ORICA-AIS Wins Team Classification at Tour of QatarFri 7 Feb 2014
ORICA-AIS won the team classification at the Ladies Tour of Qatar with two riders in the top ten and three in the top twenty. Emma Johansson was the team’s top overall finisher, narrowly missing the overall podium in fourth place. Melissa Hoskins was two spots further back in sixth overall.
Kirsten Wild (Giant Shimano) won the general classification, her fourth overall victory in Qatar. Three stage wins earned her ample bonus seconds, and she further padded her overall lead by snagging additional time bonuses at the intermediate sprints. The only threat to Wild’s win came from her teammate Amy Pieters (Giant Shimano) who won stage two from a breakaway and spent one day in the gold race leader’s jersey.
Wild stamped her authority on the fourth stage, winning the field sprint ahead of Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle Honda). Hoskins rounded out the stage podium. Johansson finished on bunch time in 30th place to protect her general classification position.
“Winning the team classification is fantastic,” said Sport Director Gene Bates. “Having the honour of being the best team in the race is something we strive for in most races we enter. We didn’t get the stage result or overall we had wanted, but I think winning the team and having two in the top ten is certainly a fantastic consolation prize.”
A headwind diffused the early action on the final stage of racing. Despite a handful of attacks, the peloton remained one large bunch as they approached the first intermediate sprint where Wild scooped up an additional three bonus seconds. Shortly after the sprint, Jessie MacLean combined forces with Alexandra Burchenkova (RusVelo) up the road.
“It was pretty aggressive right from the start, which we predicted would happen,” said Bates. “The wind wasn’t influential in the action, especially at the start, so there were lots of little attacks.”
“After awhile, we heard on the radio that Jessie and a RusVelo rider had gotten away,” Bates continued. “It was the main move of the day, and it was good to have representation up the road.”
MacLean and Burchenkova traded pulls to build up a maximum advantage of 1’10 over the peloton. Their advantage quickly began to tumble as the peloton gave chase on the Doha Corniche finish circuit. When Burchenkova made an early right-hand turn, taking herself off course, MacLean found herself alone ahead of a feisty bunch. Fourteen kilometres from the finish, the race had come back together.
Nearly every team save Giant Shimano made a concerted effort to get up the road during the final two circuit laps with Specialized-lululemon playing the biggest aggressor. Elvin, Johansson and Scandolara were all in short-lived moves inside the final ten kilometres. Wild heavily marked Johansson in the build up to the finish.
“It was always going to be a long shot, but the main idea today was to get Emma up the road in the final,” explained Bates. “We wanted to see if she could get any time between herself and the bunch.”
“When that proved impossible, we set Mel up for the finish,” Bates continued. “They looked after her and gave her every opportunity for a good stage result against Kirsten. Mel put up third, which is an excellent result for her. I think that’s a great confidence boost going into the European races.”
The first international stage race of the season often sets the tone for the upcoming season. Although their results didn’t often align with their efforts, Bates is proud of what he saw his team accomplish in the Qatari desert.
“We can see the team building momentum,” Bates said. “We were relatively quiet at the Bay Crits. We’ve gotten stronger and worked better together as a single unit in each subsequent race. I expect the team to be highly competitive in our European spring campaign.”