The Women’s Tour crowned a new winner after Elisa Longo Borghini did enough to clinch victory in a scintillating sprint finish, which the Italian revealed was inspired by Lizzie Deignan’s triumph in the race three years ago.
The Trek-Segafredo rider mastered a tricky bend with 250 metres to go before turning on the firepower to finish third behind stage winner Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) and Clara Copponi (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope). The result was enough to pip Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) to the overall victory by a second, with Poland’s Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram) in third.
It was an astonishing ending to a topsy-turvy race in which Brown – tied on time with Longo Borghini heading into the final 142km stage from Chipping Norton to Oxford – became isolated in the peloton as it reached Oxford city centre, where sizable crowds were treated to a thrilling finale. Longo Borghini’s victory underlined Trek Segafredo’s dominance in Britain’s biggest women’s cycling race and followed up Deignan’s iconic 2019 win when the Briton – who is pregnant and not racing this season – rode to victory just two months after returning to competitive cycling following the birth of her first child.
“Yesterday, Lizzie sent me a very nice message saying, ‘Remember my sprint in 2019?’” said Longo Borghini. “It was such a close battle again. It’s nice to have Lizzie a little bit in the background, even if she’s not racing and she’s waiting for a baby. It’s nice to have her in the team and have her around and to receive messages [from her].”
It was far from plain sailing, though, for Longo Borghini, who slipped up on the first sprint of the day at Carterton after being outsmarted by Brown. The Australian executed a well-worked attack with Copponi to effortlessly earn a three-second cushion over Longo Borghini as the race leader. The race became more frantic when the unlikely trio of Ane Iversen (Hitec Products), Mieke Kroeger (Human Powered Health) and Alessia Patuelli (UAE Team ADQ) formed an aggressive breakaway with 20km until the finish.
The group, aided by a strong tailwind, opened up a 36-second gap over the peloton before rolling through the second sprint at Burcot, meaning Longo Borghini had it all to do if she was to claw back any hope of victory. After the peloton had reeled in the trio, Brown’s momentum was briefly curbed when she suffered a rear-wheel puncture 15km from the finish. The 29-year-old dealt with the issue with a relative amount of calm, although it ultimately disrupted her laser focus at the crucial moment. In a different turn of fortunes, Longo Borghini’s team-mates rallied around her.
The Italian is hardly renowned for her sprinting prowess, but stepped up when it mattered to continue her stellar season – this latest title coming just two months after her Paris-Roubaix triumph. “I wasn’t expecting it at all, to be honest,” she said. “I was really doubting myself. When you see such a team is motivated and they really believe in you, you want to give them back everything. They all did a perfect job. I know that around corners I’m pretty good. I let some riders go in [front of me] to take the draft and I sprinted my all.”
The magnitude of what the Italian achieved was eloquently summed up by Niewiadoma, who was happy with her podium finish. “I feel like what Elisa did today on the finish line was amazing,” she said. “It was very inspiring to see her fight like that. She’s definitely a badass.”
Stage four: Borghini wins first mountain-top finish to close in on Women's Tour lead
Elisa Longo Borghini won a hilltop finish on Black Mountain to win stage five of the Women's Tour in Carmarthenshire.
The Italian (Trek-Segafredo) held off the challenge of Australia's Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), who retained her overall lead after finishing third behind fellow contender Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram).
The trio began the 106.6-kilometre stage, which started at Pembrey Country Park, at the top of the general classification and their podium finish ensures the battle for Women's Tour title will go down to the wire on the final day.
There is nothing to separate Brown and Longo Borghini at the top of the leaderboard, while Poland's Niewiadoma is just two seconds behind.
Early stage leader Joss Lowden was caught by 11 chasers 43km in, with the peloton, led by the FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope team, just over a minute behind.
The leading group, which also included Shari Bossuyt, Christine Majerus, Krista Doebel-Hickok, Mikayla Harvey and Ellen van Dijk, had extended the gap to one minute, 20 seconds with 50km to go.
But the peloton caught the breakaway group with 23km remaining heading to the foot of Black Mountain.
Van Dijk set the pace up the long climb to the summit to stretch out the peloton, with all the contenders still in the group with three kilometres remaining.
Longo Borghini emerged strongest in the final push for the finish, with Brown and Niewiadoma close behind.
Saturday's final 142.9km-stage starts in Chipping Norton and finishes in Oxford city centre.
Stage three: Brown lands stage three to take overall lead
Thursday June 9 – Wrexham to Welshpool, 144.7km
Australian Grace Brown claimed her first Women's Tour stage victory and the overall lead with two days to go after a sprint finish in Welshpool.
Brown, of the FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope team, was part of a three-rider surge at the end of the 90-mile fourth stage from Wrexham.
She held off the challenge of Elisa Longo Borghini, who despite making a break for the line eventually finished third behind Poland's Kasia Niewiadoma.
The 29-year-old Brown now leads Niewiadoma by four seconds and Longo Borghini by six heading into Friday's 66.3-mile queen stage in Carmarthenshire, which finishes with a 4.4mile climb to the top of Black Mountain, which has gradient of 21 per cent in places, in the Brecon Beacons.
DSM's Dutch rider Lorena Wiebes, the previous wearer of the yellow jersey and pre-race favourite, dropped back to eighth, 66 seconds behind the leader.
Elizabeth Holden, of the Le Col-Wahoo team, is the leading British rider in 21st overall place, a further 22 seconds adrift.
Stage two: Wiebes charges into leader's jersey back-to-back wins
Wednesday June 8 – Tewkesbury to Gloucester, 107.9km
Lorena Wiebes claimed the leader's yellow jersey by sprinting to a second-successive victory on stage three of the Women's Tour.
The Dutch rider and pre-race favourite, who has bounced back from her opening-day crash in impressive fashion, took advantage of English DSM team-mate Pfeiffer Georgi's lead-out to cross the line first in Gloucester.
But the 23-year-old had to do things the hard way, battling back from being dropped by the peloton on an uncategorised climb with 20km of the 107.9km stage from Tewkesbury remaining to rejoin the front group with 9km to go.
"Today was a hard stage, with attacks from the beginning of the race," Wiebes said afterwards.
"The girls did a great job reacting to them all. On the first climbs we were in a good position and Leah (Kirchmann) and Franzi (Koch) kept the pace up because of the breakaway.
"On the second last climb I was with Charlotte (Kool) and Pfeiffer in the second group but when we started the last climb, they brought it back to the first group.
"We will go all-in tomorrow to try and make it three."
Wiebes has already won four of the last six Women's Tour stages - dating back to the race last year - and was again successful in the first Women's Tour leg to take place in Gloucestershire.
"I think we can be more than happy about today. It was a hard stage today and was not easy," Wiebes' DSM coach Albert Timmer said.
Lizzie Holden was the top British rider on stage three, finishing 16th, and is currently 22nd overall, 20 seconds behind the leader for Le Col-Wahoo.
Stage two: Wiebes bounces back to take another win in Essex
Tuesday June 7 – Harlow to Harlow, 92.1km
Lorena Wiebes bounced back from an opening day crash to take victory on stage two of the Women's Tour.
The DSM rider underlined why she had been the hot favourite 24 hours earlier as she easily powered clear to win a sprint finish with room to spare at the end of the 92km stage that started and finished in Harlow.
Barbara Guarischi (Movistar) edged out Shari Bossuyt (Canyon-Sram) in a battle for second place, while stage one winner Clara Copponi (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) rolled home in sixth to retain the overall lead.
Wiebes, who came into this race on the back of her victory in the RideLondon Classique at the end of last month, finished down in 85th on Monday after a late crash, but had no such troubles a day later.
That was despite the Dutchwoman's team-mates being left out of position by a crash in the final 10km, leaving Wiebes to ride the wheels herself before launching her attack.
"If you smell the finish line, I guess you have more motivation," the 23-year-old said.
Wiebes' victory moved her up to third overall, four seconds off Copponi in yellow and one second behind Maike van der Duin (Le Col-Wahoo) in second place – although Wednesday's rolling stage from Tewkesbury to Gloucester could produce more significant gaps.
This stage had been animated by Sammie Stuart (Cams-Basso), the 31-year-old firefighter making her debut in the race, as she attacked midway through the day to go solo.
But after the Briton was caught with 20km to go, Lily Williams (Human Powered Health) and Gladys Verhulst (Le Col-Wahoo) tried a counter-attack, holding only a slim advantage over the peloton even as a crash split the chasing group, putting some of the DSM riders out of position.
The leading duo were caught inside the final three kilometres as the sprinters lined up, but once Wiebes attacked, nobody else could live with her power.
Stage one: Copponi takes early lead after crash-marred opening day
Monday June 6 – Colchester to Bury St Edmunds, 142.1km
Clara Copponi won stage one of the Women's Tour in Bury St Edmunds after a dramatic late crash, with Britain's Alice Barnes coming home fifth.
Copponi (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) capitalised on the incident with 300 metres remaining, which took out several riders including Lorena Wiebes (DSM) and Coryn Labecki (Jumbo-Visma).
The crash occurred on the penultimate turn and Copponi emerged at the front of the sprint and held off Italian trio Sofia Bertizzolo (UAE Team ADQ), Elena Cecchini (SD Worx) and Arianna Fidanza (BikeExchange-Jayco).
The 141.9-kilometre opening stage, which began on wet roads in Colchester, had been delayed and restarted with 35km still to race due to a road accident involving a police motorcyclist and another vehicle in front of the peloton.
Britain's Danielle Shrosbree (CAMS-Basso Bikes), who led by one 1min 10sec seconds when the race was stopped, was caught by the peloton 15km from the finish.
In the final 500m, Wiebes appeared to be in prime position, but team-mate Charlotte Kool slid out on a narrow turn and took out Wiebes, Labecki, and Barbara Guarischi (Movistar) with her.
Copponi took full advantage, emerging on the wheel of Bertizzolo at the final corner and sprinting past 100m from the line.