Round two of the 2015 British Cycling Women’s Road Series, the popular Cheshire Classic, was won by Dame Sarah Storey following a characteristic solo breakaway, launched with three of the 12 laps remaining.
Storey, a previous winner of the race in 2012, found this victory all the sweeter after it was largely dominated by her strong Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International team with an all round performance that allowed her to cross the line on her own.
“I’ve always dreamed about winning this race solo,” she explained after the race, “and I did it, I can’t believe it.”
UK road race champion Laura Trott (Matrix Pro Fitness) won the bunch sprint for second place ahead of Olympic Academy Mountain bike specialist Alice Barnes, representing the Betch.NL-Superior-Brentjens MTB Racing Team.
Despite the team’s domination, Storey’s win was hard earned and far from straightforward. “It was really hard out there today,” she explained. “I had to bring two riders back to the group, Gabby (Shaw) and Ciara (Horne) after punctures, plus we had planned to send riders up the road, but each time we did Matrix (Pro Fitness, the team of National Champion Laura Trott) were amazing, working really hard to bring everything back.”
Attacks and counterattacks permeated in the early laps provided a thrilling spectacle for the large crowds gathering on the course’s signature climb The Cliff and the first hour of the race was run off at 23mph - impressive given the hill and a strong headwind on parts of the circuit.
Storey’s team mate Katy Curtis found herself in an early three-up attempt at escape which opened a gap of 30 seconds until the peloton decided enough was enough and quickly brought it back.
Almost immediately, what could have been a significant race-winning break went up the road. Five riders, including defending Cheshire Classic champion Katie Archibald (Pearl Izumi SportsTours International) plus last season’s series winner Nicola Juniper (Giordana Triton) opened a forty second gap and the threat increased when Joanna Rowsell, winner of stage two of the opening round, rode across to the group with another of the series’ leading riders, Bex Rimmington (Ikon Mazda).
Another of the Olympic Academy mountain bikers having a great day was Beth Crumpton, also very active in the break and having that kind of firepower up the road was always going to draw a response from the peloton.
UK road race champion Laura Trott recognised the threat and made a big effort to bridge but admitted afterwards that she got caught in no man’s land between the break and the chasers.
“It was so annoying,” explained Trott, “I tried really hard and if the gap had been 20 seconds, not 40, I might have made it but there were strong riders in that group. I also thought that if I’d made it across then the peloton would have stopped chasing.”
As it turned out, the break didn’t stick. Rowsell took the prime sprint win at the mid-race point and the energy seemed to dissipate from the group, much to the chagrin of Juniper.
“It was frustrating,” explained Juniper, “Look at the riders in that group and on paper you’d think it should have stuck. I’m not sure if they were just going for the prime because they seemed to be soft tapping through after that.”
Juniper though was of a similar mindset to all those taking part in the race – that it was extremely high quality.
“You had to have eyes in the back of your head,” she explained “There were riders pinging off everywhere. Starley Primal had riders up the road, Ikon Mazda were really strong and the Matrix team were giving everything they had for Laura Trott. It was great to see so many teams riding like teams.”
Storey’s eventual race-winning break came after a couple of classic one-two attacks from Ciara Horne and Katie Archibald enforced a lot of chasing down and softening up of the peloton until she launched a trademark attack and rode away from everyone along the long drag into the headwind.
The gap progressively opened to around 40 seconds and despite a lot of activity at the front of the peloton over the closing two laps, Storey never looked like being caught and she rode over the line solo to realize her dream of winning this event alone.
Behind her, some impressive performances saw Emily Kay finish fouth, the first of a strong race-long showing by the young USN squad, just ahead of Curtis with Louise Mahe (Ikon Mazda) and Laura Greenhalgh (Les Filles) in close attendance behind Barnes, Trott and Storey.
The British Cycling Women’s Road Series heads south for round three, the closed circuit race Hillingdon Grand Prix on May 31.
1. Dame Sarah Storey Pearl Izumi Sports Tours Intl 02:36:55
2. Laura Trott Matrix Fitness at 34 seconds
3. Alice Barnes Betch.NL-Superior-Brentjens MTB Racing Team at 36 seconds
4. Emily Kay Team USN
5. Katie Curtis Pearl Izumi Sports Tours Intl
6. Louise Mahe IKON - Mazda
7. Charline Joiner Team WNT
8. Laura Greenhalgh Les Filles Racing Team
9. Henrietta Colborne Bonito Squadra Corse
10. Emily Nelson Team USN
11. Nicola Juniper Team Giordana- Triton
12. Eve Dixon Team 22
13. Gabriella Shaw Pearl Izumi Sports Tours Intl
14. Jennifer George Les Filles Racing Team
15. Natalie Grinczer Fusion RT Gearclub Bike Science
16 .Helen Ralston Les Filles Racing Team
17. Rose Osbourne Team WNT
18. Anna Christian Wiggle Honda
19. Susan Freeburn PMR@Toachim House
20. Ellie Campbell Fusion RT Gearclub Bike Science all at same time