New girl in the pro peloton, Britain’s Jessie Walker makes a big hit in the heat of Italy
Despite losing time and the mantle of top Brit on stage six of the Giro d’Italia Femminile, it’s been a good week for Yorkshire’s Jessie Walker. The Servetto-Footon rider began Thursday’s stage between Trevisio and Morbegno 47th on General Classification, some 20 minutes ahead of her nearest compatriot, Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans).
However, yesterday’s stage north of Milan, the hardest in the nine-stage race so far, saw Walker lose 29 minutes, slipping down the standings to 58th.
“Today it really hit me,” 20-year-old Walker told Cycling Weekly. “In the neutral I was struggling on the back, thinking this was going to be a hard day. On the second climb my legs just had it, I ended up in a group of five and we plodded along to the finish.”
Daughter of the 1991 Milk race winner Chris Walker, she set the tone for her Giro with 20th place in stage three into Mantova on Monday. Her best performance, however, was Wednesday’s mountain-top finish to Aprica, where she finished 30th, in a group just one second behind stage winner and World Champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Rabo-Liv).
“It was a 15k climb to the finish and I was yo-yoing the whole way, but I held on. It eased up a few times and I just struggled to get back on, then I gave it everything to the line. I think that’s why I’m tired today, it took more out of me than I thought.”
It’s not just the peloton and the route that have proved challenging for the Dave Rayner funded athlete. “I think it reached 47 degrees [on the first day] and I’ve never even been in that heat, let alone raced in it. The next day I made a conscious effort to drink a lot more and pour water on myself to cool down and that made a massive difference, I had so much more energy.
“It’s been a learning curve. It’s not the best race to be chucked in to learn how to do it, but I’ve taken something from it and improved the first three or four days. Now it’s starting to catch up with me, but we’re nearly done now.”
Known as the Giro Rosa, the race is the women’s only Grand Tour attended by the World’s best teams and riders, thus accentuating her achievement. This is Walker’s first year at UCI level, moving to the top tier of women’s cycling with Matrix Fitness, after spending a dominant 2014 with them. She moved to her new Italian team in mid-June after an unusual mid-season transfer when she was not getting the volume and style of racing she had hoped for.
Walker believes her Giro performance proves the move was the right thing for her. “It emphasises the fact I made the right decision. It’s taken me a few races to get into it, because coming from the UK and Belgium it’s completely different, but I’m getting more and more into it and proving this is sort of racing that suits me, so I’m really pleased.”
Currently in 53rd place, recently-crowned British Champion Lizzie Armitstead is riding as a domestique for her Boels-Dolmans team. Team mate Megan Guarnier wears the pink jersey, leading Anna Van Der Breggen (Rabo-Liv) by 11 seconds.
Stage seven of the Giro Rosa takes the peloton between Arenzano and Loano on the Ligurian coast. With a 21.7 kilometre time trial on Saturday, the race finishes with the 92 km Queen stage in the mountains near Lake Maggiore this Sunday.