Despite a tough day when both she and her team came under pressure, Grace Brown held on to the Women’s Tour overall lead on Friday.
The FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope rider finished third on the stage, on the same time as winner Elisa Longo Borghini, and the two will begin Saturday’s final stage neck and neck.
The Australian moved into the race leader’s yellow jersey after winning stage four into Welshpool, but began Friday’s stage with only four seconds between her and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) with Trek-Segafredo’s Elisa Longo Borghini only a further two seconds adrift. With a further four riders within 20 seconds, Brown might have been under pressure from all directions.
Not long after the race rolled out for the 106.6km stage, starting on the Welsh coast near Llanelli, a large group got away. While that was little threat, a later group needed controlling.
But the stage was always going to be decided on the final climb.
“It was quite a race into the bottom of it, all the GC riders had lead outs, but my team had done a lot of work all day so we were down to one rider in the end,” Brown told Cycling Weekly while sat on the road, back against the barriers, recovering from her effort.
“The wind sort of dulled the attacks which was really good for me and the pace was manageable until the last 500m when it was a bit of a drag race.”
Friday was the first time FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope had ever defended a WorldTour general classification, and only the second time Brown had ridden in a race leader’s jersey at the top level.
“I had the leader’s jersey at Burgos last year but I wasn’t really going for the GC, so it was cool to be in that position and have the team around me,” she explained. With the second breakaway leading by 1-25 the virtual overall lead was up the road with them, but Brown’s entire team could be seen controlling, then bringing it back. So what had been the plan?
“To have the team around me until the climb, but we knew the first two climbs would be tough and we lost some of the girls early on but they came back,” she continued. “We wanted to control the break, but we actually wanted to let the break go to the finish so none of the GC girls got the bonus time, but we got wrong information on the road and it came down quicker than we wanted.
“But it was an honour to be sitting on the back of my team mates all day, they executed it to perfection.”
Immediately after she crossed the line Brown was unsure whether she had retained the overall lead, but her team have more defending to come, on the final stage. Longo Borghini’s stage victory moved her onto the same time, and the Australian retains the overall lead only by dint of count back.
And not only does Brown have the Italian’s Trek-Segafredo squad to think about, Niewiadoma is only two seconds down leading a strong and aggressive Canyon-SRAM team.
“I’m not sure how we’re going to approach that yet,” Brown said, with a sigh.
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