The six-day Women’s Tour is back after an eighteen-month hiatus due to Coronavirus. The race usually takes place in June, but after organisers were twice forced to postpone the seventh edition, it is now being held in October as the final Women’s WorldTour stage race of the season.
The race looked wide open before the start, with most of the big names clocked off for the season or injured from the mud bath that was Paris-Roubaix Femmes. Notable absences include Annemiek van Vleuten, Kasia Niewiadoma, Ellen van Dijk, Marianne Vos, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, and the now-retired Anna van der Breggen.
Those are the riders who did not start the race but since the first stage many more have pulled out. Elisa Longo Borghini said ‘ciao’ on stage one after too much post-Roubaix fatigue, while Alison Jackson, Lucy Kennedy, and Jeanne Korevaar bowed out thanks to crashes. The number of riders in the race, which was fewer than 100 to begin with, is now down to just 76 after stage four. Anna Christian and Kirstie van Haaften in the breakaway (Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)
Ostensibly, it is Continental teams who stand to gain the most from the absence of top-tier riders at this WorldTour race. So far, however, few riders from the second-tier have made it into the top-10 although many have tried to place themselves into breakaways including Anna Christian of Drops-Le Col on stage one.
The best result from Continental riders thus far come from Joscelin Lowden, also of Drops-Le Col, who came second behind Demi Vollering in yesterday’s time trial, a week after breaking the world hour record. Chiara Consonni of Valcar Travel & Service also claimed a second place in today's sprint against Lorena Wiebes and Chloe Hosking. This is a six-stage race, however, and there are still two more chances left for riders from smaller teams to climb one step higher on the podium.
With her ITT win, Vollering moved into the GC lead by more than one minute ahead of Juliette Labous of Team DSM where she still sits after Thursday's stage. With one of the strongest teams at the race and as one of the few WorldTeams still with a full roster of riders, the GC is now SD Worx’s to lose.
Demi Vollering on the way to winning Stage 3 of the Women's Tour (Alex Whitehead/SWpix)
Defending champion Lizzie Deignan is racing but — understandably just a few days after her Paris Roubaix win — is out of contention to reclaim the GC. Indeed, her Trek-Segafredo team are now down to just four riders, with Chloe Hosking looking best-placed to take a result after coming close with a second place on stage one from Bicester to Banbury and taking third on stage four.
Thursday’s stage from Shoeburyness to Southend-on-Sea transpired as the pure sprint stage that was expected. The peloton’s top sprinter, Lorena Wiebes took her 10th victory of the season with Consonni in second and Chloe Hosking in third.
There are now two stages remaining. Friday’s stage comes in at less than 100km, 95.4km to be precise, from Colchester to Clacton-on-Sea. The clue is in the name, another coastal route which in the autumnal UK weather might give a few teams a scare. This stage isn’t quite as flat as the previous day, however there is still nothing too strenuous for a sprinter who is climbing well — meaning newly-crowned world champion Elisa Balsamo could be one to watch. Newly crowned World Champion Elisa Balsamo could be one to watch for future stages (Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)
The sixth and final stage from Haverhill to Felixstowe is the longest at 155.3km and this time starts inland before heading back out towards the east coast where it looks certain to culminate in another bunch sprint. If Labous or third-placed Clara Copponi have made any inroads on Vollering’s GC lead by the final day then we might see a battle for bonus seconds, but they will had to have made up serious ground to overthrow the Dutch rider.
Most riders will be hanging up their cleats for the year after this race, but the long season will disproportionately affect the sprinters who are animating The Women’s Tour. Some of the riders who would usually be heading to China for the Tour of Guangxi and Tour of Chongming Island before finishing for the season will miss those races, which have been cancelled. However some must also wait until the 23rd for the final WorldTour race of the season, Ronde van Drenthe, which usually takes place in March.