24-year-old Demi Vollering (SD Worx) took victory in the AJ Bell Women’s Tour, her first win in a UCI Women’s WorldTour stage race on Saturday. The Dutch rider took the lead with a commanding victory on the individual time trial, and never looked threatened in the final days as she defended her strong lead.
Two young French riders also finished on the podium of the overall classification. Juliette Labous (Team DSM) came second, a minute and two seconds behind the winner, while a further three seconds behind came 22-year-old Clara Copponi (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope).
Alice Barnes (Canyon SRAM Racing) was the best British rider, finishing in seventh place, one minute and 41 seconds down on Vollering.
Delayed from its usual June date due to the Covid-19 pandemic (which led to the cancellation of the race in 2020) and with backing from a new title sponsor, the AJ Bell Women’s Tour saw the world’s elite female cyclists fight over a six-day period on the roads of Oxfordshire, the West Midlands, Warwickshire, Essex and Suffolk.
For this year’s edition, the organisers largely chose to avoid mountainous terrain, instead giving an opportunity to sprinters and classics specialists, but spicing up the route by including an individual time trial on stage three. The first in the history of the race, it was bound to be the biggest opportunity to shake up the rankings.
24 of the 89 participating riders were from the UK, including recent Paris-Roubaix winner Lizzie Deignan, already a two-time Women’s Tour winner (2016, 2019). The flatter nature of the route, however, meant that it would always be a challenge for the defending champion to take a third win.
Marta Bastianelli (Alé BTC Ljubljana) won the first stage, leading from Banbury to Bicester and ending with a moderately hilly circuit and a slightly uphill finish that reduced the peloton to a 38-rider group. The Italian rider therefore took the first leader’s jersey, but lost it on the next day, in another difficult challenge held on a street circuit in and around Walsall.
Vollering cemented her reputation as one of the upcoming stars of the spring classics
There, a ten-rider group broke away on the Barr Beacon climb with only a few kilometres to go and gained a 42-second lead. This proved large enough to bring about changes to the general classification. Dutch National Champion Amy Pieters (Team SD Worx) won the stage, while the blue jersey went to 22-year-old Copponi, who was third on the opening day.
As expected, however, it was the individual time trial which settled the standings. On the 16,6-kilometre course, it was Vollering who dominated, beating second placed British rider Joss Lowden – the new women’s hour record holder from 30 September 2021 – by over a minute to storm into the leader’s jersey.
The second half of the event saw the riders face the flatter roads of Essex and Suffolk, giving three opportunities to the sprinters. 22-year-old Lorena Wiebes (Team Sunweb) from the Netherlands took two of them, winning in Southend-on-Sea and Clacton, as the peloton remained mostly intact, with only subtle time differences.
In Felixstowe, where the race finished on Saturday, it was World Champion Elisa Balsamo (Valcar – Travel & Service) who led over the line, having her first opportunity to celebrate victory while wearing the coveted rainbow jersey since winning it two weeks prior, during the World Championships in Flanders.
Although the bunch did slightly split, the differences were not significant enough to change the order of the top five, granting victory to Vollering.
The 24-year-old has already noted two valuable wins this year, coming first in the Liège–Bastogne–Liège in April and then taking another success on La Course by Le Tour de France, a one-day race held partially on the same route as one of the stages of the men’s event.
In addition, the SD Worx rider came second in Amstel Gold Race and Brabantse Pijl and fifth in the Tour of Flanders, cementing her reputation as one of the upcoming stars of the spring classics.
The men’s Tour of Britain was held between 5-12 September 2021, travelling from Penzance in Cornwall to Aberdeen in Scotland. It was won by Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma).