The racing may not yet have caught fire, but the fight for this year’s OVO Energy Women’s Tour is beginning to take shape nicely. Marianne Vos won Tueday’s second stage, a short 62.5km criterium around Kent’s Cyclopark, to assume the race lead. But it is the identity of the rider just behind the Dutch star in the general classification which will have home fans excited.
Lizzie Deignan, just weeks after returning to competitive cycling following the birth of her first child last September, was second in the final bunch sprint. Thanks to the bonus seconds Deignan picked up there, and at an earlier intermediate sprint, the Trek-Segafredo rider moved up to second overall, just nine seconds behind CCC-Liv’s Vos.
The two have plenty of history, of course. Most notably they duked it out at the 2012 Olympic road race when Vos beat Deignan in a sprint in torrential rain on the Mall. And the prospect of the race’s two biggest hitters going head to head over the next four days, particularly on Wednesday’s hilltop finish at Burton Dassett, and again in Friday’s hilly stage in mid-Wales, is an appealing one.
Vos said she was looking forward to grappling with an old foe, adding that in her opinion Deignan looked to be back to something like her best form. “No doubt,” she said. “I’ve seen her in her first races back, and of course she hasn’t won yet but I think she’s close to her top shape. And her team is strong as well.”
That is one card in Deignan’s favour. Trek were clearly the strongest team in the final on Tuesday, trying to set Deignan up for the sprint. But Vos proved too strong in the final reckoning. “A lead out like that deserves the win but second place was the best I could do,” Deignan admitted afterwards.
It is to be hoped that Deignan, and those just behind her on GC such as Coryn Rivera [Sunweb] and Lisa Brennauer [WNT], will attack Vos at every opportunity over the next few days. The lack of action is becoming an unwelcome trend for the Women’s Tour. Every stage of last year’s race ended in some form of sprint. And so far both of this year’s stages have been tightly controlled.
It felt like a bit of an opportunity missed. The Kent Cyclopark stage - which comprised 20 laps of a 2.5km man-made circuit just outside Gravesend - had looked a bit gimmicky on paper. But it could have been great. With the sun out, grip levels were good. And the assembled crowds would love to have seen the race split up.
Alas, the attacks never materialised. Alice Barnes had a dig right at the start, and her Canyon-SRAM team-mate Elena Cecchini also had a go later on. But the pace of the bunch was just too high. The riders defended themselves afterwards.
“At times the peloton was going 50kph,” Barnes noted. “And if it’s going 50kph then you’re going to have to go 55kph to get off the front. It was aggressive out there.”
Vos agreed. “It’s so hard,” she said. “On such a circuit, you really need a strong break of a couple of riders who can work together. I actually think there was a lot of action today, but it was in the bunch, working to stay at the front.”
Organisers will undoubtedly be hoping the racing livens up over the next few days. With the GC battle perfectly poised, it would be a shame to waste the ingredients. Wednesday’s third stage takes the riders from Henley-on-Thames to Blenheim Palace.