Demi Vollering eases to AJ Bell Women’s Tour victory as Elisa Balsamo wins final stage

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Demi Vollering eases to AJ Bell Women’s Tour victory as Elisa Balsamo wins final stage - PA
Demi Vollering eases to AJ Bell Women’s Tour victory as Elisa Balsamo wins final stage - PA

Demi Vollering completed a comfortable overall victory at the AJ Bell Women’s Tour on Saturday, finishing safely in the bunch on the sixth and final stage of the race into Felixstowe.

Vollering, who began the day with a commanding 1min 9sec lead over Juliette Labous (DSM) thanks to her dominant win in Wednesday’s time trial, was well shepherded by her SDWorx team-mates, who kept her safe on the winding Suffolk lanes and worked with the sprinters’ squads to hold the day’s five-woman break in check.

She ended the day 1-02 ahead of Labous and 1-05 ahead of Clara Copponi (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope). Alice Barnes (Canyon SRAM) was the top British finisher in seventh place overall at 1-41. Elisa Balsamo, the newly-crowned world champion, took her first victory wearing the rainbow stripes in Felix­stowe, surging clear in the final metres to win from Lorena Wiebes (DSM) and Chloe Hosking (Trek-Segafredo).

Meanwhile, Chris Froome has pulled out of next weekend’s National Road Championships, saying he has not had enough time to work on his time-trial position ahead of the test in Lincoln. The 36-year-old, who ended a decade at Team Ineos to move to Israel Start-Up Nation this season, has had a tough year results-wise as he continues to work his way back to full fitness following a near-fatal accident in 2019. But he ruled out retirement, saying he was looking forward to next season already.

“I did enter the national time-trial champs a few weeks ago because I was feeling good, but I’ve since spent so much time on the road at different races that I haven’t had the time to specifically train for time trials,” the four-time Tour de France champion told Cyclingnews at Saturday's Tour of Lombardy, which was won by Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates).

“I was hoping to spend time on my new time-trial equipment: the new Factor Hanzo bike that has been released, but so far I’ve only been able to check that my time-trial position is right. It’s been a while since I raced in the UK and I’d love to go over there, but I don’t think I can do it just this time. Of course, if nationals are back in June in 2022, then I’d certainly hope to be there.”

Froome will end his season at the Coppa Agostoni on Monday.

Demi Vollering closes in on victory as Lorena Wiebes claims back-to-back stage wins

Friday, October 8, stage five – Colchester to Clacton, 95.4km

Dutch rider Demi Vollering will look to complete an emphatic victory at the AJ Bell Women’s Tour on Saturday although the SD Worx rider, who has led since the time trial on Wednesday, suffered a scare on Friday when British rider Hayley Simmonds went on an audacious solo attack on the roads of Essex.

Simmonds (CAMS–Basso Bikes), a time trial specialist, attacked after just seven kilometres, amassing a lead of four-and-a-half minutes with 50 kilometres remaining.

Given she had begun the day only 2:55 behind Vollering, the 33-year-old was the virtual leader at that point.

However, an acceleration from the peloton on the ŠKODA Queen of the Mountains climb at Manningtree saw her advantage reduced and Simmonds was eventually caught 15 kilometres from the finish in Clacton where Lorena Wiebes became only the second rider in Women's Tour history to claim back-to-back stage victories with another fine sprint.

Vollering said she was never worried. "My team were totally in control today," said the 24-year-old. "They went on the front and did a few turns and kept the speed a bit high and then brought back the break so that was good.”

Saturday’s final stage travels 155.3 kilometres through Suffolk from Haverhill to Felixstowe.

"Tomorrow we need to keep it together and make it a good race again,” Vollering said. “We don’t have a plan yet; we need to see first, look a bit better at the route and then we will see."

Vollering retains a 1:09 lead over Juliette Labous (Team DSM) heading into the stage, while Clara Copponi (FDJ Nouvelle - Aquitaine) reduced her deficit to 1:16 after picking up bonus seconds in yesterday's two Eisberg sprints. Joss Lowden (Drops-Le Col) is the best placed British rider in 7th spot at 1:47.

Mark Cavendish cheers on the peloton in Essex with Lorena Wiebes victorious

Thursday, October 7, stage four – Shoeburyness to Southend-on-Sea,117.8km

Stage four of the AJ Bell Women’s Tour ended, appropriately, in a bunch sprint, on a day when Mark Cavendish, arguably the greatest sprinter in cycling history, came out to cheer on the peloton.

The former world road race champion, a vocal supporter of women’s cycling, was spotted roadside midway through the 118km stage from Shoeburyness to Southend-on-Sea wearing full Deceuninck-QuickStep team kit, having pulled over while out on a training ride near his Essex home.

Lorena Wiebes (DSM) took victory in Southend-on-Sea after a number of breakaway attempts failed to stick and the bunch came into the fast downhill finish together.

Chiara Consonni (Valcar Travel) just edged out Chloe Hosking (Trek-Segafredo) for second place.

Top British finisher on the day was Alice Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) who was sixth, 24hrs after finishing an impressive fourth in the individual time trial.

Barnes, 26, appears to be building some form as she gears up to defend her road and time trial titles at the national championships in Lincoln next week, which is, coincidentally, also what Cavendish is training towards.

The British nationals were cancelled last year due to the global pandemic and have been bumped from their traditional summer slot this year for the same reason. Barnes predicted the delay could have a big impact on the racing.

“It’s an interesting one having them in October, especially after such a long season,” Barnes told Cyclingnews. “A lot of the people here are racing nationals but I think that it will be a fun race. We’ll see how the form is coming out of this race but the form is in a good place. It’s hard to know in the middle of a stage race if you’re tired but I think it will be alright.”

Demi Vollering (SD Worx) leads the Women’s Tour by 1:09 with two stages remaining.

Meanwhile, Britain’s recently-crowned Olympic omnium champion Matt Walls took an impressive victory in the 105th Gran Piemonte riding for his trade team Bora-Hansgrohe.

Walls, 23, beat Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka NextHash) to the line at the end of a 168km ride from Rocca Canavese to Borgosesia.

“This win is really big and it shows that I can compete at the top level also on the road,” he said.

Demi Vollering wins stage three individual time trial to seize lead

Wednesday, October 6, stage three – Atherstone, 16.6km

Dutch rider Demi Vollering took control of the AJ Bell Women’s Tour on stage three on Wednesday, winning the race’s first ever individual time trial at a canter to establish a commanding 1:09 lead in the general classification.

Vollering dominated the 16.6km course in Atherstone, North Warwickshire, beating the next fastest rider, Britain’s Joss Lowden (Drops Le Col), by over a minute. Her performance propelled her from fourth overall into the blue leader’s jersey.

“The start was uphill so I knew I could win it or I could lose it there if I didn’t go full gas,” Vollering said afterwards. “The first 4km I went all out and the middle part was the hardest part. There was a lot of headwind after the first half of the time trial, which made it really hard. The last part again full gas, everything out.”

It was certainly too much for the rest of the field. Vollering is still only 24 but already well established as one of the top riders in the women’s peloton.

She is coming off a phenomenal season which has seen her pick up victories at La Course by Le Tour and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, finish second at Amstel Gold and Brabantse Pijl and claim useful top 10s at the Tour of Flanders and last month’s world road race championships.

Of the other British riders, there were top 10 performances from national champion Alice Barnes (Canyon-SRAM), Abi Smith (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank), Anna Shackley (SDWorx) and Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM). With three stages remaining Lowden and Alice Barnes both sit in the top 10 on general classification, as does Pfeiffer Georgi (DSM), who finished Wednesday’s time trial 17th. All lie within two minutes of Vollering.

But they will have a job to do to catch the SD Worx rider who is now the overwhelming favourite to win the race given her versatility and the strength of her team.

With the time trial behind them the race transfers form the Midlands to the Essex coast on Thursday for a 117.8km stage around the coastal flatlands, including a loop around the notoriously windy Dengie Marshes.

Asked about her chances of keeping the leader’s jersey until the finish on Saturday, Vollering replied: “It would be nice of course, but first to recover, so we will see. We have a good team for it, so I am curious to see how the rest of the week will go.”

Meanwhile, Britain’s Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) was narrowly beaten by Slovenia’s three-time Vuelta a Espana champion Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) in a thrilling finale at Milano-Torino on Wednesday, which saw the leading duo drop a high quality field that included Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).

Amy Pieters claims second stage sprint as Clara Copponi takes race lead

Tuesday October 5, stage two – Walsall to Walsall, 102.2km

British rider Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM) narrowly failed to land what would have been a famous victory on stage two of the AJ Bell Women’s Tour as Amy Pieters (SD Worx) claimed victory in a sprint in Walsall.

Georgi was part of a 10-rider group who broke clear inside the final 10 kilometres of racing and led through the final turn on to the Lichfield Street finishing straight. But with only a handful of metres' of advantage over the fast-charging Pieters and Clara Copponi (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) she was unable to hang on, eventually finishing fifth.

It was still an encouraging performance from the 21 year-old, who was singled out for praise by Lizzie Deignan after doing a sterling job to protect her at the world championship road race in Flanders last month. Deignan described Georgi as “probably the best team GB team-mate I’ve ever had”.

It was Pieters who ultimately claimed the fourth AJ Bell Women's Tour stage victory of her career, though, with Copponi moving into the race lead thanks to her second place.

Overnight race leader Marta Bastianelli (Alé BTC Ljubljana) finished in the peloton, 46 seconds behind the leaders, and conceded the blue leader’s jersey to Copponi, who is making her debut in the race in 2021.

“It was a hectic final”, said Pieters, who had team mate Demi Vollering, one of the race favourites, working for her in the run-in. “I think the whole day was pretty hectic. There was still a small gap after the last corner but I thought I just needed to start to sprint. It was an urgent sprint but it went well at the end.”

Wednesday's third stage is the race’s first ever individual time trial. It takes place over a 16.6-kilometre (10.3-mile) course starting and finishing in Atherstone town centre in North Warwickshire.

Bastianelli pips Hosking and Copponi to take opening sprint

Monday, October 4, stage one – Bicester to Banbury, 147.7km

Italy’s former world champion Marta Bastianelli won a dramatic sprint finish to take the opening stage of the Women's Tour of Britain in Banbury as Britain's Hannah Barnes (Canyon-Sram) finished sixth.

A large group of riders approached the finish line in a pack and 2007 road race world champion Bastianelli of Alé BTC Ljubljana managed to pass Chloe Hosking (Trek-Segafredo) and FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope’s Clara Copponi in sight of the line to take the win and the race’s first leader’s jersey of 2021.

"It's a very nice win for me," Bastianelli said of her first Women's Tour stage victory. "The sprint was not easy because it is a little bit tougher and uphill, and I think it is not for the sprinters, but for me it is a good race and a good day.

“There was a crash with one kilometre to go, and luckily I did not crash but I am sorry for those that did. I started the sprint in third position, and for me it was the maximum because my coach has seen me win sprints from there.”

Marta Bastianelli of Italy and Team Ale' Btc Ljubljana celebrates winning ahead of Chloe Hosking of Australia and Team Trek - Segafredo and Clara Copponi of France and Team FDJ Nouvelle - Aquitaine Futuroscope during the 7th The Women's Tour 2021 - Stage 1 a 147,7km stage from Bicester to Banbury - GETTY IMAGES
Marta Bastianelli of Italy and Team Ale' Btc Ljubljana celebrates winning ahead of Chloe Hosking of Australia and Team Trek - Segafredo and Clara Copponi of France and Team FDJ Nouvelle - Aquitaine Futuroscope during the 7th The Women's Tour 2021 - Stage 1 a 147,7km stage from Bicester to Banbury - GETTY IMAGES

As well as Barnes in sixth, fellow Briton Josie Nelson (Coop-Hitec Products) also made the top 10, finishing eighth, while compatriot Joss Lowden (Drops–Le Col) was 23rd.

Barnes, Nelson and Lowden - who broke cycling's prestigious hour record on Thursday - were three of eight British riders to finish in the leading group.

Defending champion Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo), fresh from her sensational victory at Paris-Roubaix at the weekend, was 26 seconds behind the leaders having worked for Hosking on the run-in.

Deignan is the only rider to have won the Women's Tour twice and the 32 year-old arrived in Oxfordshire after victory in the gruelling Paris-Roubaix race on Saturday. But she had already warned that the race was not one which would suit her for the overall, with a 16.6km time trial in Atherstone tomorrow.

“I think this race is a little bit different. It’s at the end of a long hard season. We have a time trial specialist who unfortunately crashed at Roubaix [Ellen van Dijk] so I think we’ll have to be a little bit flexible to win the race.”

Tuesday's second stage starts and finishes in Walsall, covering 103km. The race ends in Felixstowe on Saturday.

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