With her runner-up finish at the Women's WorldTour GP de Plouay, Lizzy Banks (Équipe Paule Ka) has made a name for herself in the women’s peloton. She already turned heads by winning stage 8 of last year’s Giro Rosa, but while that victory came from a breakaway on a transitional stage, her Plouay performance pitted her directly against some of the best riders of the peloton.
Banks attacked with 35km to go and was quickly joined by Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo). A group of ten riders including road race world champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) and Women’s WorldTour leader Liane Lippert (Team Sunweb) formed behind them and was chasing Banks and Deignan in the final, but a lack of cooperation between the chasers and two fully committed frontrunners meant that the Yorkshire duo made it to the finish.
“I fully committed to the move with Lizzie Deignan because even if it didn’t come off, I knew that I had a number of very strong teammates in the group behind," said Banks. “Those were both great options for us to get a podium. I did not know at this point whether our move would come back, but I wanted to commit to it. I knew that in the sprint, I needed to start behind her, but I was not able to get behind her. Of course, Lizzie has won Plouay before, and that was the point where her bigger experience showed. But we worked well together and were well-matched, and I am delighted about coming second, it is a really great result for our Continental team.”
A late starter in cycling, Banks quickly progressed through the ranks from riding her first cyclo-sportive in early 2015 to a contract with UnitedHealthcare for 2018. Just before landing that contract, she had decided to give up her medical studies to pursue a career in women’s cycling.
This decision paid off as she joined Bigla for 2019 after one season with UnitedHealthcare and achieved a string of excellent results. The Giro Rosa stage win was the highlight, but a GC podium at the prestigious Festival Elsy Jacobs and the seventh place overall in the Women’s Tour confirmed her potential.
In 2020, Banks started well in the Setmana Valenciana before placing sixth in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but then her – and everyone else’s – season was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The resulting economic uncertainty meant that her team’s title sponsors pulled out, and the team underwent a name change to Équipe Paule Ka, reflecting the new main partner.
Banks lined up in Plouay as leader of a squad and that perhaps flew under the radar because the team included several strong riders. One of them was Swiss champion Marlen Reusser, another lateral entrant to the women’s peloton. During her youth, Reusser was a runner, but injuries forced a switch to swimming, followed by triathlon and, eventually, cycling. Reusser played a key role during the race, leading the peloton at a high pace on the first of four laps of the GP de Plouay finishing circuit, then making a move off the front.
“My teammate Marlen Reusser was up the road, and there were several riders trying to get across to her," Banks described the situation. “When the big crash happened, Marlen was still off the front, and I was always in the wheels of those trying to get over to her. And when Marlen was caught, I counterattacked.”
Banks worked well with Deignan even though the former world champion had won in Plouay twice before and had to be considered the favourite for a sprint between the two. In rainy conditions reminiscent of their home county of Yorkshire, Banks and Deignan traded turns all the way to the finishing straight before Deignan’s experience gave her the upper hand in the sprint, relegating Banks to the runner-up place.
It is impossible to say in hindsight whether a more cautious tactic, forcing Deignan to do most of the work, could have resulted in a win for Banks – but it is clear that the 29-year-old has to be counted among the riders to watch in future races.
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