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After months of build-up and excitement the first ever Friends Life Women’s Tour was held in Britain last week. The five-day race attracted the biggest names in the women’s peloton, including world champion Marianne Vos and World Cup leader Lizzie Armitstead. Nettie Edmondson, who splits her time between riding on the track and riding on the road with Orica-AIS wrote the following two-part piece from within the race.
Click here to read the first part of this story if you haven’t already.
Stage 3: Felixstowe to Clacton-on-Sea (90.5km)
At the beginning of the tour, this was the stage I was most looking forward to. I was best suited to it due to its flatter profile. It was also predicted to be the most windy stage, being so close to the coast. When the gun went however, I wasn’t so excited.
Boels-Dolmans went right from the start. I was prepared for this and was at the front of the bunch, however as soon as the pressure went down, I realised that my legs were going to be a big problem today. They had nothing.
Usually I’m pretty good at riding in the wind, due to my slightly bigger, more power-oriented physique. Today I felt noticeably average. I felt as if we were in the closing kilometres of a stage, not the first ten. I was paying the price of ‘digging so deep’ the day before. Yesterday I had swapped off until I dropped off and my legs hadn’t forgotten. I didn’t last long.
I dropped off after 30km and formed a group of around 20 riders. I noticed some of the riders who had been swapping off with me yesterday were also in my group, they obviously felt it too (thank goodness for that; it wasn’t just me).
Despite being off the back, my group couldn’t just relax, we had to make sure we didn’t get time-cut, so we ‘rolled through’ for the next 60km. It was also extremely windy, so there wasn’t a lot of recovery to be had, much to my disappointment.
We crossed the finish line 12 minutes behind the bunch. We had made the time-cut but had no clue about how the race unfolded. I was met with some great news — Emma had sprinted to second, behind Vos and had also jumped up from fourth to second overall on GC! This was a really nice result from the team.
My teammates had apparently ridden a great race, attacking and being represented in every single move. The race had been on all day, with attacks going left, right and centre. Despite the wind being incredibly strong, there were too many protected areas, so a large bunch had made it to the line.
I hopped in the camper and we were off home. It’s a weird feeling not being part of a race. When you consider all the hype beforehand — making sure you eat enough, pinning on race numbers, talking team-tactics, writing down hazards or important kilometres on a bit of tape on your handlebars — it’s hard not to feel a bit useless when you’re not part of it.
There was no point getting down about one result though; there were still two stages to go.
Stage 4: Cheshunt to Welwyn Garden City (87.8km)
Stage 4’s parcours was slightly similar to stage 1. It was constantly rolling, with open, windier sections and winding, narrow roads. Emma started the stage in second, nine seconds down on Vos and a few ahead of Ratto. Our tactic was to try and get someone into a break, to put pressure on the other teams to chase.
Both Loes and Gracie were in good form and as they had finished each stage on bunch time, if they could get into a breakaway they could steal the overall general classification. Even though Emma was in the best position for us, it was great to have so many cards to play. Our aim was to take home the overall leader’s jersey, no matter who was wearing it.
The first hill climb came after just 11km. There were countless attacks and my team did well to cover each and every one of them. As the bunch strung out along the hilly narrow roads, I found myself in a small bunch, off the back of the peloton. I couldn’t bear to waste another stage at the back, unable to help my teammates, so I tried to recover, then went for it.
The convoy of follow cars had just passed us, so I had to tactfully utilise them, jumping from one to the next to get back into the bunch. It took me a few kilometres more than I would have liked, but finally I was back on and back into the race. If I could cover just one attack for my team, it would make a difference. I just had to take one kilometre at a time.
As soon as I got back to the bunch I went straight to the front. It’s important to let your teammates know you’re there. I could see a newly formed break moving away from the peloton. I found Loes and she said Gracie had made the split of six and that all was ok. This was a good situation for us to be in with 50km to go. Wiggle Honda had missed the move, and so they began to chase. I sat in third wheel for a number of kilometres, waiting to cover any counter-attacks.
The pace picked up as we went through the first sprint at 58km. The peloton caught the breakaway with 15km to go. The familiar three, Vos, Johansson and Armitstead fought it out for the bonus seconds in the second sprint prime, before a high-paced final 10 kilometres.
Specialized-Lululemon strung out the peloton leading into the final climb with 2.5km till the finish. All favourites were placed at the front of the bunch over the top, so no alarm bells were going off. My legs were done, I dropped off the back and took it easy up the final climb, once again trying to save as much energy for the final day.
There was a nasty bend with 800m to go. Emma was in second wheel, but got caught up and managed fourth in the sprint behind Vos, Bronzini and Garner. She was frustrated about the finish, but it was still a nice result for the team.
Emma had held on to her position on GC. Despite not being on the podium on stage 4 we were in a good situation leading into the final day of racing.
Stage 5: Harwich to Bury St Edmunds (108.3km)
Today was the fifth and final day and the last chance for riders to get a result. The course profile wasn’t too hilly and as it started at the beach it meant that it was quite windy. Dark clouds started to roll over as we lined up but thankfully they were only threatening.
As predicted, the attacks came straight from the gun. Once again our tactic was to be represented in each break, to try to get Loes or Gracie up the road and leave Emma fresh in the bunch with Vos and Armitstead. The first sprint was fought over by Vos, Ratto and Emma before the attacks picked up again.
My team got involved; Vale would attack, then when she was brought back I’d cover the counter. Gracie then made her move, with Loes attacking over the top. It was perfect. Loes managed to get away in a bunch of four and their lead grew quickly over the rest of the peloton.
It was a perfect situation for us; Rabobank had missed the move, so it was up to them to chase to bring it back. Within a few kilometres, they noticed the danger, so they put their entire team on the front of the bunch and started the chase.
The break of Emma Pooley (Lotto), Lisa Brennauer (Specialized-Lululemon), Lauren Hall (Optum) and Loes were motivated and working hard. Rabobank had to chase for 70km to bring it back. After four days of solid racing I certainly enjoyed sitting in the wheels rather than swapping off or trying to cover attacks.
The break came back with 10km to go. Naturally, the attacks began again, but we were prepared. Once again, Loes and Gracie made the attacks, and I covered the counters. Vos was pretty much on her own as her teammates were stuffed from their earlier efforts. Emma capitalised on this by making a few attacks of her own and forcing Vos to chase.
With three kilometres to go, the bunch regrouped and Orica-AIS attempted a lead-out train. This lasted a mere matter of seconds as the bunch was moving so fast. We tried to place Emma in the best position before she took over going into the final kilometre.
She was on the front leading through the technical section, but it was still 500m to go. She had to ease up as she was too far out, but unfortunately got swamped by a few too many riders going down the final straight and finished up fifth.
I’m always impressed with Emma. She doesn’t need a lot of help out there in the sprint yet always manages to be where she needs to be. She is someone you can rely on to get the job done.
She came second in the General Classification at the Friends Life Women’s Tour behind Marianna Vos and in front of Rosella Ratto. This was a great result for our team; one we were very happy with. Of course we would have liked to come home in yellow, but we gave it everything we had, we rode well as a team and we executed our race plans almost perfectly.
— Annette Edmondson (@NettieEdmo) May 11, 2014
It was a tough final three days for me after pushing so hard in the first two stages, but I got through and I’m definitely seeing improvements. It makes such a difference to be a part of such a strong and supportive team. Although I wasn’t able to do as much as I would have liked for the team, they understand where I’m at and make me feel like my efforts are worthwhile.
It was an absolute honour to be able to ride at the inaugural Women’s Tour of Britain. It’s one thing to say that it’s going to be a ‘tour to remember’, but its another to actually make it so. The event was well organised and honestly was a complete success. There were crowds lining entire towns with noise levels that gave me goosebumps.
To hear the cheers from the crowd at the final presentation in Bury St Edmunds, from people of all ages and gender, who were not only interested, but actually excited about women’s cycling was incredible. Times really are changing and the support for our sport is ever increasing. Here’s hoping it continues this way!