Mel Hoskins Sprints Into Ladies Tour of Qatar Best Young Rider Jersey

Tue 4 Feb 2014

The first stage of the Ladies Tour of Qatar was contested by a front group of 20 riders that included Emma Johansson, Loes Gunnewijk, Valentina Scandolara and sprinter Melissa Hoskins. Three-time overall winner Kirsten Wild (Giant Shimano) handily won the bunch kick ahead of Shelley Olds (Ale Cipollini) and Chloe Hosking (Hitec Products). Hoskins managed eighth place on the stage.

Although the majority of the riders in the front group were awarded the same time as Wild on the stage, bonus seconds up for grabs at the two intermediate sprints and on the finish line created the first general classification separation. Wild pulled on the yellow leader’s jersey with an 8” advantage over Olds and an 11” advantage over Hosking. With a single bonus second she snagged at the first intermediate sprint, Hoskins slots into fifth overall, 15” behind Wild, and leads the best young rider competition.

“We were really strong today,” said Emma Johansson. “We had the most riders in the break, but we didn’t get things done properly in the sprint. We were a bit split up before the lead-out.”

With a versatile six rider squad eager to leave their mark on the first international stage race of the season, ORICA-AIS set off for the 97 kilometre day with big ambitions. The Australian outfit hoped they would encounter strong winds on the long, straight roads between Doha and Mesaieed.

“It was hard to make a specific plan,” noted Johansson. “Obviously, we were hoping for wind. The wind is the way to break apart the race.”

The first intermediate sprint offered the only excitement during the first hour of racing. Hoskins contested the sprint, taking third place behind Wild and Lizzie Armitstead (Boels – Dolmans). In a race that often is determined by the slimmest of margin, the bonus second Hoskins earned for her effort could prove decisive.

“We planned to go after those seconds,” said Johansson. “We didn’t do a lead-out train on the first one, but Mel knew she needed to go for it. She took third on the first sprint but missed out on the second.”

While the first half of the race hour of the race proved fairly uneventful, the situation changed drastically as the peloton turned onto the windswept road just ahead of the feed zone. Riders scrambled to find the front as the peloton shattered.

“After we came to where the feed zone started, there was heaps of wind,” Johansson explained. “It was crazy. Everyone was shouting, and people were trying find a place in the gutter. It broke apart straightaway from there.”

Eventually a 20 rider breakaway emerged with representation from nearly all the big teams save Wiggle Honda. The British registered squad partnered with Rusvelo and Rabobank in an attempt first to chase and eventually to limit losses. Although the peloton put up a valiant fight, they were unable to shut down the leading group.

“Initially, everyone worked, and we brought the gap up to a minute,” added Johansson. “When we made the final turn for the last 20-25 kilometres, we had a tailwind. The speeds were too high to be able to do anything to make group the smaller. We couldn’t attack, so we had to rely on Mel and have her save herself for the sprint.”

Chantal Blaak (Specialized-lululemon) jumped away from the bunch just outside the final kilometre in an attempt to steal the stage from the sprinters. She gained a handful of seconds as the speeds ramped up for the finish.

“Chantal still had some seconds with 500 metres to go,” explained Johansson. “I came from behind to make my way up to Mel who was sitting on Loes [Gunnewijk’s] wheel. I moved up with a lot of steam because I felt really strong, and I went all in to catch Chantal. I hoped that would help Mel come up into position, but Kirsten and Shelley sort of got into my wheel instead.”

Wild accelerated up the right hand side of the road with Olds in pursuit. Hosking was forced to choose the longer line up the middle.  The trio claimed the podium position while Hoskins crossed the finish line in eighth place.

“We haven’t talked too much about it yet today,” said Johansson. “We’ll analyse everything today and make it better for tomorrow. We were really strong in the bunch, so I know we can do better.”