After six days of tough, closely-fought racing, the 2022 Women’s Tournament came down to a dramatic finale on Saturday, decided by the very last sprint of the race.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) sprinted to the impressive third place to overhaul race leader Grace Brown (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope) and win the overall by just one second bonus.
With two back-to-back climbing days in Wales on Thursdays and Fridays, plus one of the calendar’s longest races.
The women’s Tour throws every type of challenge at the peloton, and delivered interesting storylines from the general classification to the sprinters to the races within the race. So what can we learn from the first week-long WorldTour stage race of the season?
Here are you Cyclingnews’ five conclusions from the Women’s Tour.
The meaning of a ‘hard’ stage is changing
With the level of the women’s peloton rising every year, the level of difficulty and the need to make the race selective is also increasing. At the Women’s Tour, the way the two toughest stages were raced promoted this. Stage 5, billed as the Queen stage, panned out to be somewhat less decisive than hoped for. The headwind on the final climb to Black Mountain played some part in this, but perhaps there was also a mismatch between the difficulty of the climb and the level of the peloton. In 2022, a long but relatively steady climb like Black Mountain won’t be the most selective of ascents, with many riders – not just the best climbers – able to handle it successfully.
Equally on stage 4, the quick succession of climbs may have looked tough on paper. But in reality the splits came from aggression at the front, rather than any key riders not being able to hold on. The sprinters may not have been able to follow the climbing, but the vast majority have little difficulty handling the climbing while remaining in the peloton. In a race like the Women’s Tour, it can be very challenging – mountain passes are not in abundance in the UK. But in future editions the race organisers may look for other ways to make the stages tougher for an strong strong peloton.
Bonus seconds can make or break a race
The Women ‘s Tournament shows what a level of excitement, jeopardy and tactical challenges their inclusion can add. The climbing on stages 4 and 5 may have carved out the general classification contenders, but the victory and the order of the top three came entirely down to bonus seconds. Rather than Brown and Longo Borghini being separated just on countback, the bonus seconds the pair could really be aggressive for the win, making every placing count at every stage. In a week-long stage race with no time trial or big mountains, bonus seconds can add a little-needed extra ingredient and the Women’s Tour proved the merit of that.
The bonus seconds also showed just how beneficial being an all-rounder is in stage races. The climbing should have been a complete victory over the Women ‘s Tour, but it really did come down to sprint placings, with Longo Borghini putting in an incredible effort to finish third on Saturday’ s mass dash for the line. To win the overall, then, every part of your racing is important.
As well as their effect on the GC, well-placed intermediate sprints and climbers can be found within the race, and we’ve got two good battles for the sprints jersey and the climbers jersey, taken by Maike van der Duin (Le Col-Wahoo ) and Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM). The way the Women’s Tourist organizes these classifications incentivises breakaways, with points available during the stage rather than just being swept up by the day’s winner. This also helps make the stages interesting from start to finish.
Wiebes’ power is more than just her speed
After a hat-trick at the RideLondon Classique last month, it would be easy to say that Lorena Wiebes’ success comes down to unmatchable finishing speed and having one of the best lead-outs in the world, but her performance at the Women’s Tour proved it’s about much more than that. She is also a very resilient rider, in that you can still be content. Even on stage 4, when the race split on the climbs, Wiebes never came back and came within 15 seconds of catching the elite group of leaders and being able to go for the win.
We praise the likes of Pfeiffer Georgi and Charlotte Kool for their excellent lead-outs for Wiebes – the speed of which can ride even the best sprinters off their wheel – but DSM must also be praised for their strength in the chase. Since that fourth stage, they were able to pull back a strong and motivated 10-rider lead group to within touching distance with little help from other teams, a testament to Georgi’s pulling power in particular. It’s not that Wiebes is just better in the final 500m, it’s a team that can get through challenging days and still deliver Wiebes to that final sprint. The only thing that stopped her winning every sprint finale at the Women’s Tour was a crash that ended on Monday’s opening stage.
For her best challenge, Longo Borghini can do it all
Despite winning Paris-Roubaix in April, Elisa Longo Borghini has what Saturday described as “a strange spring”, held back by an extended period of sinusitis. When she took to the start of stage 1 on Monday, it was her first day of racing in almost a month and a half. But during the six days of the Women’s Tour, Longo Borghini seems back to her very best. Winning on the race’s hardest climbs and competing in the fastest sprints, the Italian proved she really can do it all. Longo Borghini may not be counted as the best climber or the best sprinter, but he certainly pulled off the impressive feat of being able to mix it with the best of both riders this week in Britain.
Saturday marked the fifth time the 30-year-old had won the overall classification of the race, so it’s not the typical climbing, time-traveling GC rider, she is one of the very best all-rounders in the peloton and in less climbing-heavy stage races, that’s exactly what you need to win. Longo Borghini’s win also showed how much he wanted to buoy his rider’s performances, with the Italian regularly emphasizing how he wanted to repay her she could, maybe more so than herself.
Still much to learn before the Giro Donne and Tour de France Femmes
It was the last Women’s WorldTour stage race before the double header of the Giro Donne and the Tour de France Femmes in July, but the Women’s Tour still leaves us with some questions ahead of the two big stage races. The femmes contenders go head to head before the season’s main goals. The lack of significant climbing and the sizeable break before the Giro means the Women’s Tour is not an obvious preparation for July’s stage races, and many of the GC hopes for the Giro and the Tour in the UK.
Borghini’s Grace Brown and Elisa Longo Borghini are likely to contend general classification at the Giro or the Tour. Brown will not ride the Giro, and confirmed on Saturday that he will be racing the Tour in support of teammate Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig’s overall ambitions. “I won’t be there for the GC but could have been a stage earlier on in the race,” she said. “The GC is the priority.” Third-placed Kasia Niewiadoma will be aiming for overall in France, but will now take a break from racing and focus on training.
So, there’s still a lot we can do and learn from the six days of racing in Great Britain, there’s still a lot we don’t know before the Giro Donne and we’ll have to wait until the start line in Sardinia to see how GC riders will fare in what is due to scintillating month of Grand Tour racing.