Crash ends Lorena Wiebes' winning streak on Women’s Tour opening day
Dangerous final kilometre in Bury St Edmunds mars finish for the event's top sprinters
When the peloton entered Bury St Edmunds for the finish of stage 1 of The Women’s Tour, another sprint victory by Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) was the expected outcome as the Dutch sprinter had dominated the sprints that led to her overall victory at RideLondon Classique.
However, a crash in the final few hundred metres of the opening stage ended Wiebes' chances of both a stage win and the event's first leader's jersey.
The run-in to the finish alongside St. Edmundsbury Cathedral was extremely technical, the road narrowing and widening several times on the final kilometre, with parked cars and a total of four turns only adding to the difficulty.
Wiebes wasn't the only rider to go down, so did her lead-out rider Charlotte Kool, and fellow sprinters Barbara Guarischi (Movistar Team) and former overall champion Coryn Labecki (Team Jumbo-Visma) as well as her lead-out Karlijn Swinkels.
They were all left on the ground as Clara Copponi (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) accelerated to victory 300 metres further up the road.
Despite this, the Team DSM lead-out train had run flawlessly: British Champion Pfeiffer Georgi had been the penultimate rider in front of Wiebes, dropping her and Kool at the very front of the race shortly before a sharp left turn where Kool crashed.
“We went into today’s stage with full focus on setting up a sprint and made sure to control any moves that went. We rode well together throughout the day and had a good lead-out in the finale, so it was disappointing to lose Charlotte and Lorena in the crash at the end. But we have a lot more opportunities this week to look forward to,” Georgi said after the stage.
A Team DSM spokesperson confirmed that Kool and Wiebes were feeling well considering the circumstances and had suffered no serious injuries. The decision on whether they will continue the race would be made Tuesday morning.
Team Jumbo-Visma Sports Director Carmen Small said that the team had taken a calculated risk in the final.
“We were unlucky with the crash in the last kilometre,” Small said. “We knew that this part of the course was dangerous, and we were prepared for it, but we wanted to be at the front at this point.
"The girls showed courage. The drive to win was evident, but unfortunately, Karlijn and Coryn crashed. Luckily, the damage is not too bad and tomorrow the five of us can start again. We want to be back in the race for the win."
Neither Labecki nor Swinkels had suffered serious injuries, and both were expected to start stage 2. Guarischi had a small wound and bruising on her elbow, but no other injuries were reported.
The stage finish in the Suffolk town had been used before in The Women’s Tour, hosting the final stage of the race’s inaugural edition in 2014. Back then, the outside barriers formed a continuous curve through the apex of the left turn and widened at the exit, using the kerbside parking spaces on Honey Hill street to leave more space for riders to manoeuvre in.
On Monday, the barriers were placed in a straight line through the turn, widening the roadway at the apex, before the barriers formed a 120-degree angle where they reached the kerbside parking spaces to leave them off-course, narrowing to a road width of only two metres.
The seeming width of the available road may have caused Kool to take a wider route through the turn, but in any case, the Dutch rider’s bike slid out on the wet road, causing her to crash into the barriers and taking down Swinkels, Guarischi, and Labecki.
Wiebes managed to go around Kool on the inside, but split-seconds later, her back wheel slid out too and brought her down.
Trek-Segafredo sprinter Chloe Hosking avoided crashing but was held up behind the crashed riders. Many more riders had to brake to avoid the barriers, then get back up to speed.
Footage of the 2014 finish shows 14 of the first 15 riders entering the Honey Hill kerbside parking spaces, suggesting that the exit of the turn as configured on Monday was simply too narrow to navigate safely in a high-speed sprint finish.
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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.