A team of six riders headed to Germany on July 10th to step up to a UCI stage race having been a driving force in the racing scene in the UK during the first 3 months since the team launch.
Captained on the road by Bethany Crumpton, who played a pivotal role in the peloton to support the pre race team tactics, she was joined by Lizzy Banks, EJay Harris, Chanel Mason and Monica Dew as well as new recruit for the race, Ffion James of the Abergavenny Road Club.
Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the race, the parcours has always been on challenging routes with the world’s best riders keen to get stuck in to 7 tough days of racing. A mixture of cobbles, climbing and technical roads, the stages included a prologue of 6km and a Time Trial of 20km as well as 5 very different road stages that really pushed the peloton both physically and mentally.
The team all performed brilliantly in the prologue with EJay Harris topping the team results with a 4th place finish overall. Her ride was just 2 seconds shy of a podium position which was occupied by Lisa Brennaur, Amy Pieters and Olga Zabelinskya. The performance also saw her claim the jersey for the top Amateur Ride on the stage. With Lizzy Banks in 22nd and ahead of some very big names, the team went in to the first stage of the race with plenty to ride for and the challenge of elevating Lizzy whilst retaining EJay inside the top 20.
The Queen stage of the race proved a battle, with EJay also starting the day in the Most Attacking Rider jersey. By the finish the team had put Lizzy in the leading group and her 13th place in the bunch sprint saw her crowned Best Amateur and climb inside the top 20 on GC.
Stage 2 was an epic but relatively short stage of 4 laps with the race starting and finishing on the top of the “Hanka-Berg”, a gruelling stepped climb, named after Hanka Kupfernagel who had attacked on the ramp to win the race some years before. With a very fast descent in to the entry of the climb, the steep ramps soon killed any momentum riders were carrying and after lap 1 the team were unfortunate to lose Monica Dew to a DNF as she struggled with a sudden recurrence of a back injury that she’d sustained in 2016.
The remainder of the team were in touch with the race, putting in plenty of attacks to try and create a break at the front of the race and at one point Chanel had 25 seconds as she tried to bridge across to a small group that established on the penultimate time through the finish line. All breaks were brought back so with support from Ffion, Beth and EJay, Lizzy was put in a strong position to finish the stage well. It was a brutal final ascent with small time gaps opening, but Lizzy didn’t lose much ground and was set up well to try and regain the Best Amateur Jersey on stage 3.
The 3rd stage saw a two major climbs with a fast descent to the finish and the team rode brilliantly as the early attacks were non stop whilst the smaller UCI teams tried to establish a breakaway. The team were active and getting in every move, but the Canyon SRAM team were superb in controlling the race and nothing was allowed to get away. By the second climb the team had successfully brought Lizzy back to the front group after a puncture and she was set up well for the finish where she again finished in the top 15 in the bunch sprint. It was a stage won by another British rider, Hayley Simmonds who made a late bid for the win and the move stayed away.
The 4th stage was a Time Trial stage and on a course used regularly during the race. A technical but fast Time Trial including 3 short steep climbs, several fast, technical sections and a few sections of cobbles, as well as a start and finish on the cobbles in the town square of Schmölln. The team had EJay and Lizzy inside the top 5 following their rides, but with a number of strong TT riders in the field and a course record by Lauren Stephens of Tibco for the win, by the time the whole field had finished it was 29th and 31st for the two TT riders.
The final two stages saw the team work hard to make their final mark on the race, maintaining their presence at the front and trying to make it in to the breakaway of the day. Unfortunately the two breaks that formed on these stages saw the team miss out, being the only time they hadn’t been in the right position to jump on the move. Frustrating but also a huge learning curve, the team battled hard and on a wet stage 5 were all right in the mix until the final climb before the finish where they put Lizzy in exactly the right place to contest the finish. Finishing 14th on the stage, Lizzy was back in the Best Amateur Jersey, leaving all to play for on what was a fast and frantic short stage 6.
The town on Gotha hosted the final stage and being just 80km in length was run off in less than 2 hours as the race stayed well ahead of the predicted schedule. The team were looking forward to the fast, cobbled finish and ensured they were well placed as the race approached the final 5km. A breakaway had established inside the second lap and it was another frustration that despite their hard work to try and get in there the team had missed the move.
Lizzy Banks again showed her grit for a tough finish, placing 11th in the bunch sprint, which didn’t quite catch the 11 riders who’d escaped.
It had been a great tour for the team in their first UCI stage race with every rider contributing to the strong performance on every stage. Being active and involved at the front of such a tough course is always a difficult thing to do at the first attempt, but the riders weren’t fazed by the task and showed tenacity to get stuck in against some very experienced teams.
Back in the UK for a few easy days, the next race is the penultimate round of the National Road Series near Milton Keynes on Sunday 23rd July.