Emma Pooley won the opening stage of the Grande Boucle yesterday, beating Mariane Vos by 24 seconds over the 18.3km circuit.
It was a dominant performance all round by the Cervelo team who’s riders also filled spaces three to six, putting them in a strong position to defend the leader’s jersey.
Pooley, however, was in a class of her own as only two riders got within a minute of her in what was a relatively short course around Bressuire, north of Bordeaux.
Pooley told Cycling Weekly she was pleasantly surprised, not only with the stage win but the winning margin. “I didn’t expect to do well on that time trial course,” she said. “It wasn’t particularly lumpy but there was lots of gradual downhill, so it was very fast, then short, sharp climbs. It was very technical, on narrow winding roads with lots of gravel – which I’m not a big fan of – so I am really pleased.
“Someone said before the stage I wouldn’t do very well because it is technical, so that showed them!”
The Olympic silver medallist expected more of a challenge in the TT, especially from Cervélo team-mate Christiane Soeder. “I was really surprised by Christiane: she is normally so strong in a time trial. And it was a good course for [Marianne] Vos, too – a testers course,” said Pooley.
The Grande Boucle, formerly the biggest women’s stage race in the World, is a shadow of its former self. Only 66 riders started the race in Bressuire. “There are only four stages this year, so it’s more of a Petite Boucle than Grande!” joked Pooley. “I think this year it has suffered from a bit of a funding crisis. You spend far more time in the car than you do on the bike, which is never a good thing.
“But I am leading it, so I can’t complain.”
The super-strong Cervélo squad are already in the driving seat. Will Pooley be supported all the way to the finish in Anglet? “To some extent, because the gaps are so big, but we have got such strength in depth in the team,” she said.
“Today’s stage is flat and fast. We are predicting a sprint finish – not my favourite kind of stage – but it is a small field and that makes it easier for me.”
RESULTS: Grande Boucle stage 1. Bressuire – Bressuire 18.3km TT
1 Emma Pooley (GBr) Cervelo 25-12 minutes
2 Mariane Vos (Ned) DSB Bank 25-36
3 Christiane Soeder (Aut) Cervelo 25-51
4 Regina Bruins (Ned) Cervelo 26-12
5 Kristen Wild (Ned) 26-46