Even though she was absent from this historic instalment of the Asda Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race, defending champion Lizzie Deignan still had an influence over its outcome.
For it was a conversation with her Boels-Dolmans team-mate Megan Guarnier that sowed the seeds of the American rider’s thrilling victory up the Cow and Calf in Ilkley yesterday.
Guarnier was unfamiliar with the testy terrain of this challenging West Yorkshire setting and the severity of the climb up the Tour de Yorkshire’s first summit finish, on its maiden staging of an expanded women’s race.
So a few words from last year’s winner Deignan went a long way to helping Guarnier land the biggest prize of her season.
“Lizzie took me through what I could expect,” said Guarnier of her team-mate whose role in the third Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race was restricted to that of commentator as she takes time off to have her first child.
“I knew it was uphill, downhill, small roads, twisting and winding but I hadn’t been able to preview the course.
“So I just went on instinct from there; knowing myself, knowing it’s a hill-top finish.
“I didn’t know how steep it was going to be so Lizzie was a reference point for what to expect when I saw the wall in front of me.”
Hit the wall she did, at the end of a 1.9km climb through the town of Ilkley and on to the crowded tops above. That she battled through it 14 seconds quicker than anyone else earned her the stage win and overall victory.
Alena Amialiusik was closest to her some 14 seconds down the road, while Great Britain’s Dani Rowe was not far behind.
I feel proud that the UK has a race like this with full TV coverage, a great sponsor and it’s now two days in length.Dani Rowe
If Guarnier’s victory owed much to instinct, Rowe’s third place on the stage was built on her preparations earlier in the week.
“I reccied this stage on Tuesday and I knew how long it was, how it ramped up in the last 200 metres so I tried to stay within myself,” said Rowe, who finished second on the general classification less than a month after she won bronze in the Commonwealth Games road race.
“I knew it was going to come back together after I got gapped, so I was able to reel them back slowly, so I was really pleased to finish where I did.
“Tour de Yorkshire was a big aim of mine. A lot of people had a break after the Commonwealth Games, but I had my sights set on this race. I had a good race in Belgium where I had surprisingly good legs then I came up to Yorkshire on Monday to reccy the stage.
“We had a really young team at Great Britain cycling but they all really stepped up.”
In Deignan’s absence, Rowe becomes de facto standard-bearer for British women’s cycling, and the results she is achieving are providing her with the platform to campaign for the gender gap to narrow.
The Tour de Yorkshire has been a pro-active vehicle for helping do just that with this expanded third staging of the women’s event underlining its status as the fastest growing race in the calendar. And Rowe now believes the Tour de Yorkshire is ready for World Tour classification, joining some of the biggest races in the women’s circuit like La Course and the Ovo Energy Women’s Tour.
“It’s the best racing we have and it’s very realistic that this race can get bigger,” said Rowe.
“I feel proud that the UK has a race like this with full TV coverage, a great sponsor and it’s now two days in length. I don’t see why it can’t become a World Tour race in the future and replicate the men’s in terms of how many stages we have.
“It was fantastic in terms of the organisation from the hotels we were staying at to the transport and the safety on the road.
“We put ourselves on the line and we need to know that we’re going to be safe on the roads.
“It was great to see so many kids out especially when you’re trying to inspire the next generation. I got goosebumps every time we went through a town and they’d brought a school out and you could hear them cheering. Hopefully, one day some of those girls will be inspired to get on a bike themselves.
“There’s not much gap from where I’m sitting. I think we’ve proven how exciting our racing is.”
Guarnier concurred, after a race in which she finally laid to rest the demons of 2017 when she crashed three times, suffering a concussion once and breaking her jaw on another occasion.
“What you saw today was very typical of our type of racing, it was aggressive, it was dynamic,” said the New Yorker. “It’s really great to showcase that and hopefully we get more of that.”
Rowe’s aggression in animating a break 40km from home of a stage that began in Barnsley town centre earned her the most active rider jersey, while the points classification was claimed by Kirsten Wild, winner of Thursday’s sprint into Doncaster.
Of the Yorkshire contingent, Dewsbury’s Abby-Mae Parkinson was 42nd on the stage and 41st overall, Sheffield’s Hannah Larbalestier was 50th and 52nd; Bingley’s Annie Simpson was 61st in both, Leeds’s Gabriella Shaw was 68th and 67th and Ilkley teenager Sophie Thackray was 74th on both.