The current British, Commonwealth and World champion Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) won last Saturday the second edition of Strade Bianche Women Elite, the first race ever of the UCI Women’s WorldTour, covering 121km from Siena to Siena. On the final climb to the finish line Lizzie overtook her breakaway partners, European champion Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Rabobank Liv) and Swedish rider Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5)
“It’s amazing to win the first UCI women’s WorldTour event and this race is absolutely special. After winning in Belgium last week, thankfully I’m not affected by the curse of the rainbow jersey. I managed to honour it again today. We’ve shared the work in the last 10km with my two breakaway companions and I pulled away on the climb. It worked out really well” said Lizzie Armitstead to the media shortly after crossing the finish line.
Armitstead stated that despite the fact the race was a team target, winning Strade Bianche was not a personal objective for her as long as her training has not been that intensive to expect winning and performing this way so early in the season (she has made a two wins out of two competition days in 2016) and that she was confident that she can still keep improving her current form as within her training load there is still room to improve.
By hosting the first UCI WWT race ever the historic city of Siena has witness a piece of history: Lizzie Armitstead’s victory in Siena came with the honour of donning the first WWT jersey, making her the last women to wear the World Cup series jersey, and the first one to wear the WWT jersey.
British rider Nikki Harris (Boels Dolmans) launched an attack, which was the first move of an aggressive tactic from Boels Dolmans, in San Martino in Grania, the third gravel sector that split the peloton. With 40km left to race, Harris had thirty seconds over Lucinda Brand (Rabobank-Liv) and a few more over a chase group of eight. Lucinda eventually caught her but both of them were caught by the chasers. At that time the leading group swelled to 40 riders with 30 kilometres left to race.
With 23km left, Kasia Niewiadoma set a very powerful attack at the two-digit gradient unpaved fifth sector, that was followed by Lizzie Armitstead, Emma Johansson, Anna van der Bergen, Elisa Longo Borghini, Megan Guarnier and Małgorzata Jasińska, but they did not manage to break away from the rest of the group.
However, Rabobank-Liv did not wanted the group to arrive back together to Siena. It was Anna Van der Breggen who first attack, and then Kasia Niewiadoma counterattacked in which was the decisive move of the race. Lizzie and Emma made it across to Kasia. The British and the Polish riders collaborated well and the gap started to grow while the Swedish rider just sat on saying she was waiting for her teammate Elisa to join. The leading trio exited the seventh and final sector of gravel with barely one minute gap and extend it out to nearly two minutes on the run-in to Siena.
With less than a kilometre left, on the final climb of race, Kasia attacked again, Lizzie took her wheel while Emma struggled to follow both of them. It was at the 500m mark (from where and thanks to Beth Duryea Canyon-SRAM via Periscope we could see on live these moments) where Lizzie counterattacked, taking quickly a few meters on the Polish and leaving Emma with no options for the victory. Those meters were enough for the British to claim the first victory on the first UCI WWT event.
“I’m really proud, I’m really proud of the team. We’re one of the strongest teams, and I think we showed that today, and we showed it on the best stage. The Women’s WorldTour is hopefully going to be a better stage for women’s cycling, and we showed again that we can perform on the biggest stages.” Lizzie said after the race.
Despite that Kasia did not win overall she was the first young rider, thus she obtained 6 points for the young rider classification. Swiss rider Jolanda Neff came in second place while Italian rider Rossella Ratto came in third, earning 4 and 2 points respectively.
Sheyla Gutiérrez and Ane Santesteban made history by being the first to Spanish riders to ever compete at a UCI WWT event. Sheyla Gutiérrez went even further finishing in 44th place over six minutes after the winner. Ane Santesteban could not finish the race but managed to help her team leader giving her a wheel at the decisive moment she had a puncture.
Last year’s protagonist and fourth place finisher, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo-Bigla) along with Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-High 5) and thirteen other riders were disqualified under the UCI’s revised train crossing rule. The rule was revised after Paris-Roubaix where a number of riders came dangerously close to collision with a train.
“We were just about to rejoin the front group and a train was coming so the booms were going down. It was just starting to go down and we rode across and got disqualified. We were 100 metres to the peloton and there were only two cars between us. What do you do in that situation? I had never been in that situation before. I had really good legs and think I could have been on the podium today but that’s cycling.” said Ashleigh after the race for Cervélo-Bigla.
FIRST UCI WWT EVENT ANALYSIS
Lets start mentioning some weaknesses of the first UCI WWT ever. First of all, the first UCI WWT event broke its own regulations regarding media and communication networking. It is outrageous that there was neither a specific hashtag nor specific Twitter account, and that the overall Strade Bianche tweeting frequency was so poor. Furthermore information release has been inefficient and inaccurate, some press releases including participants startlist were inaccurate and not up to date prior to the start of the race. Despite the fact that I was already stated that no live coverage was going to be undertaking for this first event, it is incredibly unreasonable that decision. The first event of the UCI WWT was an outstanding opportunity of showing the change and taking lead the UCI is supposed to bring to Women’s Cycling. It is even worst that despite having been announced that highlights and exclusive content were going to be released at some official channels within a few hours of the event only RAI and SBS broadcaster ones have been made available.
But lets bring some optimism into it. The excitement around the first UCI WWT has been remarkable. Teams, sponsors, staff and riders have made an amazing effort trying to illustrate what was going on during the race. They have been sharing their thoughts and experiences prior to the race and they have as well related their point of view with their fantastic press race reviews releases. Despite the fact that I do not go along with the “no-crossing” rule (do not get me wrong, I agree that riders must not cross at any time but “a time difference” should be subtracted later on) it is great when rules are applied, because that is what they are for.
To sum up, media attention has been great and that is something we really need to exploit. Such opportunity will not last forever and we need to turn it into our favour shortly.
Next UCI WWT race will be next Saturday at Women’s WorldTour Ronde van Drenthe, lets hope some mistakes are fixed and some opportunities are already seized at the Dutch race.