The final round of the World Cup series saw the peloton head to Northwest France for GP Plouay in the cycling-mad region of Brittany. For teams it is generally a logistical nightmare to get there — the closest airport is two hours away and many of the team staff have to make the long drive down from Sweden the week before, only to turn around after the race and be in Holland or Ardeche two days later to race again.
It is all worth it though it as it’s a great race with a rich history on a challenging course and the fans just love it here. As an added bonus it is the one French race that we do where we are treated to a very nice hotel. Anyone that’s ever raced in France knows exactly how rare it is to have this luxury.
Saturday was my sixth time lining up at Plouay. Over the years the course has seen some changes, but it has always been around the same area and on more or less the same roads. It is a course for the strong power climbers.
This year the course featured four laps of a 27km loop taking on a number of short but punchy 1-2km climbs and a final shorter lap of 14km, cutting out the back part of the circuit but keeping most of the race-defining climbs. In the past the race has often been won solo or with a small selection coming to the finish. It is a race of attrition as the peloton whittles down lap after lap due to the demanding course and aggressive racing.
I have had a mixed bag of experiences here in Plouay, including some character-building years but also one of my career highlights. In 2012 I took second, creating the race-winning breakaway only to finish behind the one and only Marianne Vos. It was my first and only World Cup podium to date but leaves me with good memories from this race.
Coming into Plouay I had a good preparation after a busy month of travel and racing in the UK and Scandinavia. My form has been on the way up since finishing the Giro Rosa in July and as we build towards the World Championships at the end of the month, I had targeted Plouay as a race I wanted to be good for. I came in feeling strong and fresh.
My team Specialized-Lululemon was coming off back-to-back victories last weekend in the Sweden World Cups and came into the race motivated and hungry for more. We took a team of five riders into the race — despite being one rider short we had a strong team with Evie Stevens, Karol-Ann Canuel, Elise Delzenne, Tayler Wiles and I.
The plan was to be patient but at the front, aiming at having numbers in the final laps to be aggressive and then create a solo move in the finale. Tayler and Elise were to be present in the early moves with me coming into play in the middle part of the race, saving Karol-Ann and Evie for the later part of the race.
The peloton set off from the Start in Plouay under cloudy but pleasant conditions to tackle 121km of racing. The opening lap was very calm with little action coming from the peloton; it was more about holding position on the often-narrow roads than anything else. I find this race stressful in the early parts as the peloton is nervous and until the selection has happened it is a constant fight to hold position with very few places to move up throughout the circuit.
Finally the peloton decided to wake up on the approach to lap two as Hitec Products came to the fore and began to attack. Fellow Australian Chloe Hosking, most noted for being a sprinter, was doing the early work for her team, going on the attack and gaining a small advantage on the peloton, only to be caught again after a few kilometres.
Felt good to be back racing and on the attack in #GPPlouay today. Next up Ardeche, just because I love climbing so much.
— Chloe Hosking (@chloe_hosking) August 30, 2014
For the most part of the opening two laps the ‘super team’ of Rabobank-Liv had remained fairly quiet but I knew they would soon start showing their face and inflicting pain on the peloton. It was Vos who was first to launch on the final climb of the circuit. Everyone knows when Vos moves you can’t hesitate — you give her an inch and she’ll take a mile.
Armitstead was quick to jump on to her wheel and I was in the perfect position to react immediately, it was time for me to get to work and cover these moves for the team. I had to dig deep as it was super important we had representation in these moves or else it would be more or less game over.
Vos’ attack was just the warm-up as Rabobank put in a flurry of attacks through the next 10 kilometres causing many riders to fall off the back. But they were unable to establish a move off the front. The racing settled down again around the back part and flatter section of the course where we had a chance to breathe and recover as we prepared for it all to happen again.
Right on cue, as we hit the narrow climb that opened up on to the highway Rabobank was at it again. It was Anna van der Breggen who started the attacks this time, putting in a strong attack up the narrow part of the climb taking all the favourites with her.
I was watching it happen just ahead of me and for a moment I was stuck between two riders who couldn’t go with the move but I knew I couldn’t let this go — we didn’t have a rider there and it was the start of the final selection getting established. I managed to get around before the gap had opened up and dug deep to put myself in this move, gritting my teeth with my eyes fixed on the wheel ahead, to make it into the initial selection.
By the time we had crested the climb as we headed towards the start/finish to begin the fourth lap it was carnage behind with many splits in the peloton. I was in this front group of 11 riders, including four from Rabobank and I had Evie in the group behind trying to come across. Rabobank started driving the break but I waited patiently and sat on the back — being well outnumbered it wasn’t in my interest to help drive the move when I had a teammate just behind.
By the time we had passed the two early climbs of the fourth lap, Evie’s group had made it back to us creating a selection of 21 riders at the front with Rabobank still the team with the dominant numbers. Clearly Rabobank wanted to continue to shrink the front group as they began to attack again.
Lucinda Brand jumped off of the front just before we hit the fast descent into the valley. She is a strong descender and with a couple of tight corners it was the perfect place to use this strength. Again I was in the position to react immediately and jumped on the move, sticking to her wheel as we sped down the descent. I looked back briefly and saw we had a small gap.
For me it was the perfect move to be in — Brand is one of their tireless workers and takes opportunities if they are given to her. With Evie back in the group she was able to focus on the favourites whilst I represented the team at the front.
As we established the break it was hard. Brand was pulling strong turns and I wanted to do enough to make this work but not so much that I wouldn’t have anything left if we were caught back again. Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS) bridged across to us to create a strong three-rider move at the front. We were working well together and opened up a maximum gap of 35” on the peloton.
I thought that the move could potentially stick — we had three strong teams represented with only Boels-Dolmans missing from the major teams at the front of the race. Apparently Rabobank weren’t so happy with this move though — I guess having Emma in there didn’t help and they wanted to continue to have strength in numbers at the front.
Anna van der Breggen put in another very strong attack closing the gap and bridging across to us but also bringing six other riders with her. We were back to a selection of 10 riders, including four from Rabobank at the front.
With no chase group in sight behind it was looking like the winner would come from this group with 25km remaining. I was there on my own as Evie hadn’t made it across with the others. I had to start thinking about how to win this bike race despite the fatigue starting to set in from the earlier work I had done.
We had a chance for some recovery again before we hit the highway climb for the second last time. Brand went on the attack again just before we turned on to the climb and I managed to jump across only to look back and see we had a gap again. For me it was a good situation as I was able to get over the climb without having to face the attacks that would come from behind.
I was quietly hoping that just maybe Rabobank would let us go. But again it wasn’t the case and as we crested the climb it was back together once again followed by counter attacks. There wasn’t a chance to take a breath; I had to just keep digging deep to keep myself there as we went through the finish line for one final 11km lap.
I knew we would be faced with continual attacks until Rabobank had a rider solo. My legs were starting to cramp at this point so I knew I was on my last legs but feeling strong all day I didn’t want to give in easily. I fell off the back with Brand and Amialiusik after further attacks on the first climb in the circuit. But we worked together and without a lack of cohesion in the front we were able to get back to the front with 7km to go.
— pioneercyclo (@pioneercyclo) August 31, 2014
Brand had the same idea as me but beat me to it — she attacked straight past as we caught the group. I hesitated for the slightest moment and didn’t jump at the same time so she managed to get an immediate gap as she hit the descent and quickly built up a lead.
Initially I tried to go with Brand despite not getting immediately on her wheel but my legs just didn’t have it — fatigue and cramps were setting in as I looked back to see the group on my wheel. Rabobank were clearly happy with this situation and the riders from other teams didn’t seem to want to work together to chase.
With such a strong number of Rabo riders you knew it was going to be difficult to get this move back. If we chased together they would attack again, if we tried to jump across there would be one of them in our wheels. The gap continued to grow as it was coming more and more apparent that we were racing for second.
The final climb saw more attacks from the chase but I was unable to go with them. I pushed to get myself over the climb but I had nothing to be able to react with the attacks. I didn’t give up though as I knew they would still play cat and mouse. I pushed on, got myself over the climb and was coming back to the group with just over 2km to go.
I was lining it up to attack straight past but a few riders had looked back and could see it coming. I still attempted but it was a dismal attack as I tried to wind it up as I passed the bunch. They reacted immediately and I ended up getting stuck on the front instead of off the front.
With all the games going on behind it was Brand who was able to bask in all the glory, taking a very strong and well deserved solo victory in Plouay. She tried countless times in many different moves and finally it paid off.
Behind her there were nine of us sprinting for second. I didn’t really play it that smart in the closing kilometres — with fatigue very much taking over I got myself stuck on the front and tried a couple of times for one last move before starting the sprint from a very long way out.
Timing is everything and for me in this kind of sprint I really need to come off of a wheel and not ride it from the front. Rabobank swept the podium as Vos sprinted home to take second ahead of her teammate Pauline Ferrand-Prevot.
I ended up 10th on the day. Despite it not being the result we were aiming for, I was happy with my effort. I could’ve played the final lap a little bit smarter but it is all experience as I continue to learn to race for the win as opposed to just racing to look for opportunities or helping my teammates to victory.
Plouay is a beautiful race and it takes a truly tough bike rider to win it. The race has given me a lot of confidence as I continue to build form ahead of the World Championships where I hope to be wearing the green and gold colours of Australia, once again chasing those coveted rainbow stripes.
Until then, I have a couple of travel days as I head back home for one day and a night in my own bed before travelling to the Ardeche region in France to join the Australian national team to race the Tour of Ardeche, a six-day tough and very hilly UCI 2.2 race.
Rabobank-Liv Woman Cycling Team
Rabobank-Liv Woman Cycling Team
Rabobank-Liv Woman Cycling Team
With all nine rounds of the 2014 UCI Women’s World Cup now complete Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) is the overall victor, ahead of Emma Johansson and Marianne Vos. Alena Amialiusik (Astana-BePink) won the mountains classification, Rabo-Liv’s Iris Slappendel won the points classiciation and Elena Cecchini (Estado de México-Faren Kuota) won the best young rider classification.
Follow the links below to read first-hand accounts of each of the proceeding World Cup rounds this season:
– Round 1: Ronde van Drenthe
– Round 2: Trofeo Alfredo Binda
– Round 3: Ronde van Vlaanderen
– Round 4: Fleche Wallonne
– Round 5: Chongming Island World Cup
– Round 6: Sparkassen Giro
– Rounds 7&8: Vargarda TTT and Road Race