The 2016 edition of Essex Giro, in a changed format of stage 1 (rather than stage 3) being the long road stage, got underway today with a slightly depleted team as Nicole Moerig is still recovering from a heavy crash and concussion at Stoke Tour Series and Sara Headley came down with illness shortly after returning from the US Nationals.
The 5 riders who did take the start were still on a high after sealing Tour Series victory in Portsmouth on Thursday.
With so much racing in their legs the girls decided to start more cautiously than their trademark of attacking from the off and so followed moves if they went and maintained a presence at the front with Amy Gornall. On a new course, run over 5 laps, Grace wasn’t sure how she was feeling so just wanted to sit in and see how it went.
As the race approached half distance Beth Hayward and Gaby Shaw started attacking to try and create moves but nothing was sticking.
As the final lap started we gathered ourselves as a team and EJay attacked with half a lap to go and was away for around 8km, gaining 22 seconds at her biggest gap. This was a perfect situation for the team, leaving Ford and other teams to chase and allowing the team so sit in and prepare for the sprint. When EJay was finally brought back everyone fully committed to a lead out for Grace and the entire team were on the front from 5km to go with the Team Ford train pulling alongside.
Despite the efforts of her solo breakaway EJay took on the long role of the lead out, leading into the final turn with less than 1km to go. Beth Hayward and Gaby Shaw took the final accelerations which set Grace up perfectly to jump and take the victory ahead of two Team Ford riders, Nicola Juniper and Charline Joiner.
The lead out had created a big enough gap for Gaby to cruise in 4th and as we continue to await official results, the chance of a 3rd rider being in the top 10 with Beth Hayward.
Winning stage 1 gives Grace Garner her 2nd race victory in 5 days, not to mention another visit to the podium on what has been a busy week for the team’s youngest rider. Afterwards she said, “I was really pleased with how the team controlled the race and made my job so easy today. They had every move covered and took every opportunity to create a breakaway. When that didn’t work the lead out was quickly organised and I was delivered to the best place possible to open up my sprint.”
“Tomorrow we have a short Time Trial stage followed by a hilly circuit race so it will be important to hit the TT stage hard and hopefully still have a lead to defend for the final stage.”
A rainy day 2 of Essex Giro started with a 3 lap individual time trial where unfortunately all TT equipment except helmets were banned but this didn’t affect the overnight leader, Grace Garner and the rest of the team who all regularly use their Boardman Air TT bikes for training as well as a few of the early season National Series Time Trial events.
With a field set off in race number order, rather than reverse GC, the other overall contenders had posted times just over 9 minutes by the time Grace came storming home in the only sub 9 minute ride of the day, with EJay Harris making her 2nd podium of the week in 3rd with 9:09.
Gaby Shaw and Beth Hayward also had strong performances coming in 6th and 7th respectively whilst Podium Ambition Scholarship rider representing Boot Out Breast Cycling Club, Kelly Murphy came 4th.
With her second stage win secured Grace extended her lead over second placed Nicola Juniper by a further 8 seconds and went in to the final circuit race stage with an 18 second for the team to defend. Although the gap looked ample on paper, the intermediate sprint time bonuses plus 30,20 and 10 second bonuses on the finish meant the team needed to keep Grace at the front and in the mix for all these extra seconds.
Early punctures for EJay and Gaby were inconvenient but they both got back in and continued to control the front to keep the race together. Other teams tried to create moves but nothing seemed to be fully committed and the high speed of the race found riders in difficulty at the back.
A second puncture for EJay left her chasing with around 5 laps to go before Gaby and Beth both punctured again at just 2 laps to go, leaving Grace on her own in the bunch but in a great position.
Not panicking at the misfortune of her team who had worked so hard to help her all weekend, Grace tracked her opposition and launched her sprint off the top of the climb and only just got caught by 2nd on GC, Nicola Juniper, for whom this is her local circuit.
After all the bonuses were calculated Grace had secured victory, her first National Series stage race, keeping the Essex Giro in the team for a 4th title in a row! After 2012 & 2014 victory for Sarah Storey, 2013 victory for Bethany Hayward whilst riding in the Matrix Fitness, the race wasn’t held last year and so Grace adds her name to a list of highly successful riders.
Speaking afterwards she said, “We had to ride defensively to protect the jersey and having so many punctures wasn’t ideal but the rain has washed a lot of debris on to the circuit. I was lucky to not be affected and concentrated on making sure I didn’t lose sight of Nikki who was 2nd.”
“It’s been a brilliant weekend for the team and I am really delighted to add road victory to the criterium success we have had.”
Grace’s victory rounded off an incredibly successful 10 days of racing for the team which started with Claire Rose winning the individual and the team taking the team classification at Stoke Tour Series on June 2nd. Since that win there have been further podiums for Claire at London Nocturne (3rd), Grace winning Croydon Tour Series, Grace (2nd) and EJay (3rd) at Portsmouth Tour Series, where the team also clinched team on the night and were confirmed as overall Tour Series Champions. On Friday 10th Claire Rose again placed 3rd out in Slovenia at a UCI Time Trial, which then led in to the team’s successful time at Essex!
Read more at: http://podiumambition.com/2016-edition-of-essex-giro-stage-1/