Defending champion Nikki Juniper (Giordana Triton) won the Francesco Group Women’s Stafford Grand Prix – and with it the overall British Cycling Women’s Road Series.
The 33-year-old from Brentwood in Essex sprinted to victory ahead of her only rival for the Series, Team WNT’s Charline Joiner, after the two riders had broken away early in the race and lapped almost all the rest of the race.
Although she has the overall Series title in the bag with the final round at Ryedale still to come, it was a first win for Juniper, for whom consistency has proved key.
A small field or riders contested the race in the grounds of Shugborough Estate near Stafford on a tight technical circuit that featured dead turns and cattle grids.
The strong showing of the teams led by the two leaders expectedly controlled the race, meaning there was little chance of the break coming back when Joiner and Juniper fully committed to it. But there was no lack of action or excitement in the chasing pack as the narrow, technical circuit split the field into several chasing groups intent on doing battle not only for valuable Series points but for an impressively large cash prize fund.
The race unfolded after an initial hard pace was set by Giordana Triton's Abby-Mae Parkinson which saw the field strung out on the opening lap. WNT's Jo Tindley then launched the first serious attack of the race but as soon as it was brought back, Juniper kicked hard, Joiner responded and the two were away from the main group with only minutes on the clock.
The gap quickly grew as their team mates closed down any serious attempts to bridge and lap by lap the two leaders pulled further clear. Junior rider Henrietta Colborne (Team Jadan) made an impressive long solo effort to bridge but was eventually brought back and Hope Technology's 'cross specialist Annie Simpson did an impressive amount of work in the early laps but nothing could impact on the lead of the break.
By mid-point in the 50-minute race the chasing group started to splinter with several groups on the road. On such a short circuit the two leaders, riding strongly as a unit, quickly started to lap first of all the individual riders tailed off at the back, then the larger groups of four to five riders that had formed on the circuit.
They had no intention of slowing and as the race approached it's denouement they had lapped everyone up to the first chase group on the road a group of four having their own race within a race, including the impressive Colborne, Parkinson, her team mate and winner of the previous round Annasley Park and WNT's Brit Tate.
Joiner, a recent winner of a criterium sprint in Croydon as part of the Tour Series, couldn't match Juniper's finishing effort and the Series leader - who has consistently been on or around the podium all Series - took her first win.
“I wasn't expecting the break to go that early to be honest,” admitted Juniper, “and I knew that if I went Charline would come with me. Once we were away it worked well, we talked a lot and shared it out. This is an exact mirror image of last year now, going into the last race (Ryedale GP) with the Series in the bag. I can focus on working for our two juniors who are going for the national title in that race now.”
After punctures in the previous two rounds cost her a more concerted effort at winning the title, a much happier Charline Joiner was happy to take second.
"I’m very happy with another Women's Road Series podium, yes,” she said. “But when we went so early I was worried as she's such a good time triallist and she could drop me. She dragged the sprint out of me though, she was definitely the strongest rider today. She's had a great season so I'm really pleased she won this one."
The sprint for third was taken by Tate, an impressive first National Series podium, after overcoming a classic one-two, attack and counter attack, last lap from the Giordana Triton pair.
“I’m really, really happy with that,” was Tate's verdict on her performance. “I had a pep talk from Charline and she told me to believe in myself more, it shows what difference a little more self-confidence can make and you believe you can do it. It got tactical towards the end as the four of us knew we weren't going to get caught but I managed to stay on them when they attacked and I got the sprint.”
It was an excellent race and event that, despite being a significantly shorter circuit than initially planned, nevertheless made for an exciting race that was roundly praised by all riders. The Series concludes with the Ryedale Grand Prix in two weeks, a race that includes the Junior Women's National Road Race Championships.
1 Nicola Juniper Team Giordana- Triton 00:56:32
2 Charline Joiner Team WNT 00:08
3 Brit Tate Team WNT 02:05
4 Annasley Park Team Giordana- Triton 02:08
5 Henrietta Colborne Team Jadan 02:08
6 Abby-Mae Parkinson Team Giordana- Triton 02:08
7 Lucy Shaw Matrix Fitness Development @1 lap
8 Rose Osborne Team WNT @1 lap
9 Steph Clayton Stafford Road Club @1 lap
10 Hannah Walker Team WNT @1 lap
11 Lauren O'Brien Team Giordana- Triton @1 lap
12 Jo Tindley Team WNT @1 lap
13 Chloe Weller PMR@Toachim House @1 lap
14 Hayley Edwards Team Velosport @1 lap
15 Rebecca Carter Team WNT @1 lap
16 Maisie Duckworth Wolverhampton Whls @1 lap
17 Verity Appleyard Brotherton Cycles @1 lap
18 Laura Cheesman Velosure Starley Primal @2 laps