Monday, 3 September 2012

Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche

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03-08.09 Official site Facebook Twitter
France, prologue + 6 stages, 555.3km
UCI 2.2

↓↓↓Results, jerseys, how to follow, parcours, starters, weather↓↓↓

France, as all cycling fans are well aware, is a very beautiful country indeed. Ardèche is stupefyingly beautiful even by French standards - what better place to hold a bike race?

It's challenging country too, however, with a number of difficult climbs right from Stage 1 (the Prologue is more-or-less flat): even the Stage 2 time trial has a 65m climb in the first kilometre (average gradient 6.5%), which makes life very difficult for the typical TT specialists. The tallest peaks along the way are the Col de la Croix Millet in Stage 3, topping out at 775m with some sections around 15%; Au Crucifix (706m), Col de la Faye (1,021m) and Col des Quatre Vios (1,095m) in Stage 4 (all surpassing 15% in sections); GPM2 (770m) and Col de la Benas (804m), maximum gradient 10%, in Stage 5 and the Sommet de Laoul (402m) and Sommet du Serre de Tourre (320m) in Stage 6.

It's no wonder that Emma Pooley won last year, and it's a safe bet that a climber will win this year too - of the twelve categorised climbs along the parcours, eight are rated Category 1 and there's even a climb with an average gradient of 6.5% in the Stage 3 time trial. However, there remains plenty of opportunity for the other riders to pick up points with three intermediate sprints on each of the five mass-start stages and three stages upon which a sprinter might stand a chance of winning. In addition, the organisers have placed a prime offering bonus points 10km into each stage, commemorating the fact that 2012 is the tenth anniversary of the race, and there are extra primes in Stages 3 (named in honour of Thierry Claveryrolat, who died this week in 1999) and 5 (named in honour of 1960 Milan-San Remo winner René Privat).

Jerseys: Leader - pink; Mountains - polka dot; Sprints - purple; Youth - white; Combined - blue; Points - green. Extra points will be awarded to the most combative rider after each stage.

How to follow the race: The official site will - hopefully - publish news and results daily (you can also check here for daily reports, of course), though this seems to be far from guaranteed with many women's races these days. #TCFIA seems to have been selected as the preferred Twitter hashtag, the official race Twitter is here. #womenscycling may provide further news; Be Pink and Lotto-Belisol tend to go above and beyond the call of duty in keeping fans informed as to what's going on via their Twitter feeds.

Prologue, 2.4km, 03.09
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This is everything a prologue ought to be - short, flat and very, very fast. Having started on the Rue Jean Jaure at a little public square, the riders followed the road as it bent gently left and then rose slightly towards a short cobbled section, then bent right and right again onto the Boulevard Peschaire-Alizon after 0.15km. From this point, they had a fast, straight 0.83km route south-west to the L'Ardèche river - with a small downhill section over the final 0.1m, they needed to grab a big handful of brake to make it safely around the roundabout leading right onto the D290, which first descended and then curved gradually right for 1.06km until it reached a roundabout on the D579 Bourdaric. Le Bourdaric continued for 0.26km, taking the riders to a crossroads where the road became the Rue Jean Jaure, with the finish line located by an Esso petrol station a short way beyond the crossroads.

It was a simple parcours with the corner onto the narrow Boulevard Peschaire-Alizon the only technical spot. It was also too short for those little climbs to cause problems no matter how much effort the riders put in on the other sections - so, as expected, spectators were treated to some extremely fast performances.

Prologue result
1. Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen (Norway) 03'09"
2. Kristin McGrath (USA) +01"
3. Amélie Rivat (Vienne Futuroscope) +05"
4. Joëlle Numainville (Canada) ST
5. Ashleigh Moolman (Lotto-Belisol) ST
6. Latoya Brulee (Mixed 2) +06"
7. Aude Biannic (France) ST
8. Audrey Cordon (Vienne Futuroscope) +07"
9. Roxane Fournier (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
10. Tayler Wiles (USA) ST
Full Prologue result

Category leaders: Points: Kristin McGrath (USA); Sprints: Joëlle Numainville (CAN); Youth: Aude Biannic (FRA); Combined: Ashleigh Moolman (LBL).

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Stage 1, 125.6km, 04.09
Sprints: 34.2km, 76.1km, 94.9km; GPM: 100.3km (Cat 3); Prime: 10km.
Sandwiched between two time trials, Stage 1 dropped the riders straight in at the deep end with a whopping 125.6km road race taking in three tough-looking non-categorised climbs in the first half and a Cat 3 to 255m in the second. Marijn de Vries, riding for the International Team, reported that conditions were windier than expected at the start of the stage.

The stage began at Rochegude, then descended for the first couple of kilometres before climbing to the bonus prime at 10km - prime breakaway country, it seemed, and numerous riders could be seen trying to get away. Combined with the cross winds, the peloton soon began to look rather ragged and started splitting into small groups. A short descent leading to the 15km point took the riders through rolling countryside to the first intermediate sprint at 34.2km, then they climbed 101m over the next 15.4km before descending 105m in 8.7km. After an hour, a very strong lead group consisting of AA team mates (here riding for the International Team) Emma Pooley and Sharon Laws, Ashleigh Moolman (Lotto-Belisol), the USA's Andrea Dvorak, GC leader Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen and ten others (including Aude Biannic of France, who was first through all three intermediate sprints) had gained a 1' lead and they worked together to extend it as the passed through more rolling countryside. They saw off a chase group at the 55km point and had 2' by the time they got to the second sprint at 76.1km

Ashleigh Moolman took the first Mountain
points of the race
In a remarkably short amount of time, the leaders had added another minute and a half. A flatter section encouraged some more chasers to go to work with Tina Andreassen (Norway) and Ana Sanchis Chafer (Bizkaia-Durango) getting closest. However, they were completely outclassed by the sheer talent in the break; despite their efforts, the gap simply grew and grew - by the time they reached the third sprint at 94.9km the leaders had 4'02" on the chasers and 5'15" on the pack. As soon as the sprint was over, Cote Saint Vincent de Barrès, climbing 148m in 5.4km, got under way - any sort of climb is Pooley territory, but the British star is especially effective on this sort: the average gradient was only around 3%, but it topped 7% at four points and became gradually steeper towards the top. However, she's saving herself for the big climbs later on in the race and settled for third place at the summit with Moolman taking the top points while Oxana Kozonchuk (Be Pink) was second.  A weaker break would have found themselves left behind ready for the peloton to sweep them up on the mountain (which is precisely what I predicted would happen today), but this was no ordinary break and with so many enormously strong climbers and all rounders, the fifteen remained together.

Climbers, being as light as they are, frequently dislike riding back down mountains because they're too lightly-built to prevent the bike skipping around, this being the probable cause of the crash in the lead group on the 162m descent over the 13.6km after the summit - fortunately, they were all up immediately and had apparently escaped injury. At the foot of the mountain they reached the pancake-flat final 3km and, being climbers rather than sprinters, rode calmly together while waiting to see what would happen next rather than jockeying for position at the front. They waited all the way to the straight final few hundred metres to the finish line in Beauchastel, one of France's prettiest and most historic villages - and then Johnsen launched, using a short sharp burst of the energy that brought her first place in yesterday's Prologue to literally throw herself up the road and get to the line a fraction of a second before the rest of the group.

Johnsen, riding for Norway in this race, usually rides for the Hitec Products-Mistral Home trade team. Yesterday, manager Karl Lima Tweeted congratulations to the rider for her first UCI vitory with the team, then asked rhetorically: "I'm a genius in signing riders?" You can leave the "?" off this time Karl - nobody's going to doubt either your genius nor that you've found a genuine star. Follow Karl for more updates.

Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen
Meanwhile, the race is not going well for Debabarrena-Guipuzkoa - having started with only four riders after Debora Galvez and Immaculada Rafael couldn't take part, the team is now down to just two following the departure of Mireia Osa and Maite Murguia during today's stage.

Stage 1 result
1. Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN (Norway) 3h22'06"
2. Audrey CORDON (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
3. Oxana KOZONCHUK (Be Pink) ST
4. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) ST
5. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) ST
6. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) ST
7. Aude BIANNIC (France) ST
8. Sharon LAWS (International Team) ST
9. Tayler WILES (USA) ST
10. Emma POOLEY (International Team) ST
Full stage result

General Classification after Stage 1
1. Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN (Norway) 3h25'015" 4 4
2. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +01"
3. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) +05"
4. Aude BIANNIC (France) +06"
5. Audrey CORDON (Vienne Futuroscope) +07"
6. Tayler WILES (USA) ST
7. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +08"
8. Oxana KOZONCHUK (Be Pink) +09"
9. Emma POOLEY (International Team) ST
10. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) ST
Full GC

Category leaders: Points: Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen (NOR); Mountains: Ashleigh Moolman (LBL); Youth: Aude Biannic (FRA); Combined: Ashleigh Moolman (LBL). Tayler Wiles (USA) was awarded the day's Combativity prize.

Stage 2, 3.5km Time Trial, 05.09
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Vals-des-Bains owes its existence to the 143 mineral water springs in the municipality, the waters being credited with an ability to cure or relieve diabetes and eating disorders by those who believe in such things - and it seems that there are many who do, going by the water's undoubted ability to attract wealth: what would otherwise be no more than dusty collection of hamlets boasts a casino, boutiques, numerous hotels and all manner of other things that the rich require when spending a week in rural France.

The riders set off along the D253 Route d'Oubreyts, then headed north-west before climbing 65m in the first kilometre - an average gradient of 6.5% with a section at around 10% beginning at 0.3km, which gave those riders who combine time trial speed with climbing skill a natural advantage. The summit (330m) came just as the route turned left off the D253 and headed south-west down an initially winding, then straight descending road for 0.34km to another left turning onto the Route d'Autuche. A section with a gradient of -7% at 1.4km got the riders up to blistering speeds before spitting them out into the fast and descending 1.3km section leading back into Vals-des-Bains, where they blasted along the straight Rue de Voltour for 0.4km. A very tight left turn led onto the narrow Rue Jean Jaures (which looked to be the most dangerous section of the stage - thankfully, there have been no reported crashes as of yet) which, in addition to its narrow width, had a large amount of street furniture including iron gates, bollards, speed bumps and cobbled sections along its 0.55km length leading to the finish line (if you're lucky enough to be able to visit the race, don't miss your chance to see the enormous Alphonse Mucha mural painted on the side of a building 0.35km from where the riders turn onto the road).

Ashleigh Moolman (LBL), who has been on stunning form throughout this season, made the climb look relatively easy and recorded the best time of the stage - reportedly good enough to put her into the General Classification lead. The rest of the riders, including Emma Pooley (INT) who was second this morning, are going to have a very difficult job wresting it away from the 26-year-old South African if she rides like she did today in the high mountains to come.

Stage 2 result
1. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) 05'18"
2. Emma POOLEY (International Team) +07"
3. Tayler WILES (USA) +10"
4. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +11"
5. Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN (Norway) ST
6. Marijn DE VRIES (International Team) +12"
7. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +14"
8. Joëlle NUMAINVILLE (Canada) +19"
9. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) +20"
10. Sané CANT (Steeds Vooran Kontich VZW)   ST
Full result

General Classification after Stage 2
1. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) 3h30'38"
2. Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN (Norway) +06"
3. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +07"
4. Emma POOLEY (International Team) +11"
5. Tayler WILES (USA) +12"
6. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +17"
7. Aude BIANNIC (France) +21"
8. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) +24"
9. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) +26"
10. Audrey CORDON (Vienne Futuroscope) +28"
Full GC

DNS: Ingrid Lorvik (NOR)

Category leaders: Points: Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen (NOR); Mountains: Ashleigh Moolman (LBL); Sprints: Audrey Cordon (VFU); Youth: Aude Biannic (FRA); Combined: Ashleigh Moolman (LBL)

Stage 3, 91.7km, 05.09
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Intermediate sprints: 6.4km, 60.3km, 78.5km; GPM: 20km Cat 1), 39.1km (Cat 2), 65.4km (Cat 2); Primes: 10km, 41.5km.
The most mountainous stage thus far, Stage 3 began in Vals-des-Bains at this morning's finish line, then crossed the river before turning right onto the Boulevard de Vernon. After crossing the river again and turning left onto the Rue Auguste Clement, it crossed the river for a third time before heading into Labégude and turned right onto the N102. After 5.7km the riders reached a roundabout and turned left onto the D19, then arrived at the first intermediate sprint 6.4km into the race.

With the sprint over, the riders approached the 10km bonus prime as they began the ascent of the 775m Col de la Croix Millet; from the beginning of the sprint to the summit, the road climbed 504m in 13.6km - an average gradient of 3.7% but with numerous sections topping 10% and at least one reaching 15%; any group that broke away early to grab sprint and bonus points would have had a very hard job holding off the specialist climbers before reaching the summit at 20km. So they conserved energy, and a break consisting of Emma Pooley (INT), Ashleigh Moolman (LBL) and seven other good climbers got away instead, building up a lead of 1'10" and making the race look as though it was going to end up closely resembling Stage 1. Until, that is, Be Pink decided otherwise: Noemi Cantele is a rider who knows how to take charge and how to make use of the terrain, driving the pace so high on the 17km descent on the other side of the mountain that a whole 50" was chopped out of the gap in a little more than ten minutes - and the break was swallowed up a few more minutes later.

There was a nasty little 15% average gradient climb over 0.2km starting at 30.7km, then at 37km the riders begans the 71m climb to the summit of 235m Col de la Grange, average gradient 3.3% with a 10% section at 38km,followed by the second prime with bonus points on offer for the first riders to reach 41.5km. The road stayed fairly flat for 8km, passing through two more dangerous sections - a narrow passage at 51.4km and a tight right turn at 56km; then they climbed to the second intermediate sprint starting at 60.3km and began the 165m ascent of 454m Col de Mirabel; the average gradient is only 3.3% but there are several sections hovering between 7 and 10% on the way up. Before long, another group of climbers - this time 24 riders strong - had got away and was busily building up a five-minute gap. Carlee Taylor (Vienne Futuroscope launched a solo attack but could get no further than around ten seconds out in front, making good use of the descent with its various -7% over the course of 13.1km to the final sprint at 78.5km. Meanwhile, Pooley was biding her time. When she knew that the mountains had tired the rest of the field, she taught her rivals how a solo attack ought to be carried out; sailing up the small climbs of 19m in the kilometre after the sprint and of 33m in the 2.2km from 79.8km, increasing her advantage in only a quarter of an hour to 1'20" with 10km to go. She needed it - the final 9.7km descended all the way to the finish line at Le Teil on the River Rhône, the perfect place for bigger, more powerful riders to catch her up.

Emma Pooley, seen her in the Time Trial
at the 2012 Olympics
The last 3km had two technical sections in the form of a sharp left turn onto the Boulevard Jean Jaures at 90.8km , then a very tight right leading into a sharp left bend onto the Rue de l'Eglise at 91.4km before the straight and flat 300m to the finish line - Pooley, though, wasn't going to let anyone beat her in a bunch sprint this time. With 7km to go, she'd added another 25" to her advantage; then she proved that not all small, slight climbers are afraid of descending by simply getting faster and faster until nobody was able to challenge her, getting to the line with enough time to take the General Classification lead from Moolman.

The stage was hit by drama when one of the official motorbikes collided with riders - there are no further details as to whether any riders were hurt; Hitec-Mistral (Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen's trade team) manager Karl Lima believes there were no injuries but says bikes were damaged and several riders are angry, suggesting that the moto rider was at fault.

Right now, it looks extremely like the contenders for overall victory have already been narrowed down to 15 riders with the rest of the pack trailing more than nine minutes behind them - it would take a superhuman effort for any of them to catch up. However, with so many kilometres still to come after the big climb, the other categories remain up for grabs - and a Pooley v. Moolman battle over the next three days would be a very fine thing to see indeed.

Stage 3 result
1. Emma POOLEY (International Team) 2h32'26"
2. Joëlle NUMAINVILLE (Canada) +01'40"
3. Oxana KOZONCHUK (Be Pink) ST
4. Alena AMIALIUSIK (Be Pink) ST
5. Mélodie LESUEUR (France) ST
6. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) ST
7. Ivanna BOROVICHENKO (Ukraine) ST
8. Sharon LAWS (International Team) ST
9. Carlee TAYLOR (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
10. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) ST
Full result

General Classification after Stage 3
1. Emma POOLEY (International Team) 6h03'15"
2. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) +01'29"
3. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +01'36"
4. Tayler WILES (USA) +01'41"
5. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +01'46"
6. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) +01'55"
7. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) +01'59"
8. Oxana KOZONCHUK (Be Pink) +02'00"
9. Karol-Ann CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) +02'06"
10. Petra DIJKMAN +02'12"
Full GC

DNF: Caroline Baur (SUI), Sarah Scharbach (VIC)

Category leaders: Points: Cecilie Gotaas Johnsen (NOR); Mountains: Tayler Wiles (USA); Sprints: Audrey Cordon (VFU); Youth: Leah Kirchmann (CAN); Combined: Emma Pooley (INT)

Stage 4, 128.8km, 06.09
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Intermediate sprints: 60km, 90.5km, 116.6km;  GPM: 8.4km, 28.3km, 48.5m (all Cat 1); Prime: 10km.
All the categorised climbs fell into the first half of Stage 4 and all the sprints into the second - but it would have been wrong to assume that the sprinters were going to have it all their own way in the second half because there are a couple of very tough non-categorised climbs at 85 and 95km - and with this being the Queen Stage, those mountains in the first half were going to extract a very harsh toll.

The stage began at Saint Sauveur de Montagut in the Rhône-Alpes, an attractive small town with an ancient bridge, a water mill and some very beautiful stretches of river, then headed south to begin climbing the Col des Crucifix - an ascent of 487m in 8.1km with an average gradient of 6%, numerous sections at 10% and a few reaching 15%. The bunch had remained together up until this point, but this was the perfect opportunity for the climbers to break away early on and build up a lead that could carry them all the way through the second half.

The second climb, 518m in 12.9km to the 1,021m summit of the Col de la Faye, where Tayler Wiles (USA), who had been first the top of the Crucifix, experienced mechanical difficulties that cost her the Mountains jersey. Ana Sanchis Chafer of Bizkaia-Durango took the top points and will wear polka dots tomorrow. A number of 15% sections near the top made the going hard for the weaker members and the lead group began to splinter as a result; an ideal time in Emma Pooley's opinion to launch a solo attack - but did she mean to ride the rest of the stage solo, repeating yesterday's stage win and quite possibly gaining an unbeatable advantage for the remainder of the race, or was she putting the pressure on her rivals in an attempt to tire them out in preparation for going solo at a later, safer time? Before too long, she was caught and the lead group seemed content to ride out the rest of the stage together and without wasting effort.

The remainder of the first half featured the 11.3km and 514km ascent to the summit of Col de Mézilhac, the race's highest point at 1,095m and with an average gradient of 4.5% but numerous points along the way at 15% and a few greater than that, though the last part of the climb was much less steep that the first.

Joëlle Numainville
The first sprint began at 60km, then the road descended for 11.9km until it reached a non-categorised climb of 139m beginning at 81.9km - it didn't look much on paper with its average 4%, but sections topping 7% on the way up can't have been at all welcome to riders still recovering from the big climbs earlier on in the stage. After climbing it, they arrived at the second sprint at 90.5km, then Ashleigh Moolman crashed on the 26.1km descent leading to the third and final sprint at 116.6km. Though traveling at some speed she managed to land well and escaped injury, but her Lotto-Belisol team expending valuable energy waiting for her and then helping her back into the race; fortunately, they managed to preserve her second place in the General Classification

There was a very slight climb of 11m around 118km into the race, then the remainder of the stage was flat for 7.5km all the way to the finish line. The last 3km into Cruas were almost imperceptibly downhill; the 0.62km leading to the finish line by the town hall was also wide and straight, making this last section after the sharp left turn off the D86 and tight left bend right after it prime sprinter territory - and very much to the liking of Canada's Joëlle Numainville, who used the same tactics that won her third place at the Ronde van Vlaanderen earlier this year with a burst of power that put her across the line in first place just ahead of the 31 riders who recorded the same time. Audrey Cordon took the top points at all three sprints, Tayler Wiles

While the General Clasification top ten doesn't look vastly different to how it did this time yesterday, big changes have in fact happened - the number of riders with a realistic chance of winning has now been reduced to just nine, six fewer than yesterday.

Stage 4 result
1. Joëlle NUMAINVILLE (Canada) 3h55'59"
2. Alena AMIALIUSIK (Be Pink) ST
3. Emily COLLINS (Boretti-Ulyses) ST
4. Sharon LAWS (International Team) ST
5. Kaat HANNES (Lotto-Belisol) ST
6. Carol-An CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
7. Ivanna BOROVYCHENKO (Ukraine) ST
8. Carla RYAN (Escuental-For Viored) ST
9. Sofie DE VUYST (Lotto-Belisol) ST
10. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) ST
Full result

General Classification after Stage 4
1. Emma POOLEY (International Team) 6h03'15"
2. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) +01'29"
3. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +01'36"
4. Tayler WILES (USA) +01'41"
5. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +01'46"
6. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) +01'55"
7. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) +01'59"
8. Carol-An CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) +02'06"
9. Sharon LAWS (International Team) +02'14"
10. Audrey CORDON (Vienne Futuroscope) +08.01"
Full result

DNF: Erin Donohue (USA), Anna Nahirna (UKR), Ludivine Loze (DGU), Jasmin Rebmann (VIC), Latoya Brulee (MI2); DNS: Mariska Breyne (SVK)

Category leaders
: Points: Joëlle Numainville (CAN); Mountains: Ana Sanchis Chafer (BDU); Sprints: Audrey Cordon (VFU); Youth: Leah Kirchmann (CAN); Combined: Emma Pooley (INT)

Stage 5, 105.3km, 07.09
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Intermediate sprints: 24.5km, 68.8km, 88km; GPM: 27.8km (Cat 2), 53.5km (Cat 1), 84.7km (Cat 1); Prime: 10km, 73.8km.
Beginning in Le Pouzin, which has a Roman bridge and would have had a great deal more ancient architecture had it not have been for heavy bombing (by the USA and the Nazis) towards the end of the Second World War, the stage got under way with a 13.4km loop including an uncategorised 152m climb with one 10% section; a feature put to use by the USA team - Andrea Dvorak attacked after only 7km to start putting the pressure on their rivals. Once through the 10km prime and back in le Pouzin, the riders began the winding journey to the south.

The 11.1km between the second visit to Le Pouzin and the first sprint (24.5km) climbed gently overall, but wasn't enough to create difficulties for the sprinters nor opportunities for the climbers; but a lead group of ten got away shortly afterwards one the first proper climb started. A 228m ascent of the Cote de Saint Bauzile, with its average gradient of 7.6% and some steeper bits thrown in for good measure, was just what Emma Pooley wanted - the British star launch another of her trademark mountain attacks when she rode off solo. This time, it didn't work: Pooley was unable to hold off Carla Ryan (Escuental-For Viored) when she went for the summit and took the points.

23-year-old Doris Scweizer
was fastest through the first
two intermediate sprints
The next 9.3km descended with a right turn towards Saint Martin marking the start of the second categorised climb Col de Fontenelle, upon which riders climbed 631m in 16.4km. This was the longest climb in the race, though not the steepest with an average gradient of 3.8% (there are, however, several steeper sections, some nearing 10% and, on two short occasions 15%), which permitted the leaders to add a bit more time to their advantage. The summit was at 53.5km; Ryan was again the first rider to reach it and picked up more points, then it was downhill for the next 15.3km to the 68.8km point, through the second intermediate sprint and for the following 2.4km to the bridge at 71.4km where the climb to the prime at 73.8km began. The leaders, down to seven riders now, lengthened the gap to five minutes. Once they'd gone through the prime, they began the 508m ascent to the 804m summit of Col du Benas, a 10.9km route with an average gradient of 4.6% and several steeper sections, including one difficult part at around 82km that reached 15%. The riders arrived at the summit 84.7km into the race with Ryan first one up again, then she took the points at the third sprint (88km) too after they'd virtually flown through the first 3.3km after the summit.

Despite those big climbs, this was not a stage upon which it was possible to say with any degree of certainty whether a sprinter or a climber would win: the last 13.5km was a collection of various types of terrain that could have swung the race either way. There was a very small climb at 91.8km, but with only 59m in 5.3km and an average gradient 1.1% it was never going to put the ball in the out-and-out grimpeur's court, then  9.3km descent right after it gave the heavier and more powerful riders a grand chance to make up time lost on the mountains. However, coming right after it was a stiff 103m ascent in the last 4.2km; it started out at 10% before becoming less steep towards the top, but still topped 7% at several points on the way there. Escuental-For Viored haven't really made themselves prominent thus far - Ryan (who won Stage 6 two years ago whilst riding with the Cervélo Test Team) is the only team member to have managed a top ten stage finish. Today, as the climbers lost out on the downhill and the sprinters did the same on the last climb, she saw her chance. Having using everything she learned in her previous career as a marathon runner, she made devastatingly effective use of what energy she had left and kept going at a high, steady rate while the rest of the leaders fought for an advantage wherever they thought they might find one - and it worked splendidly. She was able to get away, extending her lead all the way as the rest of the field found themselves lacking what they've have needed to catch her and, eventually, running out of time. She crossed the finish line with 1'32" advantage, taking what many will call the most impressive stage victory in the Tour this year.

Carla Ryan, riding for
Escuental-For Viored
Yesterday, the number of riders in contention was reduced to nine - today, it's down to only eight after Leah Kirchmann (Canada) lost 6'49" (her Youth category victory looks to be a given, however - she leads the classification by more than six minutes) . There are still enough riders within sight of Emma Pooley (International Team) to make her eventual victory not yet guaranteed, but with the two big Cat. 1 climbs tomorrow it's hard to picture anyone else taking the top step of the podium.

Stage 5 result
1. Carla RYAN (Escuental-For Viored) 3h10'34"
2. Joëlle NUMAINVILLE (Canada) +01'32"
3. Sofie de VUYST (Lotto-Belisol) +01'40"
4. Joanna van de WINKEL (Lotto-Belisol) +02'21"
5. Doris SCHWEIZER (Switzerland) +02'22"
6. Olena PAVLUKHINA (Ukraine) +02'48"
7. Carol-An CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) +04'39"
8. Emma POOLEY (International Team) ST
9. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) ST
10. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) ST
Full result

General Classification after Stage 5
1. Emma POOLEY Emma 13:14:27
2. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) +01'29"
3. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +01'36"
4. Tayler WILES (USA) +01'41"
5. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +01'46"
6. Carol-An CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) +02'06"
7. Sharon LAWS (International Team) +02'20"
8. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) +02'22"
9. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) +08'44"
10. Audrey CORDON (Vienne Futuroscope) +08'58"
Full result

DNF: Aude Biannic (FRA), Gloria Rodriguez Sanchez (BDU), Giulia Donato (BPK), Lisanne Soemanta (EFV).

Category leaders: Points: Carla Ryan (EFV); Mountains: Carla Ryan (EFV); Sprints: ; Youth: Leah Kirchmann (CAN); Combined: Emma Pooley (INT). Olena Pavlukhina took the Combativity award for the stage.

Stage 6, 98km, 08.09
Intermediate sprints: 6km, 38.6km, 59.1km; GPM: 22.8km, 62.4km (all Cat 1); Prime: 10km.
Click to enlarge
Stage 6 began and ended in Saint Martin d'Ardèche (once home to Max Ernst), though the start and finish lines were located separately. The first 2km were flat, then the route climbed 157m in 5.1km, touching 7% on the way, to the start of the first intermediate sprint at 6km followed by a 10km descent through the prime and onward to the start of the first categorised climb, Col du Laoul, starting at 16km. With 329m to the summit at 22.8km, the average gradient is 4.8% but there were several sections at around 7% on the way up. As soon as the terrain turned upwards, the usual suspects turned up the power: Ana Sanchis Chafer (Biskaia-Durango), Carol-An Canuel and Carlee Taylor (both Vienne Futuroscope), Tayler Wiles (USA), Carla Ryan (Escuental-For Viored), Ashleigh Moolman (Lotto-Belisol), Joëlle Numainville and Leah Kirchmann (both Canada), Rachel Neylen, Sharon Laws and - of course - Emma Pooley (all International Team) were off and had a minute and a half before the first 20km were even over.

After descending 103m in 6km, the race passed through rolling terrain for 9.8km to the second sprint at 38.6km; then continued to descend for most of the next 20km leading to the last intermediate sprint at 59.1km. From 59.6km it began to rise again, passing through a tunnel at 61.5km before reaching the 320m summit of Col du Serre de Tourre, the last categorised climb in the race: it ascended 234m in 2.8km, giving an average gradient of 8.4%, but it also topped 15% in two places - which enabled the lead group to lengthen the gap between themselves and the peloton to 2'50". One of those 15% sections, being a good 0.2km in length, was probably the hardest part of the entire parcours for some riders; it was also where Pooley made the move that won her the General Classification - as the others suffered, she soared, rapidly shaking off both Canuel and Moolman who had been the only riders capable of trying to chase. She had an advantage of 30" as she crested the summit alone.

Emma Pooley, the greatest British
cyclist of her generation
The next 11.2km were rolling, then an uncategorised climb of 87m in 4.5km (average 2%) led to a 359m summit at 78.1km; the 29-year-old British star simply got faster and faster and in no time at all had more than doubled the gap to 1'15". With the exception of a 20m climb over 4.6km starting at 84.5km (average less than 0.5%), the remaining 19.9km was downhill all the way to the finish line. Pooley, who as we saw early in the race is the exception to the rule that small, lightly-built climbers cannot cope with descents, went into it with an advantage of 3', having more than doubled her gap again in only 8km.

With 10km to go, she was 4'15" out in front. The final 3km were reasonably flat and straight with the exception of the last kilometre where a very tight right-hand hairpin led from the D290 onto the D200, but Pooley could have got off and walked her bike round it, through the following straight and then round the final right-hand bend into the final 50m without it making any real difference to the eventual outcome. She is the second rider in the history of the race to have won two consecutive editions, the first having been Edita Pučinskaitė in 2006/6.

Stage Result
1. Emma POOLEY (International Team) 2h46'23"
2. Tayler WILES (USA) +03'42"
3. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) ST
4. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto-Belisol) ST
5. Joëlle NUMAINVILLE (Canada) ST
6. Carol-An CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
7. Carlee TAYLOR (Vienne Futuroscope) ST
8. Sharon LAWS (International Team) ST
9. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) ST
10. Carla RYAN (Escuental-For Viored) ST
Full stage result

Beauchastel, Stage 1
Full Final General Classification
1. Emma POOLEY (International Team) 16h00'50"
2. Ashleigh MOOLMAN (Lotto Belisol) +5:11
3. Tayler WILES (USA) +5:23
4. Rachel NEYLAN (International Team) +5:28 
5. Carol-An CANUEL (Vienne Futuroscope) +5:48 
6. Sharon LAWS (International Team) +6:02 
7. Kristin MCGRATH (USA) +9:18 
8. Noemi CANTELE (Be Pink) +10:06 
9. Leah KIRCHMANN (Canada) +12:26
10. Carla RYAN (Escuental-For Viored) +14:04
11. Joelle NUMAINVILLE (Canada) +14:27
12. Anna SANCHIS CHAFER (Bizkaia Durango) +15:13
13. Audrey CORDON (Vienne Futuroscope) +16:39
14. Carlee TAYLOR (Vienne Futuroscope) +18:08
15. Oxana KOZONCHUK (Be Pink) +22:00
16. Petra DIJKMAN (International Team) +22:31
17. Amélie RIVAT (Vienne Futuroscope) +22:34
18. Ane SANTESTEBAN GONZALEZ (Bizkaia Durango) +22:35
19. Sofie DE VUYST (Lotto Belisol) +24:51
20. Emily COLLINS (Boretti-Ulyses) +28:26
Saint Sauveur de Montagut, Stage 4
21. Eivgenia VYSOTSKA (Ukraine) +28:43
22. Joanne HOGAN (Bizkaia Durango)) +28:52
23. Dalia MUCCIOLI (Be Pink) +29:00
24. Joanna VAN DE WINKEL (Lotto Belisol) +31:39
25. Olena PAVLUKHINA (Ukraine)+31:44
26. Cecilie Gotaas JOHNSEN (Norway) +34:01
27. Doris SCHWEIZER (Switzerland) +34:10
28. Marijn DE VRIES (International Team) +34:23
29. Irene SAN SEBASTIAN LASA (Debabarrena-Guipuzkoa) +34:45
30. Hanna NILSSON (International Team) +34:51
31. Mélodie LESUEUR (France) +40:17
32. Ivanna BOROVICHENKO (Ukraine) +40:38
33. Siobhan HORGAN (GSD-Gestion) +41:52
34. Kaat HANNES (Lotto Belisol) +43:16
35. Olena SHARGA (Ukraine) +44:11
36. Andrea GRAUS (Vienne Futuroscope) +44:19
37. Mélanie BRAVARD (France) +46:35
38. Catherine HARE WILLIANSON (Escuental-For Viored) +46:46
39. Veronique LABONTE (Canada) +47:00
40. Anisha VEKEMANS (WC Steeds Vooraan Konti) +50:13
41. Oriane CHAUMET (GSD-Gestion) +50:54
42. Pavlina SULCOVA (Czech/Mixed) +50:58
43. Ann-Sofie DUYCK (Lotto Belisol) +52:02
44. Marion ROUSSE (Vienne Futuroscope) +53:40
45. Riccarda MAZZOTTA (Switzerland) +53:50
46. Sanne CANT (WC Steeds Vooraan Konti) +54:29
47. Claire THOMAS (ASPTT Dijon-Bourgogne) +54:34
Le Pouzin, Stage 5
48. Miriam BJØRNSRUD (Norway) +56:24
49. Emma CRUM (ASPTT Dijon-Bourgogne) +56:34
50. Nicole HANSELMANN (Switzerland) +56:42
51. Katarína HRANAIOVÁ (Czech/Mixed) +58:36
52. Emily KACHOREK (USA) +59:50
53. Linda RINGLEVER (Escuental-For Viored) +1:02:23
54. Alexis RYAN (USA) +1:02:40
55. Tina ANDREASSEN (Norway) +1:03:30
56. Lucie PADER (GSD-Gestion) +1:03:37
57. Tamina Kate OLIVER (Boretti-Ulyses) +1:03:40
58. Emilie AUBRY (GSD-Gestion) +1:06:32
59. Lex ALBRECHT (Canada) +1:08:00
60. Lina-Kristin SCHINK (GSD-Gestion) +1:08:49
61. Sara OLSSON (Boretti-Ulyses) +1:11:14
62. Celine VAN SEVEREN (WC Steeds Vooraan Konti) +1:11:53
63. Cristina ALCALDE HUERTANOS (Bizkaia-Durango) +1:15:36
64. Annelies DOM (WC Steeds Vooraan Konti) +1:16:44
65. Veronika BLÁHOVÁ (Czech/Mixed) +1:16:44
66. Alexia MUFFAT (ASPTT Dijon-Bourgogne) +1:16:50
67. Kathrin HAMMES (Vita Classic) +1:17:31
68. Dorleta ESKAMENDI GIL (Bizkaia-Durango) +1:21:38
69. Béatrice THOMAS (ASPTT Dijon-Bourgogne) +1:22:32
Saint-Martin d'Ardèche, Stage 6
70. Penny ROWSON (Boretti-Ulyses) +1:22:53
71. Fanny MARTINET (Switzerland) +1:25:09
72. Emilie MOBERG (Norway) +1:31:16
73. Stefanie PAUL (Mixed 2) +1:31:26
74. Daniela GASS (Mixed 2) +1:32:09
75. Roxane FOURNIER (France) +1:37:38
76. Stefanie MEIZER (Vita Classic) +1:38:04
77. Margriet  KLOPPENBURG (Mixed 2) +1:38:25
78. Ciara HORNE (Escuental-For Viored) +1:41:33
79. Elena EGGLE (Vita Classic) +1:41:40
80. Denisa BARTOŠOVÁ (Czech/Mixed) +1:41:41
81. Johanna NILSSON (Boretti-Ulyses) +1:44:14
82. Elaine OSSOLA (Mixed 2) +1:59:35
83. Rimma LUCHSHENKO (Be Pink) +2:04:57
84. Irena BERKOVÁ (Czech/Mixed) +2:10:40
85. Marjetka CONRADI (Boretti-Ulyses) +2:21:01
86. Dorothee LORCH (Vita Classic) +2:21:54