It's rare for a race on Chongming Island not to finish in a mass sprint. On Friday's stage 2 of the Tour of Chongming Island, however, a strong breakaway scuppered the plans of sprint favourites Jolien D'hoore (Mitchelton Scott), Kirsten Wild (Wiggle High5), Chloe Hosking (Alé Cipollini) and Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance). And it was Charlotte Becker who led the winning breakaway to the finish line to claim Hitec Products-Birk Sport's first win of the season and the overall race lead.
Since the first edition of the race in 2007, a winning breakaway has happened only four times. Two of those were in the first two years when the race was classified UCI 2.2. In 2013, a lone rider won the World Cup race after the peloton was misled into the convoy deviation in the final. Finally, the breakaway that beat the peloton in 2011 included virtually all race favourites and was helped by strong winds.
This time, Becker was one of five riders that escaped with 62km to go and built an advantage of up to 3:34, and for a long time, much of the peloton seemed uninterested in controlling the race. The Cylance team of stage 1 winner Bronzini led the peloton, but they were not going to pull back the break all by themselves, sports director Manel Lacambra said to Cyclingnews after the stage.
"I put two riders in front of the peloton to work, but I knew we could not control the race alone. The other teams also needed to work. Kirsten Wild took the first intermediate sprint yesterday, today Jolien D'hoore won a bonus sprint, so they had shown they were stronger.
"In my opinion, it is then the responsibility of their teams to chase. But the other teams did not want to work, and the gap kept growing and growing. They only put their riders to work late and did not go all-out. We kept the points jersey for Giorgia, and we already have a stage win."
D'hoore won the sprint from the peloton for sixth place and expressed her disappointment on the team website after the stage. "Nobody expected that the breakaway should stay away until the finish. We were pulling with the team but we didn't get that much help from other teams. It seems like nobody wanted to sprint for victory, which was a shame. I felt a lot stronger than yesterday and my legs feel powerful."
At 1:12 minutes ahead of the peloton, Becker sprinted to victory. Hitec's sports director Tone Hatteland Lima was overjoyed with the team's first victory of 2018, and it was also her first victory as sports director.
"It is unreal to take a first win like this. I am proud of my girls. We thought that with Cylance leading the race, there might be a situation where neither Wiggle High5 nor Mitchelton-Scott nor Alé Cipollini were really willing to chase. Lotte is a capable rider and pulled off the win. Tomorrow we are going to fight like hell to keep things together and win the race!"
Becker now leads the overall classification five seconds ahead of Tibco-SVB's Shannon Malseed, with Anastasiia Iakovenko (BTC City Ljubljana) at eight seconds, Dalia Muccioli (Valcar PBM) at 13 and Coralie Demay (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) at 16 seconds. Overnight leader Bronzini has dropped to 5th place, 1:13 back.
Even though Malseed lost the sprint to Becker, sports director Ed Beamon was nonetheless happy with how the stage played out. "When the four riders bridged to Shannon, it was game on and we fully committed. All five rode well together, Shannon really played it well and kept the break motivated by working hard to the line. Becker has a great sprint so I am happy to get Shannon on the podium and create a great advantage in the general classification."