Lizzie Armitstead won the Aviva Women’s Tour overall in Kettering on Sunday. Her Boels-Dolmans Cycling teammates controlled the race from start to finish.
The victory is Armitstead’s seventh this season. It is the 24th road win of the year for Boels-Dolmans and the Dutch squad’s 11th win at the UCI Women’s WorldTour, including six one-day races, three stages and two general classifications.
“This time last year I was in bed watching it,” said Armitstead. “It’s nice to put bad memories to bed. It’s been a really good and valuable experience all week. The biggest thing I’ve taken away from it is how strong of a team we are, how much of a unit we are. If we put our minds to it, we really can achieve results with anyone on the team, and I’m very proud of everybody for that.”
The team’s plan for the 133-kilometre stage between Northampton and Kettering was clear and calculated. Armitstead started the day in yellow by eight seconds over Ashleigh Moolman (Cervélo Bigla) in second and ten seconds over Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) in third, but it was Marianna Vos in fourth place at 15-seconds that posed the biggest perceived threat. With a maximum of 16-seconds available at the two intermediate sprints and on the finish line, Armitstead knew her best option to hold off Vos was to secure seconds out on the road.
“The tactic was that I was going to win the first bonus sprint,” Armitstead explained. “Then I would have three seconds, and we were effectively safe from Marianne’s threat. We did that perfectly. It was a perfect lead-out. Chantal [Blaak] even took two seconds behind me. I think she almost had to break to let me pass her. She’s phenomenally fast.”
“I was delighted that we had done that,” Armitstead added. “Then it was just a case of letting people go up the road and controlling it so that anyone on the GC was within a minute.”
Elena Cecchini (CANYON//SRAM), Molly Weaver (Liv Plantur), Loren Rowney (ORICA-AIS), Lauren Kitchen (Hitec Products), Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo Bigla), Marta Bastianelli (Alé Cipollini), Eugenia Bujak (BTC City Ljubljana) and Janneke Ensing (Parkhotel Valkenburg) escaped between the first intermediate sprint and the first QOM. Weaver was best placed amongst the leaders in 18th place at 1:41.
The group reached Newnham Hill with a 1:05 advantage. Rowney was dropped on the climb, leaving seven out front. When the breakaway gained a maximum advantage of nearly five minutes before the mid-point of the stage, Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team took to the front and set out to work to control the gap.
Asked if there was ever any worry about the breakaway, Armitstead said: “Probably from me but the girls around me kept a cool head, particularly Chantal. She said: ‘Lizzie, we can close that when we want to.’”
By the mid-point of the stage, Boels-Dolmans had taken back 90 seconds. Twenty kilometres later, the gap had been halved. The seven out front had two minutes with 25 kilometres left to race.
“It was a hard day but probably one of the easier days of the tour compared to the previous stages,” said Armitstead. “We could control it and bring it to a sprint, which was what we wanted.”
Inside the final ten kilometres, the break fell below the one minute mark, eliminating Weaver’s threat to Armitstead’s lead.
Lepisto led the breakaway home 18-seconds ahead of the bunch. Leah Kirchmann (Liv Plantur) took out the bunch sprint while Armitstead rolled across the line in 14th place to secure the overall.
“The main thing I wanted to take away from this is that my climbing legs are good,” said Armitstead. “On the previous two stages, I found out they were. I’m very happy.”
With the general classification win, Armitstead because the first British rider to win the Aviva Women’s Tour.
“Being a British athlete, a British cyclist, I’m very lucky to be from a country that loves cycling at the moment,” Armitstead said. “I hope that continues. It fills me with pride to see families and kids and everybody screaming as we’ve passed. Everyone is really enthusiastic. They’ve really gotten behind it.”
“My teammates ask me: ‘Lizzie, why is it so popular here?’ and I don’t really know the answer,” Armitstead added. “But events like this certainly help keep the ball rolling.”