014 and 2015. Marlen Reusser, riding in the World Cycling Centre colours, won the event, ahead of Olga Zabelinskaya who hadn't headed to Canada with the rest of her team; the podium was rounded out by hour record holder Vittoria Bussi. It's also nice to see Anna Kiesenhofer out there, she has only been racing ITTs of late, and is the Austrian national champ, having had her impressive Mont Ventoux win in the Tour de l'Ardêche but not really having taken to being a professional bike rider.

We also had the flat, but very windy Omloop van de IJsseldelta, which saw Hitec Products pick up a nowadays relatively rare win, with Marta Tagliaferro outsprinting Pernille Mathiesen in a two-up sprint; the two only just saw off a second duo of Parkhotel Valkenburg's Loes Adegeest and HealthMate Live's Kathrin Schweinberger; the remains of the attack move were led home by Lorena Wiebes a few further seconds back. Only 28 riders finished as the combination of shortish closing circuits and hard pace meant a lot of riders clambered off, and several of those who didn't were pulled from the course.
The best-organized and best-supported race on the WWT gets underway tomorrow, as we see the start of the Ovo Energy Women's Tour, known as just the Women's Tour or, more accurately but not able to be called that for copyright reasons, the Women's Tour of Britain. After five successful editions over five stages, the race has been given the go-ahead to add an extra day, and although they're not really doing much of interest with that day, it is a step in the right direction.


Still no northern stages - the overlap with the Women's Tour of Yorkshire puts paid to that as it limits the possibilities for moving between England and Scotland to the west coast, while Wales hosts two stages. East Anglia continues to host the départ, as it has done in 2015, 2016 and 2018, while Warwickshire is also a repeat host, having held several stages, most notably last year's third stage which was in tribute to Sharon Laws, who died in December 2017 and rode in the area for training.

The stage in Warwickshire also features the first genuine HTF in the Women's Tour's history - while there have been some slight uphill run-ins - technical and difficult finales are a hallmark of British races, it is noteworthy that the five editions thus far have seen 0 decisive hilltop finishes, mainly as the organizers wanted to establish the race and the significant support for the race in the towns has helped enable them to grow its reputation that a HTF is possible without it being in the middle of nowhere, as it is likely they will be able to attract a good crowd. As ever, there is unfortunately no live coverage, but ITV4 and Eurosport will share the one-hour highlights program which is produced for the race, which is generally of excellent quality and some of the best women's coverage you will see all year - they have helicams, multiple moto cams, high quality graphics, and in previous years they've had commentators with specific knowledge of the women's péloton such as Rochelle Gilmore, Marianne Vos and Sharon Laws.

One weakness I will highlight for the race organisers is that the route has been known for several months, but it's only in the last couple of weeks that stage profiles have been provided, and while fans can trace the routes on La Flamme Rouge or Cronoescalada or what have you, it's a bit frustrating that this detail eludes us - it's not the 2014 edition anymore, and there are some decisive climbs. The race organizers are boasting of the 'hardest edition ever', as one of the biggest criticisms of The Women's Tour has been a lack of difficulty - indeed three out of five editions have been won by riders who never left the péloton, using bonus seconds alone, on two occasions the winner on the road did not win the race (Rossella Ratto in 2014 and Christine Majerus in 2015), and on one of the other two occasions, the victor was settled on stage 1 due to a miscalculation by the bunch; other stages finished with large groups on +st (Kasia Niewiadoma in 2017); a problem has been the placement of obstacles, as frequently a problem which has been common to British races in many circumstances has arisen - the difficulty of an obstacle overrides its relevance in the hype, so seeing stages like the Chesterfield one in 2017 which featured two loops, one to the east and one to the west of the city, which would have been significantly more decisive had they done them in the opposite order. Remember, this is also a race where Emma Johansson told the organizers that, much as she'd loved the crowds and the treatment by the organizers, with high quality coverage and podiums and prizes etc., there simply wasn't the chance to race on the parcours given, and she wouldn't be returning unless this improved. Now, it did improve - demonstrably so - in 2016, but last year's race saw a lot of the old problem of riding through, rather than over, the most interesting terrain return, with only a small climb of Newnham Hill in stage 2 being potentially decisive. Therefore, fans wanted the chance, well in advance of the race, to see if this bluster about the hardest edition ever was justified.

Well, while a few specialist climbers like Katie Hall, Annemiek van Vleuten, Amanda Spratt, Eider Merino and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig may not have enough to tempt them over to the UK, there's still plenty of opportunity to see a more broken up race than we have done with previous editions of the race.

Stage 1 is the typical flat stage around Suffolk - there are some areas which may get windy, and the weather forecast is for rain. I would expect a bunch sprint 10 times out of 10 here - the péloton has been taken by surprise once on a first day in this race, and last year they were incredibly adamant that that should not happen again, holding everybody on a very, very tight leash.

Stage 2 is the 'bonus' stage - and it's a freaking kermesse. 25 laps of a 2,5km circuit at Kent Cyclopark, this is the shortest stage in the history of the event at just 62,5km in length. Personally I might have preferred a 2-lap ITT, which would also have been a first for the Women's Tour, considering it's a closed circuit so it wouldn't be too disruptive, and having HTFs and ITTs would be a great step toward making this into a genuine all-out stage race that could in time build into a Grand Tour kind of role once the difficulties are ramped up, because with the coverage and support that the race has, it would be well placed to assume that kind of role. Another possibility would be the TTT - we all know I'm not a fan of the format, but they do have a few TTTs on the women's calendar, and the British domestic scene does sometimes see TTTs on crit courses because each team can go individually on the short course before the actual race, so there would be precedent for it. Either way, we get a one-and-a-half hour crit with our bonus day. Hopefully it isn't as bad as it sounds.

Stage 3, in Oxfordshire, a new region for the race, ends at Winston Churchill's birthplace, but is precisely what I refer to when I talk about the Women's Tour often misplacing its obstacles. This is one of those stages that would be better run back to front, though it looks like there are a couple of uncategorized digs that could give scope for some attacking racing in the last 20km especially as the stage, at 145km in length, is a pretty good distance.

Stage 4: now this is more like it. This is the kind of thing that justifies the race's status. 159km long and with three ascents of the Burton Dassett climb, following on from Sun Rising Hill, this should create some good racing in the final 30km and at least a decent puncheuse finish. While the climb is hardly Monte Zoncolan, it will still give the puncheuses something to work with and make it hard for bonus seconds alone to settle the GC. Strava records the climb as being 700m at 8,9%, so this is potentially enough given the rest of the circuit is far from flat. The overall climb is 1400m at 5%, so you can see that the rest is more or less false flat. The men take on an almost identical stage in September so that will be an interesting point of comparison. And the crowds were excellent for the race last year, even though the climb wasn't placed in such a position as to be decisive, so I'm optimistic about this one. Definitely a positive move from the organizers, this.

Stage 5, sees the race move into central Wales, and while there's still not what I'd call maximisation of the available terrain, this is definitely a potentially decisive stage with the highest amount of accumulated height gain in the history of the Women's Tour, at 2.200. One of the most frustrating things about The Women's Tour is that the profiles don't come out until quite late on, and when they do, they don't include things like summit heights to enable us to truly get a feel for how difficult the obstacles are. The majority of the climbing is gradual or too far from home to make a big difference, but the Epynt climb will be potentially decisive. It ascends approximately 300 height metres, which is very significant for a British race, finishing 21km from the line - most of which is undulating. However it's hard to tell from the scale how long the climb is - and obviously 3km at 10% is a very different beast from 5km at 6%. I mapped it on Cronoescalada and it was 3,8km in length, so we're talking approximately 8% or just under - so given we should have some time gaps set up from Burton Dassett, this could be really good, with some uncategorized climbs in the run-in - the toughest of which is 2,1km @ 5% per my reckoning, which is harder than the most decisive climb of the 2018 edition!!! So - this one should be some of the best racing we've ever seen from the Women's Tour, as the climbs aren't so tough it'll leave the climbers easing away, but are tough enough that the Niewiadomas, Moolman-Pasios and Longo Borghinis of this world will be in combative mood.

Stage 6 features the ceiling of the race, on the scenic Black Mountain Pass, which featured in the 2010 men's Tour of Britain (sadly we don't have the awesome circuits with the cobbled Constitution Hill in Swansea, which featured that day), and also features some Giro-esque GPM offerings, with a few uncategorized digs, but the comparatively small Bethlehem Hill giving out points. It also features an uphill intermediate sprint which could be potentially key for the GC - but don't be too fooled by the profile, all that 'climbing' toward it is at 2-3%. The run-in, however, skips most of the climbing terrain in the area (there are a few punchy climbs between Black Mountain and Pembrey they could have used, but I guess the intent was to incentivize attacking from afar on Black Mountain as it's the last day rather than leaving it to the last), and finishes on the short-circuit cycling park in Pembrey, similar to how stage 2 was based on a short-circuit cycling course (presumably the crit-based national circuit and the intention of attracting junior cyclists has led to these courses being short, rather than an Izu or Krylatskoye style longer loop). This one is most likely to be a sprint, but not necessarily of the same type of rider that would be sprinting in the first couple of stages.

So, who's here?

I've already mentioned a bit about who isn't, but it's worth noting that as ever, the popular and well-organised Women's Tour boasts a stellar field.

16 teams are taking the startline for a total of 96 riders, and all five previous editions' winners will be here to contest it, seeking to become the first rider to take two Women's Tours.

2014 winner Marianne Vos is here with her CCC-Liv squad. Her key sidekicks will be Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, who may well be the preferred GC option, having finished 2nd in 2016 and 7th in 2017 in the two harder editions of the race. Marianne was 2nd last year, however, and will want to do one better. Pauliena Rooijakkers is also a wildcard for a stage win especially in the hillier stages, where she's been going well.

Her successor, Lisa Brennauer, may not be as keen on this route, as she's more of a rouleuse with a good sprint. She's won the Thüringen Rundfahrt multiple times, though, so she can get over obstacles, but she would like a TT to build her race around to get the best out of her on this terrain. WNT in general are strong though - they have left Kirsten Wild at home, however, and are building their hopes around the hillier part of the race, with Kathrin Hammes, fresh off her surprise Thüringen win, an outsider, alongside the more established group of Janneke Ensing, for whom this looks like a really good course actually, Ane Santesteban, and Erica Magnaldi, all of whom are capable climbers.

2016's winner was Lizzie Deignan, then operating under her maiden name of Armitstead and wearing the rainbow jersey. Obviously her career has stuttered since then, a controversial quashed suspension affected her and then she took time out for a baby break, and is only now getting back up to speed - however when she is at her best she is among the very best, and she will have no doubt targeted this, her home national race (of course Yorkshire is her home region race, but came a bit early in the comeback). If the 2016 Lizzie is back, she is a threat to win any stage - she of course won the sprint finish in Aldeburgh in 2015 before crashing out of the race after the line, and since 2016 has turned herself into an Ardennes force over climbs longer than she'd previously been competitive over, so there's nothing in this race that she should be afraid of. Even beyond her, Trek are here in FORCE. Elisa Longo Borghini podiumed in 2016 too, was QOM last year, and just ended an almost two year winning drought, taking the final stage and GC of Emakumeen Bira; Lotta Lepistö has won stages here before; Ellen van Dijk was 5th overall in 2017, and even their worker ants, Trixi Worrack and Anna Plichta, can't be underestimated.

2017 was of course the year that Niewiadoma won the race on day one because nobody believed a tiny grimpeuse riding away 50km from home on the flat stood a chance, but nobody wanted to chase her. This year's route is much more conducive to the Pole, who will no doubt target stages 4 and 5 due to her usual characteristics of not being able to prevent herself from enthusiastically attacking on any upward gradient with gusto. She'll also be immediately noticeable in those special edition neon orange Canyon kits. Unlike WNT, who've sent the full climbing squad, Canyon have decided to focus more energy on the first half of the race otherwise, feeling Kasia can handle herself either alone or with just Amialiusik for company. Then again, Elena Cecchini won her national championship atop Supergà, and Hannah Barnes even managed a very shocking top 20 on Mount Baldy last month, so who knows? The Barnes sisters will undoubtedly be all over this race too, and Alexis Ryan, though pegged as a sprinter, did very well at the Amstel Gold Race in 2018.

And then there's last year's winner, Coryn Rivera. She will have to go some to replicate that feat - her odyssey in the WWT leader's jersey in 2017 showed that she is far more than just a sprinter, but she was trailing in behind the puncheuses on Cauberg when defending it; she will need to accumulate bonus seconds like she did last year and climb at her best to defend. It's not outside the realms of possibility, but it'll be tough for the American. There's also not a massive amount of experience in her backup corps either - Kirchmann the eldest by some considerable margin. Leah is in good form per her results in Canada recently, but a combination of potential jetlag and not really knowing how to rate the depth at those events mean it's a bit unpredictable what it means for her level. Floortje Mackaij has been climbing better than ever this year and Liane Lippert is pretty useful over this terrain too.

There are a bunch of others who want to etch their name into the race's record books too. Chief among them, I would wager, would be Christine Majerus. While Chantal Blaak is Boels' nominal leader, Majerus has unfinished business at this race; she won it on the road in 2015 only to lose to Brennauer on bonus seconds to drop to 3rd overall, and was 2nd in 2017 and 4th in 2018, so she will probably have had this one circled on her calendar for a while. Boels also have Jolien d'Hoore for the sprints, who has won multiple stages here before and wore the leader's jersey at last year's edition, Amalie Dideriksen whose domestique turns here in 2016 amounted to a breakout performance, and Amy Pieters who is more adept in the hills than she is sometimes given credit for. Canuel is their climbiest rider here, however, so they'll be hoping for Blaak, Pieters or Majerus to be on form to deal with the escaladoras in the second half of the race.

Another team worth watching out for will be Virtu - Marta Bastianelli has lost her WWT leaders' jersey, but Annemiek isn't here, and there are at least a couple of potential stage wins for the former world champion here. Stages 1, 2, 3 and 6 would all appear to be within her remit (and if they aren't they still have Barbara Guarischi), while Sofia Bertizzolo is U23 WWT leader and has been going strongly all season. Katrine Aalerud is a very useful climber too. And also, Parkhotel Valkenburg, on paper just about the smallest team here. Lorena Wiebes is currently racing in Brittany, so will skip the race, but they are bringing the standout breakout of the spring, Demi Vollering. Demi has been training in Switzerland for the last few weeks so she's building up to the team's first (?) Giro by preparing her climbing legs - so while the team may be quieter than usual in the flat stages, and people will be watching out for Vollering now, whereas a couple of months ago she could infiltrate those groups unnoticed, she is still one to watch.

Elsewhere, Alé will hope for Chloe Hosking to bring joy in the sprints; Mitchelton have their rouleuse corps for the most part, but Sarah Roy is a former stage winner here and Gracie Elvin has had joy over this kind of terrain; Bigla may have left their team leader in Brittany (surprisingly along with promising British puncheuse/grimpeuse Sophie Wright, who doesn't enter her home race) but Lizzie Banks has had a very good season thus far and will lead them, while Chabbey and Leah Thomas are useful enough backup; Drops will try to be as visible as possible since their divorce from Trek, Anna Christian was pretty visible in Thüringen; Valcar have the versatile Maria Giulia Confalonieri and the more than useful Alice Maria Arzuffi, a 'cross specialist who likes bad weather and climbs; TIBCO have Shannon Malseed who has a WWT GC podium to her name and Brodie Chapman who's having a great season, FDJ have the experienced Charlotte Becker who has a WWT GC win to her name in the same race as Malseed's podium, and Movistar have the ever-combative Gosia Jasinska and the in-form Sheyla Gutiérrez on hand.

Perhaps the most notable absence among Britons is Lucy Garner, who in fact is the best placed Briton in the WWT standings, thanks mainly to her top 5 in the GC at the Tour of Chongming Island. Her Hitec Products team has been struggling for a couple of seasons, especially now Virtu have started poaching the top Scandinavian talents, which used to go through Hitec as a first port of call. Hayley Simmonds' BTC team is also missing, which could have been good to see with Bujak being well-suited to much of this course and Ratto of course having won the race on the road in 2014. A bit surprised at there being no British national or British U23 team as there has been in recent years - riders like Jessica Roberts and Anna Henderson are going very well in France at the moment, Rhona Callander was great in the Healthy Ageing Tour, and Lauren Dolan is doing well in Scandinavia too. I am slightly surprised, but understand, why Sophie Wright and Pfeiffer Georgi aren't there for Bigla and Sunweb respectively, but I thought a team made up of a few of the younger riders not on WWT teams, supplemented with a couple of more experienced riders whose teams aren't in the race, like Natalie Grinczer from Bizkaia-Durango and Dani Christmas from Lotto, could have added something.

So yes... while a few big stars are absent, including some for whom the development in the parcours would be a benefit, and the extra stage being used for a kermesse is a big disappointment (like I say, adding a TT the same year as an HTF would really have been a positive signal of intent), the overall development of the race - additional day, some decisive climbing while still staying loyal to the host regions that helped get the event off the ground - and the top notch coverage it receives are grounds to be both optimistic and excited for the week to come. I'm certainly looking forward to the race more than I have most seasons to date.
Jessica Roberts doubled up with an impressive solo win in the ribin stage of the Tour de Brétagne Féminin, with two back to back wins for the 20-year-old in the two toughest stages of the race suggesting she has a bright future ahead of her. However, her losses from the ITT were just too great, and so Audrey Cordon-Ragot and her team did enough to defend the leader's pink jersey in bringing the 40-strong péloton home 39" behind the Briton. Kirsten Wild picked up more bonus seconds with second place which moves her up the GC thanks to those bonuses, ahead of a somewhat unexpected group including Marine Quiniou, a 26-year-old from the French domestic scene, and Ziortza Isasi, a 23-year-old Basque prospect who's never scored a CQ point, ahead of the people like Audrey, Stine Borgli, Simona Frapporti and the others you might have anticipated.

What this does mean is that Cille is turfed off the podium, while with the benefit of her time bonuses Roberts only just misses out on it herself.
1 Audrey Cordon-Ragot (France National) FRA 13'01'56
2 Kirsten Wild (WNT-Rotor) NED +5"
3 Juliette Labous (France National) FRA +8"
4 Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla) DEN +9"
5 Jessica Roberts (Great Britain National) GBR +12"
6 Séverine Eraud (Doltcini-Van Eyck Sport) FRA +16"
7 Clara Koppenburg (WNT-Rotor) GER +21"
8 Marie Le Net (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine) FRA +26"
9 Shara Gillow (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine) AUS +35"
10 Clara Copponi (St Julien en Génevois-BioFrais) FRA +49"

Meanwhile, Dwars door de Westhoek finished in a sprint, which was won by Elisa Balsamo from her main rival as young sprint darling, Lorena Wiebes, with the ancient fossil that is 23-year-old Lotte Kopecky rounding out the podium.
1 Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Cylance) ITA 3'09'42"
2 Lorena Wiebes (Parkhotel Valkenburg) NED +st
3 Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal) BEL +st
4 Annette Edmondson (Australia National) AUS +st
5 Lonneke Uneken (Hitec Products-Birk Sport) NED +st
6 Aurore Verhoeven (de Sprinters Malderen) FRA +st
7 Kaat Hannes (Jos Feron Lady Force) BEL +st
8 Kirstie van Haaften (Health Mate) NED +st
9 Daniela Gass (Equano-Wase Zon) GER +st
10 Cathalijne Hoolwerf (Rogelli-Gyproc APB) NED +st
I'm kind of the reverse. I don't like when somebody has the metas volantes jersey without leaving the péloton as I've grown conditioned to think of it as a breakaway's jersey. But yes, would have been nice had she been able to contest Jolien more at the line.

So, the Women’s Tour got underway, with a few changes to the advertised lineups. Firstly, Bigla had some personnel problems which may have been due to injuries sustained in the Tour de Brétagne (more on that later), but either way they entered the race with only four riders (which prompted criticism from Karl Lima, boss of Hitec, whose team weren’t able to start, but who seemingly would have wanted to). Elsewhere, Paula Patiño was forced to withdraw sick, and Movistar therefore shipped Lourdes Oyarbide to Britain at the eleventh hour to compete; it is perhaps therefore not surprising that she was last on the day, clearly not having prepared to participate.

As ever with the Women’s Tour, one of its best features is the crowds - the Britons always provide a good turnout, and stage 1 took place in a supportive region for racing even if it offers practically nothing from a route design point of view to provide entertainment. As a result of a combination of the dull-as-dishwater topography of East Anglia and some pretty horrendous weather, therefore, this was a long and tiresome day in the saddle for the riders, and most teams seemed happy just to keep their powder dry and avoid getting involved in any accidents. There were a few incidents, Alice Barnes being perhaps the most notable to be involved, but it did lead to one of ‘those’ women’s cycling stages, where a few attacks are attempted but not allowed to go, and so the bunch stays together for much of the day.

Part of the problem is that, of course, 3/5 editions to date have been settled on bonus seconds, so the intermediate sprints take on that extra bit of significance here. Last year Coryn Rivera won the GC and the metas volantes jersey, and never left the confines of the péloton once, which is just crazy. She seemed to have set her stall out on the same strategy here, Sunweb controlling the pace leading into the two sprints and Coryn taking over to take maximum points, with riders like Marianne Vos and Sheyla Gutiérrez mopping up the leftovers. The parallels to the previous season’s race continued as Christine Majerus took the first QOM climb of the day, which is exactly what happened last year too; however with the pinch point leading into that “climb” (look, in East Anglia, 1,2km @ 2% is categorised) causing some slowdown in the bunch and even a couple of stoppages at the back, Drops rider Abby-Mae Parkinson took advantage of nobody really wanting to assume responsibility for the pacemaking to go on the offensive, and swiftly gained an advantage of over a minute. She took the bonus seconds at the final intermediate, on the first passage of the finishing line, with up over 90 seconds’ advantage and just 12km remaining. However, the memory of 2017 looms large in the sprinters’ teams’ minds, and even though (hopefully she won’t be too offended if I say this) Parkinson is assuredly not the GC threat with that kind of advantage that Niewiadoma was, we swiftly saw teams like Boels-Dolmans take up the mantle of controlling the race, with Chantal Blaak and Christine Majerus taking the main responsibility for hauling the 21-year-old back.

When they got her into sight, the impetus went out of the chase again, and she hung there until eventually being dragged back with 2km to go, in a catch reminiscent of the first two editions of the race, where the balance between the break and the bunch was good on the individual stages, but the bunch won out in the GCs. That is unlikely to be the case on the 2019 course, but the likes of Vos and Rivera collecting seconds is smart on the basis that any place to gain time is a good place to gain time on your rivals. In the end, though, you had Sunweb and Boels trying to set up their sprinters, and 2018 called again - last year Rivera and Pieters battled over bonus seconds and then d’Hoore, who’d kept her powder dry all day, left everyone behind in the sprint; today, d’Hoore got to the front after being led out and absolutely obliterated everybody in the sprint. Like, should have been given a time gap obliterated. You seldom see sprints that dominant (although the absences of Bastianelli, Wild and Wiebes may have played a role in that), and the gently curving finish meant that Pieters kept 2nd place too, for a dominant finish for Boels-Dolmans. Lisa Brennauer, who won the race overall in this fashion in 2015, picked up the remaining bonus seconds.

Perhaps most interesting is that there was a time gap taken between Eleanor Dickinson in 12th and Lizzie Deignan in 13th, meaning those participating in the sprint gained a few seconds on the GC. Most notably, that includes Marianne Vos, Sheyla Gutiérrez and Elena Cecchini as well as those previously mentioned. Most of the remainder are sprinters, but Gutiérrez had been diligently collecting some bonuses and had a podium finish in Plumelec last week, Cecchini is a very strong tactical racer on hilly and intermediate terrain, and is a former winner of Thüringen, and Marianne Vos is… if you don’t know by now, you can figure it out for yourself. All of the other expected candidates for the GC - Deignan, Rivera (well, she’s defending champion, not sure about her on the HTF but we’ll see), Vollering, Moolman-Pasio, Longo Borghini, Chapman, Niewiadoma, Ensing, van Dijk and so on - are at +14” from d’Hoore, while there were only a small number of riders who lost time - presumably caught up in incidents as some of them, such as Malseed and Canuel, you wouldn’t have expected to lose that time. Therefore history repeats itself, the only people who gained time who are likely to be significant for the GC are those like Vos who you might have expected it from, and all is set for later in the week.

Now: the other story. There was a big crash in the Tour de Brétagne on the final stage. Slightly conflicting stories on it. Velo UK says that motos caused it; 5 riders were taken to hospital and Sophie Wright was one of the victims (perhaps explaining her absence from Bigla’s Women’s Tour team), breaking her collarbone in the process. Wright herself says that a rider in front of her hit a bollard and caused the accident, which then suggests that the motorbike hit the riders after the accident. Lauren Dolan, who had been riding for the British national team, was run over by the safety motorbike, which would be ironically humorous if it wasn’t so goddamned dangerous and if we hadn’t had a rider die a couple of years ago in similar fashion. Quite a lot of DNFs in that stage so hard to tell who will have been involved and who won’t. Dolan was high in the GC and Wright riding for one of the biggest teams in the race so I’d suggest the accident was probably quite far forward in the bunch. It seems that organization and road closures were a bit of a problem and moto handling was less than exemplary; some riders have come forward saying that the race was "terrifying", which obviously is not how you want to advertise your race to the public. My mind is cast back to that year when half the teams abandoned the Giro della Toscana before the final day in protest at poor rider safety.
I think it was less the fact that it could be won conservatively as much as the fact that the race's building itself up to be one of the pre-eminent races on the calendar was absolutely justified given the quality of the organization, the support for the race, treatment of the riders etc. - but the self-mythologizing about being fast becoming one of the pinnacles of the calendar was given the lie by some routes which encouraged defensive racing and meant that the sport didn't get the maximum benefit from the increased coverage either. Remember, Emma Johansson actively told the organisers she wouldn't be back unless they gave the riders more to work with after 2015's race.

This year's race is much more promising from that point of view; it will be much, much harder to win the race 'from the péloton' the way Vos, Brennauer and Rivera did - and if somebody is able to do so, it will be much more of an achievement. Coryn had to stay in the group over several climbs last year, yes, but apart from in stage 2, they were frequently fairly distant from the line which made controlling it easier; this year's obstacles are much better placed imo which should generate more aggressive racing. The other factor is the variation in the teams. Most teams have historically sent the rouleurs corps to the Women's Tour because that's the type of racing best suited to it; this year we have a real mixture. Boels have left the van der Breggens and Halls of the team at home, and Orica have brought their flat racing team; on the other hand Parkhotel have built their team around Vollering's climbing, Trek are built around Lizzie and Elisa with a mainly climbing-based lineup and Canyon and CCC have gone with split goals. Nobody's quite sure who the GC will be best suited for, and that adds a level of unpredictability which last year's edition lacked somewhat. How truly difficult are the climbs? Will the durable sprinters be able to hold on (remember, Coryn's won the Trofeo Binda and top 10ed Amstel Gold)? Will the stage 5 final climb be steep enough to get rid of e.g. Vos? Will it be raced hard enough for an out-and-out climber like Niewiadoma or Moolman-Pasio? We simply don't know yet, and that adds the kind of intrigue that sometimes the Women's Tour has lacked.

In all of the off-track things - excluding the lack of live coverage, but I find it hard to be too harsh on them for that because the highlights coverage is a level above most of what we see - the organization here is absolutely first rate and shows a lot of other women's road race organizers how it should be done. It's just that at times the actual on-bike spectacle has been hindered by the canvas they've been asked to paint on, which has held the race back a bit. This year, however, it feels like this has been rectified at least in part and that the race is moving in the right direction to continue to build on its success.
Stage 2 was, if we're totally honest, a bit dull. A 90-minute circuit race, and the TV coverage did dedicate almost as much time to an infomercial about the facility as it did to the racing, because there wasn't really all that much of it. The circuit was too short for any breakaway to gain any leverage, the course was narrow all the way around and so strong teams were able to get control of the front, and the stage as a whole was too short to cause any developments due to fatigue. However, it is worth noting, as I thought about it some more, that this is in effect a testing-the-waters addition of a sixth day; being as it is a closed circuit, it probably hasn't added much to the costs of the event, as the cost of policing and security on a closed 2,5km circuit is likely far, far less than a 150km road stage, so has probably enabled them to extend the race without taking too much out of the budget, and probably enabled them to use the money remainder to produce an uphill finish rather than have to finish in a town centre that day, which will counterbalance it from a racing point of view, plus also establish in the minds of the audience (and the TV time) the six day version of the race. Hopefully any new fans stick with the race for the long haul, as the second half of the race looks to be far, far more interesting than the first.

It wasn't a total washout, though, and attrition did come into it, with some riders spat out the back, although these were generally those who you might have expected - those who struggled yesterday with illnesses and injuries, such as Shannon Malseed and Lourdes Oyarbide (who came in as an eleventh hour sub, too), and a couple of FDJ riders who crashed - however perhaps most notably, there was again a split in the péloton which meant a few significant names lost some time.

Of those in the group that came in at +7", notables are Demi Vollering - who left the gap in the first place, but whether that's lack of form or tactical naïveté remains to be seen - Brodie Chapman, Floortje Mackaij, Marta Cavalli, Hannah Barnes, Sheyla Gutiérrez, Ellen van Dijk (who put in a herculean turn on the front to try to set up Deignan for a sprint) and Ane Santesteban. Behind a further split at +18" you had some sprinters like Hosking who sat up when they weren't able to get into position, as well as a few other potential GC wildcards like Janneke Ensing and Erica Magnaldi too. As is often the case in the Women's Tour, the bonus seconds were keenly fought out, because they can often be the difference-maker on the GC; Rivera was keen to pick them up, but at one point she was poorly positioned and Sunweb instead picked up the bonuses with Liane Lippert, who I have a sneaking feeling might just wind up being Sunweb's best rider by the end of the week; she's clearly on some form, and having won the Tour of Belgium on the Geraardsbergen stage, finished top 15 in Flèche Wallonne, been top 10 in the Tour de Yorkshire twice and second on the Hankaberg in Thüringen, she can hold her own in punchy racing. Marianne Vos had been diligently collecting some bonuses, but a badly timed mechanical meant at the last one she was still holding onto the back of the bunch.

When it came to the all important sprint though, things were different. Perhaps the constant small up and down and technical corners meant this one didn't suit the traditional power sprinters, but we saw the big guns duking it out. Trek-Segafredo did all of the work, protecting Deignan and Longo Borghini (although it should be patently obvious to anybody who's watched any women's cycling which of the two was the protected sprinter) with Worrack and van Dijk, especially the latter who controlled it for several laps and spat a fair few riders out the back, but in the final kilometre they ran out of control, as Sunweb wrestled their way forward, Susanne Andersen bringing Coryn to the front, but even then it wasn't enough because Eddy Merckx was there and Eddy did as Eddy does. Of course, the fact Deignan managed 2nd place could be key by the week's end, as those bonus seconds could be vital, but they're also vital for Marianne too, who now takes the lead of the race as this looks like becoming a battle of the former winners. However, it's also worth noting that among those who got in in front of the split in the bunch, Longo Borghini, Niewiadoma, Moolman-Pasio, Jasinska and Majerus are all worth keeping an eye on (obviously Ash now has her teammate leading the race, but if Marianne struggles at any one point I'd expect the South African to be let off the leash).

Vos now leads by 9 seconds over Deignan and Pieters, with Rivera at 10" and Sarah Roy, third on the day, at 11", level with Lisa Brennauer. Confalonieri, Fournier, Cecchini and Lippert are all at 15". Bertizzolo and ELB are a further two seconds back, one second ahead of Moolman-Pasio and Niewiadoma. All of those mentioned from Vollering onwards above are at +26" - time that would seem difficult to win back from Vos on this form because while the riders may feel they can make enough time on the likes of Coryn on the Burton Dassett finish and the last climb of the penultimate stage, dropping Vos by enough to overhaul that kind of advantage would seem more unlikely, as Coryn will try to hang on in an uphill finish, that's her modus operandi for things like Amstel Gold, remembering when she was defending the WWT jersey admirably there; but winning such a finish tends to be outside her remit. For Marianne, that's very much within her remit, and she'll be among the best on any of these six days. It will need either a strong puncheuse/grimpeuse in excellent form on stages 4 and 5, or some serious tactical smarts and creativity with full commitment, to depose her, I'd say.
That's too bad. Was hoping for Vos to take on Lizzie Deignan on the hilly stages. Nice for Brennauer to get the jersey, will be hard to defend it to the end though. Vollering also looks like she will want to have some fun on the stages to come. And Sunweb have at least two cards to play, Rivera to ride defensive like last year and Lippert covering the moves probably? LS what can we expect from Andersen?

WKA311 said:
That's too bad. Was hoping for Vos to take on Lizzie Deignan on the hilly stages. Nice for Brennauer to get the jersey, will be hard to defend it to the end though. Vollering also looks like she will want to have some fun on the stages to come. And Sunweb have at least two cards to play, Rivera to ride defensive like last year and Lippert covering the moves probably? LS what can we expect from Andersen?
I was adamant Vollering would be a threat to the top here, but she lost a bit of time in the Cyclopark leaving a gap in front of her - though today suggests that that was more to do with naïveté than form, which is pleasing as she will be an interesting wildcard to add to the mix in the next two stages, because she's got a quick finish as well as some decent climbing nous (and she's just returned from training in Switzerland in preparation for Parkhotel's first Giro) and has some time to make up.

Realistically I don't think we can expect much from Andersen as long as Rivera is there, she has been, along with Floortje, doing a lot of playing watchman for Coryn recently, and as you say their intention will be two-pronged, Liane looking forward, and Coryn the threat from behind, as that's how she operates best, most of her biggest wins are from the second group on the road that swallows the leaders - Trofeo Binda, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and the second stage of last year's Women's Tour which underpinned her GC win. Considering Lippert has picked herself up a few bonus seconds here and there and won the Ronde van België on the Kapelmuur last year, she's potentially dangerous, she arrives in good form (her performance in the Thüringen Rundfahrt is somewhat masked by people from the stage 1 break taking positions 1-5 on GC) and might be underestimated, with others more concerned about Coryn behind.

I was also hoping for Vos to take on Deignan on the hilly stages as I now feel Deignan is in the driving seat to win this, and you'll all be well aware I am not remotely a fan of Lizzie's. She's clearly motivated and in form, and will be the popular winner on home roads of course, but the real question mark is how's her climbing since her return - historically she was ok on shorter stuff, but a climb like Epynt was above her remit, at least when it came to climbing with the best - but starting in 2015 or so she became much more hill-adept and of course was even on the podium of La Course when it finished on the Col d'Izoard. In the Ardennes she was fairly quiet, though she got a decent placing in the sprint for 3rd in LBL (well, decent-ish. No way a peak Lizzie gets outsprinted by Kasia Niewiadoma), while on Mount Baldy she was 14th, but against people who she'll face up against here she lost a minute to Kasia and 90 seconds to Moolman-Pasio. I think Lizzie will probably win or at least take some bonus seconds on Burton Dassett, the question will be Epynt on stage 5.

Now, however, the big problem for Ash is that she hasn't just lost Marianne, she's lost half the team. Kasia defended her jersey in 2017 with a fairly bare bones WM3 team after Vos left the race injured (she doesn't have the best history with the Women's Tour once you get past her initial victory in 2014!!!) but that was with something of a headstart of course; with only a couple of riders left to help her, and Rooijakkers having lost time in all three stages and clearly not on the form she looked to have been coming into the race in (presume she may have a minor niggle or illness or something) suggests Ash may be fending for herself an awful lot - which is not ideal, or might mean she wants to try to even the playing field by getting rid of others' helpers early too.

The key is that while it will definitely be tough for Brennauer to defend, Deignan has got herself into a position where she has a headstart over others, and with Vos gone, she doesn't really have to think too much about the time she has to gain; the key for her is probably Coryn, because Lizzie even if she doesn't get a time gap can probably get enough at the line in bonuses to overhaul Brennauer tomorrow and make the German race defensively in Wales; Santesteban and Ensing are half a minute down which limits WNT's secondary options, whereas teams like Sunweb can bluff with Coryn if Lippert gets up the road, Movistar have dual options with Sheyla climbing better than ever this season and Jasinska inevitably aggressive, and Boels have Majerus who can get over a good few obstacles and loves bad weather, and Amy Pieters who is more durable than you might think and is right up there in the mix.

Those foraging effectively alone as GC threats, like Niewiadoma and Vollering, become more wildcards, though it's not like Niewiadoma at least doesn't have capable support, although Cecchini, who has a great eye for the right move to involve herself in, will be a big loss for Canyon.
Worth noting is that Longo Borghini, Majerus, Moolman-Pasio, Kirchmann, Santesteban, Ensing, van Dijk, Mackaij and Blaak lost 3" at the line due to a time gap being left, this time by Elisa Longo Borghini. Vos does have a pattern emerging with The Women's Tour, though:

2014: 1st
2015: DNS (forced by illness/injury, rather than choosing not to ride)
2016: 4th
2017: DNF (crashed, broken collarbone)
2018: 2nd
2019: DNF (crashed)

The interesting thing will be what Elisa's instructions are in the next two days, obviously she won the last WWT stage race, but here she seems to be subordinated to Lizzie, which is fair enough given the importance of bonus seconds and sprint skills in this race most seasons, and that it's Lizzie's home race. However, if people like Ash or Kasia start raising hell on the climbs, does she leave Lizzie to chase them down (depending on form of course), chase them down on her own to mark the moves leaving Lizzie behind to play the "I can't work with my teammate up the road" card, knowing neither CCC nor Canyon have as strong a card behind as Deignan, or does she domestique for Lizzie? This will be an interesting one, especially as Trek have a lot of chiefs, and one of their Indians, Anna Plichta, was on the attack today so may well be recovering from that effort expenditure.

I've got a sneaking suspicion that stage 5 is going to be the all-important one. I think that the laps of Burton Dassett will really trim things down tomorrow but we'll probably see Sunweb, WNT and Trek look to minimize the impact of solos, duos and small groups until the final climb, with other teams trying to soften them up, so especially with Sunweb looking to protect Coryn, unless either she, Brennauer or both drop early on meaning the teams' more punchy/climby types (Ane, Liane, Janneke) get let off the leash, the time gaps should still be in the small numbers of seconds. The first Welsh stage will probably be hammers down very early, and that last climb with 20km to go will be attacked ferociously. I have a sneaking suspicion that Lippert will finish ahead of Rivera on GC if that happens.
Stage 4 began with... well, actually, let's mention the highlights packages, which start with a recap of the previous stage and then a mini-interview, which is good as it keeps people in the loop. I like this. But it did start with Lizzie Deignan doing what she does best, i.e. making excuses. That said, I still think she may just be the outright favourite to win the GC, but a lot will depend on Epynt. Having got that out of the way, this was the day that the race really hotted up, as the race put out a 160km+ stage which also featured its first genuine HTF at the key part of three laps of a circuit, so the hope was that we would see some much more active racing than we had done in the first three days; apart from the 2016 edition's stages through a similar area with Longo Borghini, Armitstead and Moolman-Pasio being active, the race has lacked a lot of the racing from distance that often characterizes women's cycling, due to the importance of the bonus sprints, and that the lack of feature climbs close to the finish had meant that sprint-adept riders were not removed from GC contention and there was therefore several teams with a vested interest in controlling the race. So this was somewhat uncharted territory for the race, and I was optimistic for it.

I was right to be.

Firstly, the weather was bad, and the stage was long. CCC-Liv were down to just 2 riders; Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio made it to the end yesterday, but after further appraisal of her injuries withdrew overnight, leaving WNT in charge of pacing duties. Sofia Bertizzolo also dropped out which left Marta Cavalli in a great position to add to her lead in the WWT U23 ranks in a race she might have expected to be fighting on an even platform with her compatriot.

Sarah Roy initiated hostilities, with Femke Markus and Charlotte Becker then chasing, which meant that the time bonuses became an irrelevance; a break of several minutes ensued, which had been impossible in the flatter first half of the race. And also perhaps suggested that the likes of Coryn Rivera didn't fancy their chances in the GC despite their work in the first half of the race. Trek were the ones pacing the péloton, suggesting that Lizzie felt good. The trio were also first over the first QOM summit, despite the attentions of Canyon as well as Trek in the bunch and despite really, really suffering on it. Femke Markus' climbing technique is something to behold, and not in a good way. She looked like she was really hurting, but she was doing better than Becker, who was detached from the other two quickly. After the first climb, Sunweb took to the front and helped WNT as Canyon and Trek took a break, and swept Becker up before the start of the first of the three ascents of Burton Dassett.

The work that Trek had been doing suddenly clearly had impetus, as on the first ascent of the climb, 25km from the line, Elisa Longo Borghini decided the time was now - she's the perfect weapon for Trek in the circumstances; she is far too dangerous to allow to go, she can climb and descend, she has no sprint weapon so has to attack in this manner if she wants to win, she's on good form after winning Emakumeen Bira, and also if she's attacking, Deignan gets a free ride behind. A win-win situation - just think how many races van Vleuten won back in the Nederland Bloeit days because of teams being reluctant to tow Vos along. But the important thing was the number of riders who weren't following. Niewiadoma responded quickly, and Sunweb quickly marked it, but Rivera was nowhere to be seen, so Liane Lippert was charged with the task. Brennauer was strangely alone, somewhat surprised that the team hadn't had either Ensing or Santesteban at the front with her at that stage, and she sought to chase them, with van Dijk sticking to her wheel to monitor and to give Trek the numbers advantage. But the Longo Borghini/Niewiadoma/Lippert trio stuck it out and the gap became a bit more significant as they persisted, then Deignan and Pieters started to pull the bunch to try to bring them back. Not sure exactly why Deignan was pushing there, unless they were sure Elisa didn't have it (as surely Elisa could then just stop collaborating?). It seemed that Liane had been told not to collaborate because the team's plan was Rivera. Lippert did sit on Vos for a lot of time in Brabantse Pijl too, but in fairness to her then she a) had been taken out by a moto earlier in the race when making an attack, and b) sat up to let Vos outsprint her for the placement then.

Before the second climb of Burton Dassett, Kasia and Elisa had pulled the chasing trio over to the breakaway, but the gap was small; a lot of chasing going on behind once Brennauer had been brought back. Markus and Roy were, rather unsurprisingly, left behind when the road went uphill again and the Universal Laws of Women's Cycling were adhered to; that is to say - the road turned uphill, and Kasia Niewiadoma attacked; she couldn't get rid of ELB, however, and the trio rode together over the summit with around 10 seconds' advantage over the rapidly-reducing péloton. Majerus snuck through for some QOM points from what was leftover, which meant she was mathematically safe in the QOM jersey if Kasia won the stage - but she'd be pretty vulnerable if Kasia did in fact do that, which was looking like a strong possibility if the trio stayed away; she was looking strongest on the climb, and it was one of those rare groups where she actually stood a chance from a sprint too.

But the gap was too small, and the chasers went deep and they brought the fugitives back; too many vested interests for a trio where only one and a half were invested in it - Elisa started shirking turns seeing as she isn't plan A and has no sprint weapon, and Lippert was clearly instructed not to collaborate with the team focusing on Rivera despite how strong the young German was looking. She was quickly getting up into 2nd or 3rd wheel regularly as people like Magnaldi and Vollering tried to pace the group. A couple of smaller moves punctuated the final lap, notably from Amy Pieters, as the weather worsened and the rain got heavy. Canyon-SRAM decided to set up a train, because clearly Kasia was feeling good and optimistic about her shot on the final climb. They then had a duel with Trek for supremacy of the leadout, which the latter won when Hannah Barnes had to peel off. Sunweb decided, with less than 2km to go, that actually the smart thing to do was let Lippert ride for herself because it's an uphill finish with 700m at 9% and Coryn clearly wasn't peaking, so the defending champion pulled her younger German teammate to the front and accepted this probably wouldn't be her year.

So, on the final climb, Longo Borghini got on the front and thundered a huge tempo; whether she was trying to drop everybody from the front like a Jan Ullrich on Arcalis '97, or was trying to set up Deignan, is unclear, but she dropped everybody but... you guessed it - Kasia Niewiadoma and Liane Lippert, the two who'd been able to respond to her attacks two laps earlier. I think it was the latter, because Elisa blew up pretty quickly, but Kasia and Liane still had plenty of energy left and went away. Kasia pushed and pushed again, and opened up a sizable gap, with another sizable gap opening up between the German champion and the third rider on the road, which was Deignan who was trying to counterattack as Brennauer fought to defend her jersey. Lizzie Banks and Amy Pieters also were gaining some time as the group splintered and gaps started to emerge. Kasia was clearly the strongest, and that Amstel Gold Race finale started to relive itself as, when the climb flattened out in the last 150m, that gap to Lippert was getting smaller and smaller; but the Pole had enough to hang on. Personally I think this is the second, maybe third time in the race that a time gap of 1" could have been given (after d'Hoore in stage 1 almost certainly, and Vos in stage 2 possibly) but wasn't. And that turned out to be crucial on this occasion.

Deignan finished 3rd on the day, but she lost 7" on the line meaning that once the time bonuses were taken into account she dropped behind both of the top two on the day; Lippert not being assessed a time gap means that with the bonus seconds she picked up shepherding Rivera around on day 1 and in sneaking some time on the circuit race in Kent means she cancels out the stage winners' bonus that Niewiadoma got today, and so the German has the race lead on countback and my prediction that Lippert would be Sunweb's best rider on GC looks a lot more sensible than it might have done otherwise - seeing as she's now a threat to win the race outright, although this will be a new experience for her, having won Belgium by picking up the jersey on the final day, and that's obviously not as big a race in terms of field, crowds, coverage, pressure OR prestige as the Women's Tour. Deignan is just 3 seconds behind the duo, and is a stronger sprinter on paper (though Liane has done a surprisingly good job of hording bonus seconds this last few days) so is still a major threat; Brennauer fought in in the group a few seconds behind the home favourite, alongside Amy Pieters, Demi Vollering and the Bigla duo of Lizzie Banks and Leah Thomas. No further QOM points for Christine Majerus, whose lead is now just one point over Kasia's tally, which looks ominously vulnerable with tomorrow's stage and how the Pole has been climbing. She may settle for the black jersey if Liane is too strong to lose the green one, but one thing's for sure, Kasia won't die wondering. Marta Cavalli finishing in the top 10 with Bertizzolo registering a DNF suggests she will extend her lead in the U23 standings, but she'll probably have to settle for 4 points there as Lippert will take the 6; the German has mostly domestiqued when racing the WWT races so far this season so is a practical irrelevance for the title at this stage despite her showing here.

It looks like we have some kind of hierarchy here, and that Kasia, ELB and Liane are the strongest climbers in the race, as they were the ones that made and responded to the important attacks both the first time around and the last time around. This was a long and arduous stage, which may have impacted it as well. With Lippert holding the advantage in terms of sprinting over Kasia, one can expect the Pole to be attacking on the climbs tomorrow (oh, who am I kidding, we can skip the "with Lippert holding the advantage in terms of sprinting" part of that sentence entirely), and also potentially Canyon to be trying to use Hannah Barnes and Lisa Klein to try to prevent either Lippert or Deignan picking up any bonus seconds in intermediates too. Rivera will presumably now have to switch to a domestique role, and it will be interesting to see if the team has any interest in her keeping the secondary jersey she has or if, more likely, it can be subordinated to the goal of defending Liane's GC.

One hopes that the positive reception for a stage like this can mean we get more of this kind of thing in future, as this transitions more towards a race which provides the kind of top level test befitting of the quality of coverage and fan support it receives, and build on its success into a real blue riband event for what it says for a rider's palmarès as well as for the rider experience.