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Canyon – SRAM nearly breaks WorldTour duck in Britain

Canyon – SRAM came painfully close to a stage win Thursday in the Aviva Women's Tour, but the team remains optimistic that WorldTour victory will come.

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Despite a good start to the year, when Trixi Worrack won the Ladies Tour of Qatar, 2016 has been a tough season for Canyon – SRAM. Of the top-four ranked WorldTour teams, it is the only one yet to take victory at the highest level this season.

The German-registered team came close at stage 2 of the Aviva Women’s Tour Thursday, with Lisa Brennauer finishing a very close second to Wiggle – High5’s Amy Pieters at Stratford-Upon-Avon in England’s midlands. Though not a win, the result was perhaps more than the team could have hoped for, after Brennauer crashed in a sketchy finish in Wednesday’s opening stage.

Among other superficial injuries, the 2014 world time trial champion banged her head in the crash and admitted to still feeling the effects before lining up to start the 140km stage. As it was, she came within half a wheel of victory, having been forced to start her sprint early.

“We were present with four in the front group,” she said. “But with one and half kilometers to go, I only had Alena [Amialiusik] in front of me. I had to go, and I did not know if I would last or not; it was risky and this time I lost.”

As well as being a world-class time trialist, Brennauer, 28, possesses a sprint to be reckoned with, and seems to be able to pull it out of the bag when the weather is poor. In rainy conditions similar to Thursday, she won a stage of last year’s race and with it bagged the general classification, her second GC victory of 2015 along with the Energiewacht Tour in Holland.

Last year, she also won her third team time trial championship, that one with Velocio – SRAM, the team which has formed the backbone of the Canyon – SRAM squad we see today.

They have a good record in one-week stage races, but since that early season success in Qatar, the team has suffered bad luck and series of injures which affected its ability to perform at the highest level.

In March at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, near Milan, Worrack crashed and suffered serious injures resulting in the loss of one of her kidneys, then shortly after, Barbara Guarischi became ill and was unable to race. With British rider Hannah Barnes still recovering the from injuries she sustained in a crash at last year’s USA Pro Challenge, the nine-woman team was dangerously short on firepower.

All three are now back competing, even Worrack returned to competition last weekend at the Auensteiner Radsportage, where Brennauer won the opening stage sprinting from a three-woman break. But for the team, the WorldTour win is yet to come.

“There is no pressure,” team manager Ronny Lauke said while sheltering from the English rain. “We are here, and we want to win bike races, that is our goal from the beginning. We are struggling with that, but since we have everybody back from injury and we can choose from nine riders I’m certain we will have our share of the season too.”

With tough racing on narrow, hilly British roads to come this week, that success could come from any one of the six riders on the team, though it’s clear Brennauer has the form and ambition to be the one. “We have other riders who do very well on the climbs, so we have cards to play. I felt quite good today, I am now up to fourth on GC, but it doesn’t mean that we go for me for the rest of the week.”

If that elusive WorldTour win does not come in Britain this week, Canyon – SRAM won’t be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As Lauke says, “All our partners know how we work and panic is not a good partner. We won’t do that.”