FDJ ‘didn’t expect’ Longo Borghini to sprint on final stage of Women’s Tour

"Chapeau to her for an amazing sprint finish," says Grace Brown after ceding overall lead to Trek-Segafredo rider.

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The run-in to the finish on the sixth and final stage of The Women’s Tour was fast and chaotic, but FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope looked especially muddled on the roads into Oxford town centre.

The team started the day on the front foot. Grace Brown and Elisa Longo Borghini were tied on time after the penultimate stage, but Brown was wearing the leader’s jersey by a technicality on stage placings, which made bonus seconds the name of the game. The French team executed a perfect lead-out at the first intermediate sprint at Carterton, earning Brown three bonus seconds, while Longo Borghini completely missed out.

It was there that the team lost the race. They grew complacent as a late breakaway swept up the second lot of bonus seconds and presumed that Brown’s fresh three-second margin would be enough of a buffer coming to the finish line in the face of Longo Borghini’s supposed hapless sprinting.

But Longo Borghini and her team had been playing the long(o) game. While FDJ seemed to have forgotten about their GC leader in the approach to the sprint — Brown was left isolated in the closing stages of the race — more concerned with bagging a stage win for Clara Copponi, Trek-Segafredo was forming a lead-out train for Longo Borghini.

Off the back of a colossal effort from Audrey Cordon Ragot and Ellen van Dijk, the Italian launched a hitherto unseen turn of speed and tenaciously hung on for third place as Copponi was forced to settle for runner-up behind DSM’s Lorena Wiebes. The four bonus seconds that Longo Borghini nabbed on the line gave her the GC win by one singular second.

FDJ aimed to come away from the day with two wins, but in the end they had to settle for second. Twice.

“I took the first intermediate sprint that put me three seconds ahead,” Brown said after the finish. “We thought that we were pretty safe for the final as long as there were no gaps but it was really messy and Trek did an amazing lead-out to put Elisa in a really good position ahead of the corners. That had her there to sprint for third, which we really didn’t expect. I don’t know where I placed, maybe a little bit behind but chapeau to her for an amazing sprint finish.”

She may have lost the yellow jersey, but the Australian is far from empty-handed at the end of the British stage race. Brown takes a fantastic stage 4 victory back to mainland Europe along with second overall.

“There’s still a consolation for me in terms of the rest of the race. I knew that coming into today it was close and there was a chance that I wouldn’t finish the day with the jersey, so I was already happy with the Women’s Tour. When I got the sprint seconds I thought that maybe I had it already, and then to lose it was disappointing but overall I’m very happy with the week. 

I knew that the finish was technical and that I had to be in a good position because when there are all those corners it would be really messy. I wasn’t just sitting up and rolling to the finish. Elisa made the most of it though.”

The lesson: never underestimate your rivals.

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