Britain’s Hayley Simmonds finished her first race as a professional safely in the bunch on stage one of the Ladies Tour of Qatar today. The 27-year-old finished in 68th place, on the same time as the winner Kirsten Wild (Hitec Products), who won the bunch sprint to take the gold leader’s jersey.
“It was tough, a real baptism of fire,” the British time trial champion told Cycling Weekly after the 99 kilometre stage. “I did drift back after the change of direction, and found myself in one of the back echelons, but we brought it back together.”
As is normal for Qatar, the parcours was pan flat and, with only a hint of the wind which characterises the event at the northern limit of the route, the peloton stayed together for a bunch sprint.
Starting and finishing at the Qatar University, the race was a test event for this year’s World Championship road race. The women rode one lap of the 14-kilometre circuit which will constitute this year’s event to be held in October, later than normal to avoid the worst of the extreme heat.
For Simmonds, part of Lizzie Armitstead’s World Championship winning team, the off-season has not been conventional one by the standards of many professional riders. In the process of completing her PhD, she was required to attend a conference in Hawaii in December, so trained right the way through.
“I took my break really late,” she told us. “I trained all the way through the Worlds, Chrono des Nations and national hill climb and until the 10 of December. I started back on December 27, went to Spain and did a really decent block on the road, where I really picked up my fitness. It was hard riding and we were staying up in the mountains, so at the end of every ride you have to climb back up to the village. Finding some vaguely flat routes for my easy days was hard.”
Despite her training, before today she had not raced since the World Championships and admitted being nervous beforehand.
“I’ve not raced anywhere like this before and obviously I’ve done UCI races, but I’m still learning about racing at this standard,” Simmonds explained. “Positioning in particular is something that I’ve not been that great at and this race is a lot about positioning so I’m a little bit nervous.”
However, today has given her confidence for the remaining three stages: “I’ll be nervous again tomorrow, but it’s good to know my legs are good enough to stay with the bunch. I’ll try and recover well tonight and see how I fare with two race days in a row, but it’s all about getting a good work out. Get a bit of hard training in, find my race legs, and get ready for later in the season.”
Simmonds aims to be fit for some of the hilly classics and is working towards selection for the Olympic time trial in Rio later this year.
Stage winner Wild, who has won the general classification on four previous occasions, also won one of the intermediate sprints and the accompanying time bonus, will aim to defend her Gold jersey on tomorrow’s 120km stage between the Sheikh Faisal Museum and Al Khor Corniche.
Ladies Tour of Qatar, stage one
1. Kirsten Wild (Ned) Hitec Products in 2-19-04
2. Annalisa Cucinotta (Ita) Alé Cipollini
3. Lizzie Williams (Aus) Orica-AIS
4. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boels-Dolmans
5. Shelley Olds (USA) Cylance
6. Susanna Zorzi (Ita) Italy
7. Monique Van de Ree (Ned) Lares-Wauwdeals
8. Barbara Guarischi (Ita) Canyon-SRAM
9. Katrin Garfoot (Aus) Orica-AIS
10. Sara Mustonen-Lichan (Swe) Liv-Plantur all same time
General classification after stage one
1. Kirsten Wild (Ned) Hitec Products in 2-01-51
2. Annalisa Cucinotta (Ita) Alé Cipollini at 7 secs
3. Lizzie Williams (Aus) Orica-AIS at 9 secs
4. Chloe Hosking (Aus) Wiggle-Hi5 at 9 secs
5. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boels-Dolmans at 10 secs
6. Marta Tagliaferro (Ita) Alé Cipollini at 11 secs
7. Shelley Olds (USA) Cylance at 13 secs
8. Susanna Zorzi (Ita) Italy at 13 secs
9. Monique Van de Ree (Ned) Lares-Wauwdeals at 13 secs
10. Barbara Guarischi (Ita) Canyon-SRAM at 13 secs