European campaign concludes with BeNe Ladies Tour
From the mountains to the flat lands, the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling women had a quick turnaround after La Course by the Tour de France, signing on for the BeNe Ladies Tour just two days after the one day race in the Alps.
Thomas, Buchanan finish top 10
Held over four days in Belgium and the Netherlands, the stage race was generally flat, switching the focus from climbers to the team’s sprinters and time trial riders: Lauretta Hanson, Leah Thomas and Rushlee Buchanan.
Thomas kicked off the race with a good result, clocking five minutes flat in the 3.9km prologue, which placed her in the top 10, just 18 seconds off the pace of the winner.
“BeNe tour was fast and furious,” Thomas said. “We had some great prologues and it was great to open up our legs after our travel day from La Course. The first stage included a few hills including the cobbled Moelenburg. A little bit of rain made the race course slick as we battled across some cobbled roads and onto the finishing circuits.”
Team director Rachel Hedderman said they wanted to be aggressive on the first 135.5km road stage, as their best chance of a stage win was from a break.
“We were up there in the moves and being aggressive,” Hedderman said. “It was starting to look like the elastic might snap and a break go, but then race was stopped by a train and the steam went out. Was looking like a bunch sprint, but then three riders escaped near the end, and although they were almost caught, they just stayed clear.”
The next day was a double stage, with a road race in the morning followed by an afternoon 10km individual time trial.
“That stage was my favorite,” Thomas said. “There were some cobbles that led directly into a crosswind section. This race was hard and split the peloton in two.”
Thomas and Hanson made it across to the front group, while Buchanan and Katie Hall bridged across later. The stage ended up in another bunch sprint.
In the time trial, Thomas spent some time in the hot seat and ended sixth place just a few seconds off the podium, with Buchanan in seventh. The result moved Thomas up to eighth overall, while Buchanan jumped up 18 spots on GC into ninth.
“The time trial had many corners, making it a punchy course,” Thomas said. “It felt great to race really aggressively in that time trial and Rushlee and I had good results. The final day was flat as a table. At 118 km with only 30 meters of climbing, it was fast and positioning was the biggest priority as the roads were so narrow. With the exception of the first day, all finishes were bunch finishes (the second stage was a bunch sprint from the reduced peloton).”
Hedderman said the team wanted to be aggressive on the final day and look for breakaway opportunities. Although the team got away in a few moves, nothing stuck and the stage ended in a bunch sprint, with Hanson and Buchanan both making it into the top 20.
“We finished with two riders in the top 10 overall and second in team GC,” Hedderman said. “A good overall team performance in a race that was a very different style to the races we have been focusing on this year (supporting our climbers in much hillier races).”