Crowds brave the wet conditions along Suffolk route to watch Jolien D’Hoore win opening stage of Women’s Tour in Stowmarket
Torrential rain and chilly conditions could not dampen the enthusiasm of the thousands to line the route of today's Stage One race on the 2019 OVO Energy Women's Tour.
Despite a yellow warning for rain descending on Suffolk, support was strong for the 96 riders to take on the 157.6 km race from Beccles to Stowmarket.
Jolien D’hoore won the opening stage of the OVO Energy Women’s Tour for the second year running.
The 29-year-old from Belgium, riding for the Boels-Dolmans team, triumphed in just over four hours in difficult and energy-sapping conditions.
Yorkshire’s Abby-Mae Parkinson (Drops) broke away from the pack with 22km remaining and opened up a gap of more than a minute and a half as she crossed the finish line in Stowmarket for the first time – with a 12km loop remaining.
Support for the 21-year-old was strong, the cheers and banging of the advertising hoardings eliciting a smile from her as she went through.
But, by the time they came back round for the finish, she had been reeled in over those final few kilometres and D’hoore then won the sprint to the finish to claim the green jersey.
D’hoore’s Boels-Dolmans teammate Amy Pieters of the Netherlands was second, with Germany’s Lisa Brennauer (WNT-Rotor) taking third spot.
The Boels-Dolmans pair were at the head of the peloton that chased down the British rider and were rewarded for their efforts.
Parkinson’s reward for her efforts that brought the crowds in Stowmarket to life on a rain soaked stage was the first Wahooligan Combativity Award of the week. The Drops rider crossed the finish line 67th, while team-mate Ellie Dickinson was the leading British rider on the stage, finishing 12th.
D'hoore said: “It was a pretty good day for us. It was pretty hard and I’m happy I could show it today with the stage win.
"The team was really strong and they brought me actually to the perfect position going into the sprint, dropping me off at 150 metres to go. Amy Pieters got second herself, so it really proves that we are a strong team here.
“I think I like Suffolk now. It’s really nice and also last year was the first stage so there’s the advantage of having all the jerseys now."
The course weaved through the county, beginning in Beccles at 10.30am and made it's way towards Bury St Edmunds – passing through Framlingham, Eye and Walsham-le-Willows in torrential rain.
But, despite the conditions, the route was still well-lined, with many school children enjoying the chance to see an international cycle race of top quality.
And as the race entered Bury, the rain eased up as spectators were treated to some of the best road cyclists in the world passing – or rather flying – by.
The riders expertly navigated the slippy cobbles on Angel Hill as they left Bury and headed for the final sprint stage and then on to Stowmarket.
D'hoore added: “It was a pretty hard day with the weather. It was important to keep eating and drinking during the day because it was also a long race, it made it really hard because I was pretty cold at one point.
"Then I went back to the car for a rain vest and some gloves so mentally it was pretty hard today, but I’m happy it was a bunch sprint.”
*Full report, pictures and what you thought of it all in this Friday's print editions