Stage three of this year’s Aviva Women’s Tour was arguably the toughest of the week and it was won by arguably the toughest rider currently in the women’s peloton.
Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) won the stage from a group of four riders to not only notch up her sixth victory of the season, but taking with it the race leader’s yellow jersey.
Armitstead found herself among a group of quality riders on the run into the finish in Chesterfield at the end of the 109km stage, and after repeated attacks to weaken her opponents’ legs, she out-sprinted on them cobbled streets of the Derbyshire town’s market place.
The shortest stage of the five day race was by far the most explosive, with the peloton splitting in the early stages before the break of the day went clear following the first intermediate sprint after just 27km.
In an effort to maximise her lead, race leader Marianne Vos took maximum bonus seconds at that sprint before a flurry of attacks saw a 11-woman break form and build a maximum gap of 1-55. That group contained representatives of many of the top teams, including Boels-Dolmans who had Chantal Blaak biding her time for the team’s plan to play out behind.
The main peloton was in a constant state of flux, with riders being dropped then recovering their position on the hilly terrain.
On the run in to the second classified climb of the day, Armitstead’s Dutch team played their card, leading her into the base of Bank Road in Matlock.
Following an attack from Ashleigh Mailman-Pasio (Cervelo-Bigla) and Elisa Longo-Borghini (Wiggle-High5), the 20% slopes provided the opportunity for Armitstead and her companions to significantly reduce the gap to the leading group.
When, with under 30km left to race, they caught the escapees, it was the world champion’s teammate, Blaak who forced the issue, before Armitstead herself took control.
“I just kept attacking them,” Armitstead told us at the finish, the strain of competition written on her face. “Nobody was working with us and I didn’t want to take that kind of group to the line, I didn’t want people sitting on, so as soon as the road went slightly up I attacked. It took a few times for them to get dropped, but eventually it was just the strongest left.”
Behind them Vos’s Rabo-Liv team were struggling to come on terms. Dutch champion Lucinda Brand dropped back from the break to help, but the gap only dropped below 40 seconds in the final kilometre.
“Christine and Ellen did a brilliant job of leading me out into that final steep KOM,” Armitstead continued. “Nobody likes to be in that position because they’re in the red at the bottom of a tough climb, so I owe a lot to them and to Chantal, it really is a team victory again.
Saturday’s’s fourth stage provides another hilly challenge over the 119km between Nottingham and Stoke-on-Trent, and it remains to be seen whether Boels-Dolmans will play for a win.
“We didn’t come here for the overall,” team manager Danny Stam told Cycling Weekly.
“We came for some stages, but if you are in the situation that we are in now you don’t give it away easily. We look tonight for a new plan and we see what’s going on.”
Aviva Women’s Tour stage four, Ashbourne – Chesterfield (109km)
1. Lizzie Armitstead (GBr) Boels-Dolmans, 2-52-27
2. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SA) Cervelo-Bigla, st
3. Elisa Longo-Borghini (Ita) Wiggle-High5, st
4. Amanda Spratt (Aus) Orica-AIS at 2s
5. Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabo-Liv, at 36s
6. Amalie Dideriksen (Den) Boels-Dolmans, st
7. Leah Kirchmann (Can) Liv-Plantur, st
8. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita) Wiggle-High5, st
9. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Canyon-Sram, st
10. Amy Pieters (Ned) Wiggle-High5, st
Overall standings after stage three
1. Lizzie Armitstead (GBr) Boels-Dolmans, 9-55-59
2. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SA) Cervelo-Bigla, at 5s
3. Elisa Longo-Borghini (Ita) Wiggle-High5, at 7s
4. Amanda Spratt (Aus) Orica-AIS, at 14s
5. Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabo-Liv, at 27s
6. Christine Majerus (Lux) Boels-Dolmans, at 32s
7. Amy Pieters (Ned) Wiggle-High5, at 37s
8. Leah Kirchmann (Can) Liv-Plantur, at 41s
9. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Canyon-SRAM, at st
10. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita) Wiggle-High5, at 43s