Headwind and low gradient stops big splits on Black Mountain stage of Women's Tour

Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - 10/06/2022 - Cycling - The Women’s Tour 2022 - Stage Five - Pembrey Country Park to The Black Mountain, Wales - Elisa Longo Borghini of Team Trek Segafredo with Grace Brown of Team FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope and Kirsten Faulkner of Team Bike Exchange Jayco on her wheel
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) pushes the pace on Black Mountain ahead of Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) (Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)

Despite being the queen stage of the six-day Women’s Tour, Friday’s finish atop Black Mountain in Wales failed to produce the big general classification splits that were anticipated.

Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) won stage 5, but with five riders all finishing on the same time, the Italian wasn’t able to claim the race lead from Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), and goes into the final stage on equal time with the Australian. 

At the finish, Longo Borghini described the 5.2km long, 5.9% average gradient climb as “not a ‘climb’ climb” and pointed to the fierce headwind as a reason the race did not split apart significantly. 

“The gradient was not hard enough to split it up,” the stage winner said. “In the end I just trusted my sprint, and I went at 150 metres, full on.

“This climb, maybe it’s long, but it’s not really steep. It’s not a ‘climb’ climb, for me. Mostly it had a headwind, so the selection was really hard to make. In the wheel you stayed really comfortable actually. So I attacked a couple of times just to make people tired, then I waited for others to go.”

It wasn’t only Longo Borghini who attacked in the finale, with Riejanne Markus (Jumbo-Visma), Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx) and Kristen Faulkner (BIkeExchange-Jayco) all trying but failing to get away on the Welsh slopes.

“That was a hard day, a really tough finish. The headwind on the final climb made it really hard for attacks to stick,” Faulkner said. "There were a lot of attacks but then no one really wanted to pull on the front of those attacks, so it became a bit of a strength and will game to the finish.” 

Grace Brown - third on the stage and retaining the race lead on countback - echoed the view that the headwind was a key factor in keeping the race together. Thanks to the bonus seconds she picked up with yesterday’s win, Brown knew she only had to stick with Longo Borghini to stay in the race lead. 

“The wind sort of neutralised the climb a little bit from too many attacks, but it was still really hard in the last kilometre,” Brown said. “Elisa did quite a few attacks, starting from 3km to go. Then Kristen Faulkner attacked in the last kilometre, which was really hard but we caught back on to her. And then it was a bit of a drag race to the line.

“There was a bit of doubt, because I knew that if I wanted to stay ahead in time, if Elisa won I needed to come second, on her wheel with no gap,” Brown added. “But it worked out that if I came third, it would be equal.”

The race may be lacking some of the top climbers, such as Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering, but the composition of riders on the final climb pointed to the difficulty level of the stage: Ellen Van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) led the bunch for the first half of the climb, and Alex Manly (BikeExchange-Jayco), a capable sprinter, finished fifth on the same time as Longo Borghini.

As a result of the lack of splits on stage 5, the Women’s Tour will now be decided on stage 6, a flat final stage between Chipping Norton and Oxford. Expected to be a sprint finish, Brown, Longo Borghini and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) - just two seconds back - and their teams may rely on the bonus seconds available tomorrow to separate them and decide the race.

“I’m not quite sure how we’re going to approach it yet, whether we go for the sprint bonuses,” Brown said. “I also have a really strong sprinter teammate in Clara [Copponi] who won the first stage, so she might be able to take the sprint bonuses for me, which would take some stress off my shoulders."

“At the moment I’m going to relax and enjoy the victory and then tomorrow is tomorrow. We’ll think about it tomorrow,” Longo Borghini concluded. 

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Matilda Price is a freelance cycling journalist and digital producer based in the UK. She is a graduate of modern languages, and recently completed an MA in sports journalism, during which she wrote her dissertation on the lives of young cyclists. Matilda began covering cycling in 2016 whilst still at university, working mainly in the British domestic scene at first. Since then, she has covered everything from the Tour Series to the Tour de France. These days, Matilda focuses most of her attention on the women’s sport, writing for Cyclingnews and working on women’s cycling show The Bunnyhop. As well as the Women’s WorldTour, Matilda loves following cyclo-cross and is a recent convert to downhill mountain biking.