The most prestigious stage race on the women’s calendar kicks off on Friday – and Emma Pooley has it firmly in her sights.



Powerful Pooley has already notched up three race wins this year, including the women’s Flèche Wallonne. Now, she is trying to become the first Briton to ever win the Tour de l’Aude.



“It’s my early season goal and I should be pretty strong – it’s too late to get any fitter now,” she told Cycling Weekly.



“I think the race will be very similar to the last two years, the route hasn’t changed much. Does it suit me? Not as much as a mountain top finish, but it suits the team,” the Cervelo rider said.

The ten-day race is likely to be decided by several tough stages in the Pyrenees. It concludes in Carcassonne next Sunday.



One of Cervelo Test Team’s best attributes is their strength in depth, something that will be particularly useful for the third stage TTT.  The versatile outfits boasts last year’s winner Claudia Hausler as well as Pooley’s compatriots Lizzie Armistead and Sharon Laws.



Team player Pooley knows that any one of a number of teammates could fare well, and is happy to sacrifice her own ambitions for them.



“The team we’re going with is the same as the one from the Flèche Wallonne – strong, but also riders who can time-trial. We win things by all being strong, we don’t really have a designated leader. I don’t know whether I’ll win or one of my teammates will, but it’ll suit us as a team and I’ll be super happy if a teammate does.”



“That’s the great thing about the team – you never really know who’s going to win. The Tour de l’Aude is such a long race and you need a lot of luck in a stage race like that to get through it unscathed,” she added.



Fellow Briton Sharon Laws could spring a surprise – Pooley herself hinted that Laws was looking forward to the race.



Lizzie Armitstead will also be looking to improve on her fourteenth place overall in 2009.



British interest


The Aude, now in its 25th year, has proved a stubborn nut for Britons to crack. The best home finish belongs to Lisa Brambani, who finished third overall back in 1988.



On the back of a fine Wielertrofee Vlaanderen win, Emma Silversides (Red Sun) is also expected to ride, in support of team leader Emma Johansson.



Meanwhile, Nicole Cooke and Team GB will be absent from the race. The squad was forced to withdraw after Friday’s Belgian car crash, which involved five of the team’s riders.



BRITISH RIDERS

Emma Pooley (Cervélo)

Lizzie Armitstead (Cervélo)

Sharon Laws (Cervélo)

Emma Silversides (Red Sun CT)*



THE STAGES

Friday May 14 – Prologue: Gruissan – Gruissan, 3.9km individual time-trial

Saturday May 15 – Stage one: Rieux Minervois – Rieux Minervois, 117km

Sunday May 16 – Stage two: Clermont l’Hérault – Clermont l’Hérault, 34.5km TTT

Monday May 17 – Stage three: Lezignan Corbières – Lezignan Corbières, 110km

Tuesday May 18 – Stage four: Osseja – Osseja, 97km

Wednesday May 19 – Stage five: Amelie les Bains – Amelie les Bains, 104.5km

Thursday May 20 – Stage six: Castelnaudary – Castelnaudary, 100km

Friday May 21 – Stage seven: Limoux – Roquefeuil, 105km

Saturday May 22 – Stage eight: Aunat – Limoux, 112km

Sunday May 23 – Stage nine: Carcassonne – Carcassonne, 90.5km



LAST YEAR’S TOP 10

1. Claudia Hausler (Ger) Cervélo 22-49-10


2. Trixi Worrack (Ger) Nurnberger Versicherung at 2-06


3. Marianne Vos (Ned) DSB Bank at 3-50 


4. Kristin Armstrong (USA) Cervelo at 4-09 


5. Nicole Cooke (GBr) Vision 1 at 7-58


6. Amber Neben (USA) Nurnberger Versicherung at 10-33 


7. Regina Bruins (Ned) Cervélo at 12-17 


8. Tina Liebig (Ger) DSB Bank at 13-22 


9. Loes Gunnewijk (Ned) Flexpoint at 13-49


10. Linda Villumsen (Ger) Columbia at 14-19 


Others:


14. Lizzie Armitstead (GBr) Lotto Belisol at 18-30 


33. Emma Pooley (GBr) Cervelo at 51-04

*Unconfirmed.

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