ORICA-AIS Wins Team Competition at Ladies Tour of Qatar

Sat 2 Feb 2013

ORICA-AIS won the team competition at the Ladies Tour of Qatar. With three riders in the top ten on the overall classification following four days of aggressive, tactical racing, the Australian outfit beat out Specialized-lululemon and Wiggle Honda for the team prize.

“The goal during the week was to shoot for the highest place possible on the general classification,” said Sport Director David McPartland. “We finished fourth with our youngest rider in her first big international race. We have to be satisfied with that. It’s disappointing not to finish on the podium only because the whole team worked so hard for Gracie [Elvin] all week, but it wasn’t to be this time. The team prize was a good consolation for missing out on the overall podium.”

During the first three stages in Qatar, ORICA-AIS raced to split the field. On stage four, the team hoped to keep the race together.

“The game plan today was to keep things together and gain seconds in the two intermediate sprints,” explained McPartland. “There were a lot of early attacks, but we managed to cover most of them. Luckily a few other teams had the same idea. We lined it up for the first sprint, and from what I could see from the car, we started way too early and ran out of legs. Argos-Shimano came over the top of us easily. We missed out on all bonus seconds.”

Ellen Van Dijk (Specialized-lululemon) took third in the first intermediate sprint and earned one second for her effort. Van Dijk had started the stage in fourth overall, one second down on Elvin in third. With the one second time bonus, Van Dijk and Elvin were tied for third overall.

“I had done the calculations, and I knew if Ellen and Gracie were tied on time, Ellen would win on count back,” noted McPartland. “We needed to get seconds on the second intermediate sprint or at the finish line.”

Shortly after the first intermediate sprint, a nine rider break escaped from the bunch. Jessie MacLean represented ORICA-AIS in the move. Without any general contenders amongst the escapees, many of the big teams were happy with the move.

“Although we had Jessie in the move, the break wasn’t of any use to use,” said McPartland. “We wanted the race together for the second sprint. We got on the front to chase with some help from Wiggle Honda.”

Despite the chase effort, the break stayed away to contest the second intermediate sprint.

“We knew we had to bring it back before the finish at that point,” said McPartland. “The finish line was our only chance.”

ORICA-AIS’ chase work brought back the breakaway in the final of four laps on the six kilometre finish circuit in Doha.

“We knew we were on the backfoot,” explained McPartland. “We knew the stage would be decided on countback if neither Ellen nor Gracie took bonus seconds on the finish line. It all came down to the last sprint.”

Wild’s Argos-Shimano team once again delivered her to the line for the stage win. Lucinda Brand (Rabobank Liv/Giant) and Marta Tagliaferro (MCipollini Giordana) secured the lesser podium positions. Without gaining any bonus seconds, Elvin slotted into fourth overall. Emma Johansson ended the tour in sixth place overall and Tiffany Cromwell was one further spot back in seventh.

“Gracie didn’t have the legs for the final sprint,” admitted McPartland. “We put her in a good position but there was a lot of argy-bargy in the final, and she didn’t handle the fighting well. She’s torn up about it, but I know it was a lot of pressure for her. The whole team was all in for Gracie today. She’s never been a position like this, with a team working for her, and she’s basically jumped up massively to a race like this in the first place.”

“Today was one race day out of 100 race days Gracie will have this year,” McPartland continued. “She’ll have plenty more opportunities throughout the season. This whole week has been a learning experience for her and the rest of the team. We’re definitely better off for it.”

While the team admittedly had hope for a stronger overall result or a stage win for their consistent shows of aggression and fitness, McPartland hopes the team will feel as satisfied as he did with what they accomplished in Qatar.

“The best thing for me is that we were in the race every day,” he said. “We animated the action on every stage. We were on the back foot without a pure sprinter, so racing the way we did was our only chance and I think we all benefited from the way we raced.”

“We start one day Classics racing at the end month,” he added. “We have some the of the best Classics riders in the world on this team. I know we’ll be stronger in those races than we were here – and look at what we were able to do here. It’s been a satisfying tour, and we all know there are bigger and better things for us to come in the future.”