The third edition of the Women's Tour de Yorkshire will be the most open one yet, according to last year's runner-up Lucy Garner (Wiggle-High5). The previous two races have ended up in a bunch gallop, but a climb smack in the middle of the 122km route is likely to spice things up says the former double junior world champion.
As with last year, the race will follow the exact same route as the second stage of the men's race. It runs from Tadcaster to Harrogate and features the 1.7km Lofthouse climb, before an undulating ride to the finish. Last year, it seemed almost inevitable that the race would end in a bunch sprint, but Garner says that there can be no such certainty this time around.
"It's hard to say because the first part of the race is pretty flat but then you have the climb in the middle, and then it's quite rolling until the finish. I think that anything can happen, it depends on what teams want," Garner told Cyclingnews before jetting off from her base in the Netherlands to the UK. "I think it is going to split a lot on the climbs, but then it might come back. Obviously, it depends on the wind too, because over the climb it is really windy so that can also play a big part and make it split even more. It's really hard to say on a course like that."
Garner will be one of the big home favourites, along with Boels Dolmans' Lizzie Deignan, after finishing second to Kirsten Wild in the bunch sprint into Doncaster last season. While she'd like to pull out another solid result on home turf, the course is far from ideal for Garner - who fits more into the mould of a pure sprinter – and she says that she is likely to play the support role for new Madison world champion Jolien D'hoore.
"It's a very testing the course, and my weakest point is climbing. I'm not very good at it. I try to but I'm not," Garner explained with a laugh. "[I'll try] to get over that climb as well positioned as possible and see from there. We've not had a team tactics meeting yet but I'm guessing that I'll probably be playing more of a role to support Jolien because she's probably got a better chance of getting over the climbs fresher than me.
"I think Jolien has got a good chance of getting a result because she's obviously targeted a lot of the Classics early on, so she knows that she can climb pretty well at the moment. Obviously, after the world title she's buzzing, so that's only a positive for us going into Saturday. Audrey [Cordon-Ragot] has been doing fantastic on the climbs, and she's going to want to go on the climb in the middle."
Wiggle-High5 has had a good run at the start of this season compared to last, taking four victories so far. They will, however, be without one of their star riders in Elisa Longo Borghini, who had to pull out of the race due to illness. Along with Garner, D'hoore and Cordon-Ragot, they will have Giorgia Bronzini, Emilia Fahlin and Claudia Lichtenberg.
Garner is expecting some stiff competition from several of the other teams, in particular Boels-Dolmans and Team Sunweb. Boels Dolmans enjoyed a stellar Ardennes Week, with Anna van der Breggen victorious in all three races, while Deignan ensured a complete set of one-twos for the team. Team Sunweb's Coryn Rivera has really stepped up to the plate in her first full spring season in Europe, winning the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Tour of Flanders. With her fast finish, it is likely that Rivera will be the biggest threat in the field.
"I think Sunweb have really shown their strength this season, they've really come together with some really strong riders," she said. "I think that they can make the race hard as well because Rivera can get to the finish, even if there are climbs and then she can sprint really well. I think they're going to want to make the race hard just to get rid of the riders like Kirsten, the pure sprinters. It'll be a good race to watch."
Garner has not raced much this season, notching up only six race days thus far. She is happy with how things are going nonetheless and says that this next section of her calendar should provide her with more opportunities such as the Tour of Chongming Island, the British national championships and the BeNe Ladies Tour.
"I would have liked to race more, but the kinds of races that are on the calendar weren't that suited to me, and the races that I have done have also been quite tough. The races like GP de Dottignies, I was really happy to do. They are flat, fast and technical races, which suit me more. I think the races that I have done I have done everything I could for the team and the team's results. I'm pleased with that, and I'm looking forward to the second part of the season. I'll be going to China after Yorkshire, so now there are more races that are suited to what I can do."