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Start list - Stages

Team Great Britain today start the Tour de L?Aude as Olympic preparation enters a crucial stage for the women?s team.

Nicole Cooke is again joined by Specialized?s Emma Pooley and Halford?s newest recruit Sharon Laws for the ten-day French stage race, but team manager Julian Winn has said that he will only make a decision on who leads the team when the race enters its crucial stage.

?All of them will start as equals until we have a natural leader,? Winn said. ?They will all have opportunities, so the aim is they get as far into the race losing as little time as possible and we?ll then see how it pans out.

?We definitely want to come away with something, now what that is I don?t know, but I expect a stage or two. As for the general classification, that will come as we keep rolling along. If we find ourselves in a good position and a chance to win it then we go into a different pattern of racing.?

The British women will have plenty of opportunity to make their presence felt as the climbs that Cooke, Pooley and Laws excel on litter the stages, with the toughest day coming on stage four to Osseja in the Pyrenees.

?I think she?ll be the surprise package here,? Winn said of Laws, who won the Olveston women?s road race last weekend after her Halfords team had dominated proceedings. ?It?s a learning curve for her as well. We?ve got three good riders, but she?s got very good endurance which will stand her in good stead.

?Obviously Nicole has got massive experience and Emma should be looking to do something. She got third overall in the Grand Boucle last year so she?s got some pedigree in stage racing.?

The youngest member of the British team is 18-year-old Jessica Allen who excelled in the classics earlier this year, but will be carefully monitored in this the longest and toughest women?s stage race on the calendar, ?she?s riding well and she?s in good shape,? Winn said. ?Age doesn?t mean anything it?s about the expectation put on them that crushes them in the end, so the aim is for her to finish it.

?I?m not going to put her in a box. If we get four or five days in and she?s starting to go downhill I?ll have no hesitation to pull her out.?

Catherine Hare will also be on hand to support the team leaders and is the only rider on the British team who has ridden the Tour de L?Aude before. The sixth team member is Leda Cox who has been brought in after some recent impressive results.

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Emma Pooley

Nicole Cooke

Sharon Laws

Jessica Allen

Catherine Hare

Leda Cox

?We want to keep the door open. It?s a GB team and she?s been riding well in America,? Winn said of Cox. ?If you?re getting results then you?ll have the chance to come and show yourself. She won a race or two and she?s got a lot of experience so we thought we?d draft her in and give her a chance.?

If the British team do come away with a result it will be a massive boost to their Olympic preparations as the field includes all the top women?s teams and riders. Only DSB Banks Marrianne Vos is missing after the Dutch woman decided to travel to South America instead and continue her Olympic preparations there.

The race starts today (Friday May 16) with a 3.9km prologue in the town of Gruissan. will have regular updates from the Tour de L?Aude.

Start list - Stages

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