World Champion Lizzie Armitstead took the honours on the Derbyshire stage of the Aviva Women’s Tour before claiming the overall victory of the five-stage UCI event. Armistead’s win in June came in the face of world class opposition as the field boasted former world champions and several current national champions. It was an important event for the Yorkshire cyclist as she prepared for the Olympic Games in Rio in August.
This was the third edition of the Women’s Tour, an increasingly important event on the UCI Women’s World Tour, and the stage from Ashbourne to Chesterfield was the toughest test to date. The Tour also passed through south Derbyshire the following day as the cyclists made their way from Nottingham to Stoke.
Armitstead rides for the Belgian team Boels-Dolmans, acknowledged as the world’s strongest at present, and was supported by Draycott’s Nikki Harris. Harris joined Boels-Dolmans at the beginning of the year in the hope of gaining selection for the GB Olympic squad to support Armitstead.
Boels-Dolmans won the opening stage from Southwold to Norwich as Luxembourg national champion Christine Majerus out-sprinted three-time World Champion Marianne Vos to the line. Vos took the yellow jersey the following day, in Stratford, as she finished third behind Amy Pieters with Armitstead 16 seconds behind in the General Classification.
Ashbourne to Chesterfield was the shortest stage of the week at 109 km (68 miles) but, with 2000 feet of climbs, had been dubbed the ‘queen stage’. Huge crowds gathered to see the field leave Ashbourne with Nikki Harris in a prominent position. The pace was good as the riders headed for Buxton before heading south through Monyash where the pupils of Monyash CE Primary School lined the road to enjoy the spectacle.
Shortly afterwards Boels-Dolmans’ Chantal Blaak was in a group of eleven riders that made a break through Winster and Darley Dale to arrive in Matlock around two minutes ahead of the peloton. With the leaders tackling the notorious Queen of the Mountains stage up Matlock’s Bank Road, Armitstead followed Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Elisa Longo Borghini in crossing to the leading group just after the climb.
Armitstead had Blaak for support as the race passed through Beeley, Chatsworth and Baslow before Armitstead attacked with 20km remaining, followed by Moolman-Pasio, Borghini and Australian champion Amanda Spratt. The four worked well together, but it was Armitstead who sprinted clear to the line on the cobbles in Chesterfield’s Market Place.
As she crossed the line Armitstead pointed sky-wards, a tribute to Jo Cox, the Birstall MP who had been murdered the previous day. Having missed Armitstead’s move in Matlock, Vos had her Rabo-Liv team mates working hard to bridge the gap to the leaders on the approach to Chesterfield but crossed the line still 36 seconds adrift, at the head of a group that included Armitstead’s team mates Nikki Harris and Ellen van Dijk. “It went exactly as we discussed,” said Armitstead. “The idea was to put someone into the early breakaway and that I would jump across on the climb. We did exactly that.”
“I didn’t feel great today,” she added. “You’re never going to feel great on this terrain. I’m fit but I’m not in my top form. I don’t want to feel great and sparky and aggressive in this race. I just want to feel strong. That’s where my phase of training is at the moment. We’re about eight-and-a-half weeks out from Rio, and I think I’m in the place that I need to be.”
Armitstead’s win, including a ten-second time bonus, gave her a lead of five seconds over Moolman-Pasio going into Stage 4. Soon after the start the field backed off leaving a beaming Nikki Harris to lead through her home village of Draycott, past cheering family and friends, followed by van Dijk and Armistead. “Draycott was fantastic,” she said later. “I was happy the peloton allowed me and the team to enjoy it. Everyone came out to give us a cheer and, hopefully, we inspired some others to get out on their bikes, too.”
The race continued through Aston on Trent and Weston on Trent, across Swarkestone Bridge and on to Woodville where Vos won the intermediate sprint from Armitstead. Vos also took the stage honours in Stoke at the head of a group that included Armitstead, Harris and van Dijk.
That was enough to keep Armitstead eight seconds ahead for the final stage from Northampton to Kettering. She added to her lead with a time bonus for winning the intermediate sprint before a breakaway, although the group posed no threat to her lead. Armitstead’s final winning margin was eleven seconds over Moolman-Pasio while Vos had the compensation of victory in the Points classification. American Katherine Hall (United Healthcare) took the Queen of the Mountains title. Nikki Harris was classified 14th at 53 seconds, having done a great job in support of her team leader.