American Shelley Evans retook the overall lead at the Tour of New Zealand, winning the tour’s fifth stage in a field sprint ahead of Australian champion Ruth Corset and China’s Xin Liu and gaining enough bonus time to move ahead of teammate Amber Neben.
Evans earned her third stage win of the Tour at the end of a 112-kilometer race from Palmerston North to Masterton, giving her a six-second advantage over Neben in the overall standings.
Neben had a four-second advantage on GC, largely on the strength of her strong performance in Friday’s individual time trial. Evans, however, chalked up 10 seconds of bonus time by winning Saturday’s stage, the fifth and penultimate race in the six-stage Tour.
The New Zealand Tour will end with a timed, hour-long criterium in Wellington, an event in which Evans is expected to excel, virtually ensuring her hold on the overall title, given that it is her own teammate who is closest on GC.
Corset had initiated a break early in the stage, when she took off in search of climber’s points. She was quickly joined by Neben and Australian Lisa Jacobs.
“We started the day with intentions of keeping the jersey in the USA family,” Evans told VeloNews. “The stage was 112km and it started with a 4km climb. After that, it was about 95km of undulating terrain and not a lot of wind. Knowing this, our goal was to keep Amber in the front group, to follow anything that went over the climb.”
The three managed only to build up a lead of around a minute before the peloton reeled them back at the day’s halfway mark.
“There was a flurry of counter-attacks after the catch, for about 10 km, until the right move went up the road and we were content to control again from the front,” Evans explained.
That second break included Rushlee Buchanan (New Zealand National), Serena Sheridan (Cyclosport) and Vicki Whitelaw (Lotto) eventually joined by Joanne Kiesanowski (New Zealand National). The four could only build a small advantage, but even a small gap eventually caused some concern in the peloton.
“With about 10km to go, Amber and I decided that it was time to bring the break back and we asked our girls on the front to lift the pace,” Evans said. “I told them I wanted to sprint for the time bonuses and they tirelessly worked to bring the gap down to about 15 seconds before leaving the work for my last remaining teammate, Amber Neben, to finish off the chase.
“Within 2km, Amber drove a train of riders back up to the break with me on sitting right on her wheel. Just before the last corner, at 500m to go, I went to jump across to the break, which had just made the final turn.”
But even with the catch, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Evans.
“Just as I jumped to bridge, I dropped my chain and unclipped from my pedal at the same time,” Evans explained. “I sat down and desperately tried to get the chain back on and my foot in the pedal again as the rest of the field drove past me on both sides. Finally, with about 400m to go, I got it all sorted out and looked up to find a huge hole on the left side of the road and the field indecisively heading towards the line. So, with a lot of adrenaline, I jumped and took off up the left side. I don’t think anyone expected it or even saw me coming, as they had seen me have the issues just 100m earlier. I kept momentum, found a clearing, and shot straight up the left side to take the win.”
Evans easily won the stage as the field charged to the line, a win that has quite probably given her a lock on the overall as well.