|Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling’s former World champion Bronzini took her first podium place of the season as she sprinted to third place in the third stage of the Ladies’ Tour of Qatar between Al Thakhira and Madinat Al Shamal. At the end of another day dominated by the desert wind, Bronzini used her track skills to stay near the front as a succession of attacks split the peloton in the closing kilometres. Argos-Shimano’s Kirsten Wild powered away to her second successive stage victory, ahead of Dutch compatriot Ellen van Dijk of Specialized-lululemon, with Bronzini crossing the line just two seconds behind them.
“The girls rode really well today,” said Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling directeur sportif Simon Cope. “It was a minefield out there to be honest, there were crashes all over the place, riders puncturing.
“The road surface wasn’t great today,” he explained. “We had a couple of punctures and mishaps there; Beatrice [Bartelloni] was with Bronzini, but she punctured and, of course, we couldn’t get her back.”
It was not all good news for Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling, however, as Commonwealth champion Rochelle Gilmore (pictured) was brought down in a crash with just over ten kilometres to go and was forced to withdraw from the race. The Australian was spared a potential head injury by her Lazer Helmet, but suffered a suspected fractured collarbone; while receiving treatment at the team car, Gilmore was pulled from the race by the commissaires, but she would not have started the final stage regardless.
The first half of the 112.5km stage was ridden with a strong tailwind, which kept the peloton together until shortly after the first intermediate sprint at the 60km mark. Shortly afterwards though, the course turned 90 degrees and – as it had the day before – the Orica-AIS accelerated in the resulting crosswind.
The group split momentarily, with only Lauren Kitchen in the front group, but hard work from a number of riders closed the gap before it could get too wide and Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling’s Giorgia Bronzini, Rochelle Gilmore, Anna-Bianca Schnitzmeier and Kitchen were all close to the front of the race as it entered the closing stages.
Unfortunately, as the race was crossing the finishing line to begin a 13.5km finishing circuit, there was a crash in the fight for the bonus seconds on offer and Rochelle Gilmore was one of those to come down.
Successive attacks from a number of riders in the final kilometres whittled the front group down to just 14 riders, but Giorgia Bronzini and Lauren Kitchen were still present as the final sprint approached. Wild was the strongest again, ahead of van Dijk, but Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling’s Bronzini managed to take the final podium spot.
“Overall they rode really well today, did a lot of work, and Giorgia finished it off well,” said Cope. “For the work she did today, she did well. She did a hell of a lot of work bringing that group back when it split in two, she was the only one really working, which is understandable to a certain extent, why would a lot of teams want to take Gilmore and Bronzini to the finish line?”
A late puncture for overnight race leader Chloe Hosking of Hitec Products meant that she was unable to contest the finish and Wild took over the gold jersey.
Lauren Kitchen’s strong performance, finishing in the front group again, lifts her into the top ten; for a tantalising moment it also looked as though she was going to take the white young riders’ jersey from Hosking, but the commissaires awarded the Hitec Products riders the same time as the winner so Kitchen remains in second place in that competition.
11. Lauren Kitchen @ 5s
10. Lauren Kitchen @ 2’02”
Full results of the Ladies’ Tour of Qatar can be found here