Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) closed in on the overall title at the Aviva Women’s Tour after extending her lead in the general classification on stage 4. Despite her breakaway group being caught inside the final kilometre, Armitstead added to her lead by claiming bonus seconds in the intermediate sprints.
It’s still tight at the top and with just one day remaining, Armitstead now sits eight seconds ahead of Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio. In the past two days, Armitstead has shown that she is ready to take it to her rivals for overall honours, and she expects them to return the favour on the final stage.
"Everyone is going to finish the race really tired because everyone is going to leave it on the line, I hope," Armitstead told the press at the finish. "Aggressive, difficult racing is what suits our team. That’s where our strength comes into play. Hopefully, it’s an aggressive race."
Armitstead helped to make sure that the penultimate stage was just that, making it into a late breakaway for the second consecutive stage. Armitstead went away with Moolman-Pasio and Wiggle-High5 pairing Elisa Longo Borghini and Emma Johansson. Unlike the previous stage, the gap barely touched 20 seconds, and they were caught in the final kilometre. Following the stage, Armitstead questioned the tactics of Longo Borghini and Johansson, saying that she believed they would have made it to the finish had they worked with her rather than against her.
"I thought that it was a bit strange because it was in their interest to work with me and pull to the finish. They didn't, so that's the way it goes," she said. "I suppose that they didn’t want to take me to the line because they thought that I could take the stage, but I think that there still was a stage win on offer for them there and with Elisa’s position in the GC. I can’t rely on other team’s tactics; we don’t race like that. We race as a team, we race aggressively, and that’s always our tactic. From a team perspective, we rode a good race and I had good legs again on the climb. It is what it is."
While Armitstead increased her lead in the GC there are still five riders within 20 seconds of her lead, including 2014 champion Marianne Vos, who is just 15 seconds down. Vos lost time on Friday after being dropped on the final climb but closed the gap with the bonus seconds awarded a hard-fought victory in Stoke-on-Trent plus a handful in the intermediate sprint. It’s the bonus seconds that Armitstead believes are the biggest threat to her race lead.
"Definitely Marianne," she said when asked who she worried about most. "I think tomorrow will end in a sprint; it doesn’t look that difficult tomorrow. It’s more about the potential of losing it from bonus seconds on the line than anything happening in terms of climbing. I know that I can follow Elisa and Ashleigh no problem, and I’m faster than them so it comes from further down the GC that there could be problems.”
The numbers are stacked in Armitstead’s favour in terms of the challenge from Vos. The Dutchwoman would have to win both intermediate sprints and take the stage win to overhaul the gap, provided she doesn’t manage to distance Armitstead on the road. If Armitstead can take at least a point in each of the intermediate sprints, she will force Vos to go on the attack if she wants to knock the Boels Dolmans rider off her perch.
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