Lisa Brennauer will line up at the Aviva Women's Tour -which begins on Wednesday, as one of the riders-to-beat having taken a commanding overall victory last year. The Canyon-SRAM rider is motivated to start the second half of her season strong, as she looks ahead of bigger goals at the Olympic Games in August and World Championships in October.
"I will return to defend my title at the Aviva Women's Tour," Brennauer told Cyclingnews. "This year will be a very exciting course with a heavy profile and strong competitors. We'll see what happens. In any case, I am very motivated."
In its third year, this Aviva Women's Tour kicks off on Wednesday in Southwold with a 132km stage to Norwich. The racing will continue with the 140km second stage from Atherstone to Stratford-Upon-Avon, stage three is over 112km from Ashbourne to Chesterfield, stage four is over 119km from Nottingham to Stoke-on-Trent. The race will finish with a 133km stage from Northampton to Kettering.
"I think that stage 4 will be one of the hardest. Because at this stage, most of the climbs are towards the end of the stage. But importantly you've already had some long and hard stages in the tour. Stage 3 is up and down all day, and the peloton will be in different shape by stage 4. Our team is looking forward to this race."
Last year, Breannuer was second to Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) in the opening stage sprint, but a finish-line crash forced Armitstead to abandon, and that automatically put Brennauer in the first leader's jersey. She went on to take another second place and a stage win before securing the overall title ahead of Jolien D'hoore (Wiggle High5). Although Brennauer would like to experience similar success, she admitted that it's not so easy to repeat victories.
"Of course, I participate in races to win; that is my aspiration," Brennauer said. "But I also know that I cannot win every single race. Nobody could do that. A stage win is definitely a big goal. And it is also within the realm of possibility."
A huge number of spectators and a great atmosphere
The Aviva Women's Tour started in 2014 when Marianne Vos won the title. In that inaugural year, it was one of the most talked about events on the women's calendar. Now in its third year, the race has risen in stature as the tenth round of the new Women’s WorldTour.
The provisional start list includes former winners Brennauer and Vos, along with world champion Armitstead. Also on the start line will be D'hoore, Kirsten Wild (Hitec Products), Shelley Olds (Cylance), Carmen Small (Cervelo Bigla), Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS), Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare) and Leah Kirchmann (Liv Plantur).
"Last year, it was already a very high-class, very well-organized race with a huge number of spectators and a great atmosphere," Brennauer said. "This year I'm expecting the same great event. It's also great that the stage race now has Women's WorldTour status, which gives it a higher athletic demand. Cycling is on the rise, in Britain anyway, and that women's cycling is now finding a secure position, makes me very happy."
Brennauer has shown herself, once again, as a top competitor among the women's peloton this spring. She was second at Gent-Wevelgem, third overall along with a series of stage podiums at the Energiewacht Tour and second in the final stage at the Amgen Tour of California.
She returned to Europe where she recently won the opening stage at Auensteiner-Radsporttage.
"I had a good start this year," Brennauer said. "After a promising spring, I took a break and started in the second part of the season in California. I now feel very well prepared for more challenges this year, and I am eager to see where I will be at the end of the season. The key is to be motivated and to have fun at what I do. And that's how it is."
Following the Aviva Women's Tour, Brennauer will turn her attention to Germany’s national road championships, Thüringen Rundfahrt, where she said she has "a score to settle", and then the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and the World Championships in Qatar.
Olympic Games marks an important year
Germany will announce the official women's road team for the Olympic Games on July 12, but her nation has secured four spots for the road race and two for the time trial, and Brennauer is hoping to compete in both events.
She participated in the London Olympics in 2012 as a member of Germany's track team, but she's looking forward to experiencing the road events at the Olympics this time around.
"The Olympics are not entirely new to me, but it's definitely very exciting, and I have new desires and goals," Brennauer said.
"There is no question [how important the Olympic games are]. They are held every four years. I don't know where I will be in 2020. So I have to put everything, really everything I have to give, into the events in Rio de Janeiro. But this does not mean that I'm putting myself under too much pressure because that only creates negative energy."
Brennauer is a world-class performer, who as won the gold medal in the time trial at the World Championships in 2014 in Ponferrada, Spain, where she took silver in the road race. She also earned the bronze medal at Worlds in Richmond last September five seconds behind winner Linda Villumsen and three seconds behind runner-up Anna van der Breggen.
Asked if she feels capable of racing for a medal in the time trial in Rio, Brennauer said: "This is a difficult question."
"The world leaders are quite close to one another, which is apparent from the close results of the last World Championships. The first places were only a few seconds separated. Until now, I have prepared very well, and I will continue to work hard to achieve the best possible result. And of course, there are dreams that I hope to make them come true."
Brennauer is prepared for the challenging course designs for the Olympics but acknowledged that some aspects of the road race and time trial courses do not suit her ability. She also reminded that there are sections of the courses that suit her very well.
"The routes in Rio are very hard, both in the road race and in the time trial," Brennauer said. "There are sections such as the very steep ones, which are not my strengths, but again there are sections where I can fully utilise my strengths. In the road race, I would have rather wished for the climbs to be more scattered throughout the route than all in the middle and at the end of the race."
Worlds: 'I belong to the list of favourites'
Despite 2016 being a double year with both Olympic Games and World Championships, Brennauer said it was important for her to stay focused on both, and that she will head to Qatar with an enormously important role.
"Worlds are a big goal when planning for every season," she said. "But first, my focus is concentrated on the upcoming races and the Olympic Games."
Brennauer has had a presence on the podium at every World Championships in the last four years. She won the team time trial in 2013; won the team and individual time trials, and was second in the road race in 2014, and won the team time trial and was third in the individual time trial in 2015.
Despite her success in the championship events, Brennauer said it was too early to think about her chances of medalling this year in Qatar.
"It is still very early to talk about medal chances at the Worlds. Certainly, after the results of the last years, I belong to the [list of] favourites. But again, I don't want to speculate now; that makes no sense. Let's talk again in September."
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