First-ever time trial shapes The Women's Tour GC
Vollering's outstanding performance deflates battle for overall win with three stages to go
The 2021 edition of The Women's Tour was the first time the British stage race included a time trial. As most of the other five stages were relatively flat, it was expected that the 16.6-kilometre test against the clock on stage 3 would play a large role in deciding the overall winner of the race but still leave the general classification open ahead of the three stages in Essex and Suffolk where time bonifications could still change the general classification.
However, Demi Vollering (Team SD Worx) put in a strong claim on the overall victory, winning the time trial by over a minute. She now leads the general classification by 1:09 minutes on Juliette Labous (Team DSM), the biggest GC margin in the history of the race since 2017 when Katarzyna Niewiadoma (then WM3 Energie, now Canyon-SRAM) won the overall classification by 1:18 minutes due to a solo breakaway on stage 1.
With a total of 48 bonus seconds available on the three remaining stages, unseating Vollering by time bonifications alone is mathematically impossible. And that is before considering that it is very unlikely for one rider to win all three stages and all six intermediate sprints.
Vollering is supported by a strong team that also features Amy Pieters, now fourth in GC at 1:22 minutes. To win the race overall, the SD Worx team only needs to keep things together on the Essex and Suffolk stages and help their leader finish with the peloton.
As the wind is forecast not to be strong, making echelons unlikely, the only real opportunity to avoid a mass sprint comes on stage 5, which includes the climb of Tenpenny Hill 13.1 kilometres from the finish. Although it is only 200 metres long, the 9.5-per cent gradient could serve as a springboard for attacks or force a split in the peloton.
If there is any action here, a good strategy would be to send Pieters along. She won stage 2 in the sprint of a small group that attacked over the final climb, proving that she has both the stamina to go with moves and the sprint required to win. Most likely, though, Vollering herself will be at the front of the peloton on the short but steep hill, monitoring the situation with her strong team.
The fight for the remaining podium places is more open: Labous sits in second place, ten seconds ahead of her compatriot Clara Copponi (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and 13 seconds ahead of Pieters. Another Frenchwoman, Aude Biannic (Movistar Team), is fifth overall, 24 seconds behind Labous.
Joss Lowden (Drops-Le Col s/b Tempur) in sixth place is 38 seconds behind Labous, followed by another ten riders all within 30 seconds of Lowden. These eleven riders will probably have to gamble on attacks if they want to reach the GC podium – however, three of them are from Team SD Worx and will likely focus on protecting Vollering. 11th-placed Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM) will probably want to defend her QOM jersey, and her teammate Alice Barnes in eighth place overall is a good sprinter and may target a stage victory instead of risking an attack with an uncertain outcome.
Therefore, the overall podium will likely be decided between Labous, Copponi, Pieters, and Biannic. Biannic is very good at being in the right place at the right time, be it in the crosswinds or for a move on a hill – but these opportunities are unlikely to appear on the last three stages. Labous is arguably the weakest sprinter of the four while Copponi and Pieters have both picked up ten bonus seconds on the first two stages already and will be in the mix in the sprints to come. It seems most likely that Pieters and Copponi, the winner and runner-up of stage 2, will occupy the podium spots behind Vollering after stage 6.
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Lukas Knöfler started working in cycling communications in 2013 and has seen the inside of the scene from many angles. Having worked as press officer for teams and races and written for several online and print publications, he has been Cyclingnews’ Women’s WorldTour correspondent since 2018.