Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and Liane Lippert (Team Sunweb) emerged as the strongest riders of the day on Thursday’s stage 4 of the OVO Energy Women’s Tour, finishing first and second in the race’s first-ever hilltop finish and now also occupying the first two spots overall.
With 25 km to go, Niewiadoma and Lippert followed an attack by Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) on the first of three ascents of the finishing climb in Burton Dassett Country Park. The three riders led the peloton by 25 seconds going into the final lap, but they were caught soon after. How their teams reacted to this new situation became decisive for the outcome of the race.
“Alice [Barnes] and Lisa [Klein] had been chasing down the breakaway,” Niewiadoma said. “Then on the final lap, Tiffany [Cromwell] and Hannah [Barnes] controlled all the small attack. I didn’t have to worry about any other scenario and could just focus on my own effort. I wanted to go deep on the final climb to win. It was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done. The stage was extremely long, we raced for 160 km, and at the end we had to do those brutal climbs.”
Lippert also enjoyed the support of her team, with last year’s winner Coryn Rivera and Leah Kirchmann shepherding her on the final lap. Lippert was the only one who could follow Niewiadoma’s acceleration.
“We got caught before the last 10 kilometres,” Lippert recounted. “Coryn and Leah were in the group and helped to position me really well for the final. It was really hard – just all out from 600 metres to go. I could see Kasia in front of me in the final metres, and I was getting closer. But she was super strong, and I simply could not catch her. I’m happy with my second place, it’s my first UCI Women’s WorldTour podium finish ever.”
Niewiadoma had earmarked stage 4 from the start, knowing that it was her best shot at a stage victory.
“I knew once I saw the stage details that this stage was one for me. I really like this kind of short, punchy hills where I can take an advantage on the others.
“I felt like a piece of crap because of the rain and cold. But once I attacked, I got into this weird suffering mode, and I just wanted to cross the finish line first. I didn’t really look at the GC, I was just aiming for this one stage. Now I need to see if I have a chance to win overall.”
Lippert takes the race lead
This focus on one-day success over the general classification brought Niewiadoma the stage win but made her lose out on the overall lead.
On stage 1, she finished safely within the peloton in 41st place while Lippert was 20 places further up – and as both riders were on the same time after stage 4. That meant Lippert took the leader’s green jersey by virtue of her lower combined stage placings.
“I was already on the team bus when I heard I was in the leader’s jersey. Now I need to realise what just happened. I’m in the leader’s jersey, and I have a really strong team. I will try my best to win the overall.”
Trek-Segafredo concentrated on leading out Lizzie Deignan for what they thought would be an uphill sprint. On the final kilometre, Ellen van Dijk and Longo Borghini put in big turns to keep the pace high for Deignan – but just as Longo Borghini finished her turn, Niewiadoma and Lippert attacked up the hill. Longo Borghini had nothing left to respond, and Deignan was too far back to get on their wheels.
“We didn’t know whether it would be more of a sprint, so Ellen and Elisa led me out,” explained Deignan.
“It probably wasn’t the best tactic; in hindsight, we should have launched Elisa in another attack instead. I think we rode well as a team. We didn’t get the win, but we are in a good position as I held on to third place on GC.”