Racing Round-Up: Gila, Gracia Orlova, Elsy Jacobs, Ronde van Overijssel and Tour de Yorkshire

It’s not uncommon for those who follow men’s cycling to have multiple races competing for their attention. Women cycling fans joined the overcrowded calendar party this past week with four (yes, FOUR!) UCI-ranked women’s races in the last five days. In this women’s racing round-up, we bring you updates and…

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It’s not uncommon for those who follow men’s cycling to have multiple races competing for their attention. Women cycling fans joined the overcrowded calendar party this past week with four (yes, FOUR!) UCI-ranked women’s races in the last five days. In this women’s racing round-up, we bring you updates and results from all four – Tour of the Gila, Gracia Orlova, Festival Elsy Jacobs and Ronde van Overijssel – and throw in updates out of Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race for good measure.

Tour of the Gila (USA) – stage race

Mara Abbott took her fifth overall victory at the Tour of the Gila on Sunday. The Wiggle Honda rider, who guest-rode for Amy D. Foundation composite team during the five day New Mexican stage race, soloed to victory on the stage one summit finish. Abbott pulled on the race leader’s jersey on Wednesday, and kept a firm grasp on it throughout the five stages before soloing to victory (again!) on stage five for a winning margin of 2:12 over Katie Hall (UnitedHealthCare) in second overall and 3:39 over Lauren Stephens (Team TIBCO-SVB), who rounded out the general classification podium.

Abbott may have dominated the mountainous stages, but the less hilly stages showcased the diverse talent amongst the top American teams. Annie Ewart (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) won stage two from a two-rider breakaway. Lauren Stephens (Team TIBCO-SVB) won the stage three individual time trial (26.6km) by 24 seconds. Hannah Barnes (UnitedHealthCare) made the most of the blue train to win the stage four criterium. Abbott started stage five with a lead of only eight seconds over Stephens, adding two minutes to her winning advantage on the final stage.

Why this race matters:

Tour of the Gila is one of several American races to make the jump from national-level to UCI-ranked events this year alongside the Joe Martin stage race, the Amgen Tour of California women’s stage race and invite-only time trial, the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic and the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic World Cup The new wave of higher-ranked races in the States demonstrates the UCI’s commitment to globalising the sport and allows American-based riders to chase precious UCI points in their home country ahead of the Olympic year.

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Festival Elsy Jacobs (Luxembourg) – stage race

Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv) took her second straight general classification victory at Festival Elsy Jacobs on Sunday. The Dutchwomen won the opening prologue by two seconds over Annemiek van Vleuten (Bigla) and the narrow margin would remain until the conclusion of the three day stage race. Kasia Niewiadoma (Rabo-Liv) rounded out the overall podium, winning the best young rider classification in the process.

“Anna’s exquisite prologue on Friday made the difference,” said Rabo Liv sport director Koos Moerenhout in the team’s race report (Dutch only). “The team was then able to defend the small margin over Annemiek van Vleuten. It was a collective success. We are very satisfied after a good route.”

City Trophy Elsy Jacobs Time Trial women 2015

Both Elsy Jacobs road stages were won by escape groups – groups that were nearly caught in the closing kilometres. Elena Cecchini (Lotto Soudal Ladies) was part of a four-rider breakaway that went clear in the final 20 kilometres of an extremely aggressive stage one. She drove the breakaway to the line when collaboration waned in the escape and won the four-up sprint to snag her first win of the season.

“With three kilometres, no one wanted to keep pushing,” explained Cecchini to Ella CyclingTips. “We lost 30 seconds in three kilometres. The big group almost caught us. I really wanted to sprint with the three other girls because I knew it would be a great opportunity for me.”

Floortje Mackaji (Liv-Plantur) proved strongest on stage two, besting Katrin Garfoot (Orica-AIS) and Niewiadoma to the line.

“I got a gap on the local laps together with one of Rabo,” explained Mackaji. “On the top, one of Orica came with us. She was riding for yellow, and we were riding both full gas. At the finish line, we had still a few seconds, and I won the sprint. I’m really happy.”

Why this race matters:

If riders are unwilling or unable to travel outside of Europe, the women’s race calendar a bit sparse in the month of May, so Elsy Jacobs offers riders one of the final hit-outs before the end of spring racing and the start of summer racing. Many of the riders who posted big results in the spring will enjoy a well-deserved break in the coming weeks (although some may elect to race the one-day Marianne Vos Classic next weekend). With little deviation in route from year-to-year, Elsy Jacobs also offers teams a predictable yet challenging race format that rewards aggressive racing. Teams who race double programmes during this race-heavy period typically chose to send their strongest squads to Luxembourg. Boels-Dolmans proved the exception this year, sending their star-studded line-up to Holland for Ronde van Overijssel.

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Gracia Orlova (Czech Republic) – stage race

Velocio-SRAM proved the team to beat in the Czech Republic, winning every single stage but one and going one-two on the general classification. Alena Amialiusik soloed to victory on stage one, pulling on the race leader’s jersey with a two second margin. By race end, Amialiusik would win the overall by 15 seconds over teammate Trixi Worrack. Eugenia Bujak (BTC City Ljubljana) was third overall at 32 seconds.

“It was a strong ride from Alena all week, but it was not an individual effort,” said sport director Beth Dureya, in a Velocio-SRAM race report. “The whole team has created an atmosphere amongst the rider group since the beginning of the year and have slowly been building momentum with each race we do. The results in the last three weeks for the team demonstrate this momentum, and there is not a lot more that needs to be said.”

Ingrid Lorvik (Norwegian National Team) out-climbed a seven rider lead group to win the stage two hilltop finish. Amialiusik was third across the line, two seconds behind Lorvik, and maintained her overall lead. The third day of racing in the Czech Republic was a double day which saw Velocio-SRAM occupy the top five places in the race against the clock. Individual time trial champion Lisa Brennauer won the 13.5km effort ahead of teammates Trixi Worrack and Amialiusik.

“I’m really happy about my ITT victory,” said Brennauer, in her team’s race report. “I went as hard as I could from the beginning because it was such a short distance. It took me awhile to find my rhythm and time trial’s that short in distance are not so easy. We had a lot of support from our staff working her at the Tour and the overall team performance was great.”

In the afternoon, Karol-Ann Canuel won the short road stage with an aggressive attack out of a five rider breakaway that saw her cross the finish line alone. Elise Delzenne, who took her first professional victory just last weekend at Dwors doors de Westoek, won the final stage of Gracia Orlova from a break of two.

“I was feeling good and I saw an opportunity to go in the last eight kilometres,” explained Canuel, in a Velocio-SRAM race report. I just went full gas. I really wanted to win and I’m happy it worked out. The team had an amazing day and it’s great to be part of such a good group.”

Why this race matters:

Typically a race that attracts some of the smaller teams and national squads, Velocio-SRAM has found repeated success in the Czech Republic, winning the overall classification in each of their three starts in last four years (2012-2013, 2014). Teams like Bigla Pro Cycling raced a double programme this past week and made a point of discussing that Gracia Orlova was an opportunity to allow their younger riders to focus on personal development as opposed to play a support role for their more experienced teammates. The hilly race includes the first (and second) summit finish in a European race this year.

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Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race (UK) – circuit race

Louise Mahé (Ikon-Mazda) edged out British national criterium champion Eileen Roe (Wiggle Honda) and Katie Curtis (Pearl Izumi) in York in the Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race on Saturday. The single day event took the women’s peloton through the York city centre over a technical 20km circuit.

“It was super fast from the off,” Mahé told Ella CyclingTips. “It was lined out pretty much the whole time. Attacks were going. Nothing was sticking. I think some teams did want it to come down to a sprint. It was quick, which I like.”

Thousands of fans lined the street to see the women tackle four local laps ahead of the arrival of the men’s peloton. Both the women’s race and the men’s race utilised the same circuit, with the men completing two laps to conclude stage two.

The crowds pressed up against the barriers along the finishing straight, banging on the sideboards as approximately 30 riders barreled toward the line for the reduced field sprint. Several minutes were required before a photo finish announced Mahé as the winner.

“It was a long finish straight,” said Mahé. “I had to make sure that I didn’t go too early – and then I had to hang on all the way to the line.”

Why This Race Matters:

As cycling gains popularity in Great Britain, we can expect to see a growth in the number of races held here. The Women’s Tour was a wildly successful addition to the women’s calendar last year. Six months later, Milton Keynes hosted a round of the Cyclocross World Cup, a first for England. And now we have the Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race.

Although currently only a regional race, the event proved wildly popular amongst British teams and the cycling-loving county of Yorkshire, which hosted the first three stages of the Tour de France last year. Welcome to Yorkshire Chief Executive Gary Verity confirmed today that he his in discussions with British Cycling about a Road World Championships bid for Yorkshire

“Giving the riders the opportunity on this circuit in York with the crowds and the atmosphere was brilliant,” Marc Etches, race director of the Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race. “Today was a really special race for the women. Let’s hope we can built the race in the years to come.”

Ronde van Overijssel (Holland) – road race

Australian Lauren Kitchen (Hitec Products) was part of a five-rider breakaway that held off the peloton at Ronde van Overjissel on Friday. Kitchen made good use of her quick kick to take her third win of the season ahead of Natalie van Gogh (Parkhotel Valkenburg) and Anouska Koster (Rabo Liv). Writing about the race on her personal website, Kitchen called the win the biggest of her career.

“The race just went perfectly for me!” said Kitchen, in a statement posted to her personal website. “I’m so excited to take a big win in Europe. It’s been a long time that I have been racing in Europe and wanting this, so for it to happen, it’s just so exciting!”

Kitchen represented Hitec in both significant breaks of the day. The first escape included a group of nine riders that jumped away from the bunch on the mostly flat 126km lap that comprised the bulk of the race route. With pre-race favourite Kirsten Wild in the bunch behind, Hitec gave chase.

“I was just patrolling this move as it was a big group but not contributing to the pace making,” Kitchen explained. “My team was chasing behind for Kirsten.”

Wild eventually bridged across to the leaders, and the group split in two. Kitchen found herself in the first half of the split that turned out to be the race-winning move. With all the main teams represented and no other sprinters in the move, Kitchen could safely work the break with full confidence that Wild would be ready for a sprint finish should the race come back together before the line. The quintet was able to stay away, finishing six seconds clear of Roxane Knetemann (Rabo Liv) who crossed the line just ahead of the chasing peloton. Wild won the field sprint good for seventh place.

“The other girls in the break went very early,” noted Kitchen. “I followed and went full gas at about 180m to go. I past the girls in the final 50m and won by a length or so.”

Worth noting: Kitchen backed up win number three with win number four on Sunday, taking out the field sprint at Ronde van Hilvarenbeek, a national-level race.

Why This Race Matters:

Friday’s race was the second edition of the UCI-ranked women’s event run one day ahead of the men’s race. An important race for Dutch teams and those seeking to close out their spring campaigns on a high note, expect Ronde van Overijssel to grow in popularity in coming years despite a crowded race calendar.

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An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.