By Nigel Wynn
Britain's Emma Pooley has won the Grande Boucle Feminine Internationale - the 'women's Tour de France' - after foiling a last-ditch attempt by her rival Marianne Vos to snatch the race victory on Sunday.
Pooley was one of five riders to launch an attack on the first climb of the day, just 3km into the day's action. The Briton was ably supported in the break by two of her Cervelo team-mates, and the trio effectively countered the numerous attacks by Vos, who was out to overthrow Pooley at the top of the table.
Although Vos won the stage in Anglet, she only gained three seconds over Pooley plus a 10 second time bonus - not even enough for her to pass Pooley's team mate and 2008 winner Christiane Soeder in the overall, giving Cervelo a one-two at the top of the final overall classification.
"I'm very happy," said Pooley after the stage. "It was a hard day, probably the hardest stage of the race because the team had to work to defend the yellow jersey.
"When we ended up with three girls in a break of five we knew that the race was saved. The Grande Boucle is a really special race with a big history and I'm very happy to win it.
"My next goal will be the National Championships next weekend and after that the Giro d'Italia. I am looking forward to it."
Pooley set the scene for what must rank as the biggest win of her professional career by winning the opening time trial. The Olympic time trial silver medallist then won stage three, giving her the race lead.
Pooley's win has crowned what has been a fantastic week for British cyclists - and for British women in particular - after Nicole Cooke won the Giro del Trentino in Italy on Friday. Cooke herself is a double winner of the Grande Boucle, having clinched victory in 2006 and 2007.
And another British woman hitting form this week is Nikki Harris. The 22 year old from Derbyshire, riding for Flexpoint, finished second on the third and final stage of the Raboster in Holland to finish fifth overall against some stiff opposition.
Cooke aims for her tenth national title in Abergavenny on Saturday. With the opposition in fine fettle, it makes for an intriguing prospect.
La Grande Boucle Feminine 2009: Final overall classification
1. Emma Pooley (GB) Cervelo in 7-24-36
2. Christiane Soeder (Aut) Cervelo at 22sec
3. Marianne Vos (Ned) DSB Bank at 34sec
Pooley wins first stage of Grande Boucle
Emma Pooley: Rider Profile
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