Two weeks out from university finals and I had planned to enforce a self-imposed racing curfew however when the opportunity to ride in the in the Tour of Yorkshire arose, courtesy of a guest ride with Team WNT, I couldn’t resist. A chance to race 136km on hilly terrain alongside the world champions, past and present, Olympic medallists and some top UCI teams is marginally better than studying. They also say revision breaks are healthy, don’t they?
An 8:15am start didn’t deter those who came out to see us depart from Otley. Throngs of people lined the street, banging the advertising boards, cheering loudly and proving that women’s cycling can bring people to the roadside. Rolling out through a tunnel of noise, the atmosphere was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced – for every rider making up the 100 strong field it was analogous to playing football at Wembley.
With some strong UCI teams the first 45 minutes were always going to be tough as they looked to thin down the bunch. The terrain – with two QoM points in the opening 20km and fairly narrow, twisty descents – ably assisted them in this task and 30km after the flag had dropped the bunch had been reduced to around 40.
Heart pounding from a mixture of effort and adrenaline I remained at the head of the race concentrating on maintaining a good position. A flurry of early attacks to establish the first break soon followed and once Doris Schweizer (Cyclane Pro Cycling) broke clear the bunch settled down slightly. I breathed an internal sigh of relief.
As the race sped through the Yorkshire countryside every town greeted us with an amazing welcome. Witnessing the swaths of people lining the route, cheering loudly and supporting us was an incredible sight. Otley hadn’t been the exception but the norm.
Approaching the half-way mark a lull in action meant the bunch swelled slightly and with the pace dropping I thought about attempting to bridge to the solo leader who had by now extended her lead to around 2 minutes. I wanted to try something rather than follow wheels all day.
Just as the thought flickered through my mind Claire Rose of Podium Ambition attacked hard at the bottom of a long drag and I followed along with two others. Much to my disappointment the dig was fairly short-lived. Indeed, a video released by a spectator shows us dangling 100m or so off the front with Lizzie Armistead driving the peloton – unsurprisingly we were caught a few moments later.
— Grace Metcalf (@grace_metcalf) April 30, 2016
The second half of the race proved to be an attritional affair. The rolling nature of the course began to take its toll and after a few longer drags the bunch was thinned down once more. Meanwhile I was in my element in the Yorkshire terrain and relishing the opportunity to climb alongside the World Champion at the head of the bunch.
The final QoM point at 100km was where Lizzie made her decisive move as two short but steep climbs in quick succession at Conisburgh provided the perfect platform for her to power away. As riders fought to stay in contact – myself included – only Leah Kirchmann (Liv-Plantur) could match Armistead’s strength.
The duo proceeded to catch Schweizer to form a three women strong moved which by now looked to be the winning one. However Hitec and Ale Cippolini were not content to let the trio reach Doncaster and the pace in the much whittled down bunch remained high and unrelenting as the sprinter’s teams reeled in the escapees. The headwind would prove the undoing of the break and with 3km to go the trio were caught.
Approaching the finish I felt tired but still relatively strong. I tried to move up to give myself the best possible chance of a decent placing but I soon found myself swamped by the well-organised lead out trains of Hitec and Liv Plantur. Admittedly somewhat out of my depth in a sprint of that calibre, I found myself too far back as we sped under the Flamme Rouge. I sprinted as hard as I could but ultimately there were too many bodies in front of me and my climbing legs didn’t have enough power to match those of the sprinters’.
Kirsten Wild (Hitec) took the win with Lucy Garner 2nd (Wiggle) and Floortje Mackaij (Liv Plantur) rounded off the podium. Lizzie – sitting up – crossed the line in 26th while I came home in 29th.
The race was such a fantastic experience and I would like to take this opportunity to say a few thank yous. Firstly, to Team WNT for offering me the chance to ride for them and looking after me so well. Secondly, to Sir Gary Verity and all those involved in organising the race. To provide us with equality in both the race length, parcours and prize money has set a great precedent. Finally, a big thank you to every single person who came out to support our race. To see and hear the number of fans along the route reaffirms the support and appetite present for womens cycling in the UK.
At the end of a troublesome week, The Tour of Yorkshire provided the perfect platform for womens cycling to be showcased. TV glitches aside, the event was fantastic and highlights the upwards trajectory our sport is on.