Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek Segafredo), bronze medallist in the Tokyo road race, made a spectacular return after the Olympic Games, winning GP de Plouay-Lorient-Agglomeration Trophee Ceratizit 2021 with a solo attack in the last ten kilometres. In the sprint for podium places, Gladys Verhulst (Team Arkea) came second, and Kristen Faulkner (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank) – recently prominent in the Tour of Norway – came third.
The race was eleven laps of a constantly undulating circuit, for a total of 150km – 50km more than the 2020 addition. The circuit had three major climbs, for a total of 2321 metres of elevational gain. It was an attritional race; the peloton shrank on every ascent.
Early on, a five-strong group briefly escaped, composed of Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx), Ruth Winder (Trek Segafredo), Franziska Koch (Team DSM), Anna Henderson and Riejanne Markus (both Jumbo-Visma): although it shredded the front of the peloton, they were brought back soon enough.
Jade Wiel (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine) and Alena Amialiusik (Canyon//SRAM Racing) made up the first breakaway to get a significant gap, five laps into the race. The peloton spread across the road, reducing the pressure; they were happy enough to let Wiel and Amialiusik go for now. Their gap increased rapidly: by 70km to go, they had thirty seconds; by 64km, they had 1’30”; by 59km, it was 2’30”.
Amialiusik briefly attacked, but Wiel stuck to her wheel. They crossed the line together to start the eighth lap with a lead of 3’30”. The breakaway did not seem to be working in perfect harmony, but Wiel clung on.
At 50km, Julie Van de Velde (Jumbo Visma) attacked on the ascent. She was followed by riders who formed a ten-strong pursuing group, while Anna van der Breggen led the peloton.. Amialiusik finally applied enough steady pressure: Wiel slipped off the back of her wheel, and Amialiusik was solo at the front of the race, with a gap of 2’49”.
The chasing group had thirty seconds on the peloton. Amialiusik had 2’10” on the chasers – a group which included her teammate, Elise Chabbey. The gap was decreasing to Amialiusik, but the peloton was also making progress on the chasers. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx) pulled them across, but as the peloton fractured, her teammate Anna van der Breggen was caught at the back in a group that detached. As the groups rejoined, Trek Segafredo began to attack, first with Audrey Corden-Ragot, then with Ruth Winder.
Amialiusik still had two minutes. The ever-shrinking peloton was increasingly aggressive behind her. Kristen Faulkner (Tibco – Silicon Valley Bank) attacked, but couldn’t get clear. Anna van der Breggen pulled the detached group back into the peloton, but gaps grew as the speed increased and they began the concerted chase for Amialiusik.
Amialiusik started the penultimate lap still alone, with a 1’30” gap – though that gap was beginning to rapidly decrease. With 25km to go, Elisa Longho Borghini attacked on the corner of the first climb; what remained of the peloton was scattered behind her down the long hill, and she barely looked back. Liane Lippert (Team DSM) tried to close it, but couldn’t get across.
Borghini kept up the pace on the next climb, only sixteen seconds away from Amialiusik, who was now in her sights. She glanced back to Mavi Garcia (Ale BTC Ljubljana), who had come out of the main group and was starting to close the gap.
By 22km, Amialiusik was still clinging on, but the Spanish and Italian national champions had joined forces, and were quickly bearing down. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (SD Worx) was on the front of the peloton; they were close enough that a single foreshortened shot could show all three groups.
Borghini and Garcia caught Amialiusik, making a leading group of three, with a twenty second gap. Liane Lippert finally bridged across, joining them to make a group of four, with five chasers behind, and an utterly splintered main group behind them. SD Worx weren’t happy to let it go; Elise Chabbey and Niamh Fisher-Black swelled the leading group.
The leaders came in together for the final lap, but there wasn’t much cohesion: they looked around cagily each other, with the remnants of the peloton not far behind.
Tatiana Guderzo (Ale BTC Ljubljana) then took her chance to attack from the leading group. She looked back as she crossed the peak of the hill, saw the road empty and put her head down to focus. Liane Lippert attacked yet again, and Lizzie Deignan, the three-time champion, couldn’t keep hold of it. Lippert, accompanied by Garcia and Borghini, closed the gap to Guderzo, making a new leading group.
It was not, however, to last four-strong for long. Borghini made the decisive attack, going solo at 10.1km. Lippert looked around to the other two, but they didn’t make a move. On every climb, Borghini was making relentless attacks: with 7km left, she had a gap of 17”.
Floortje Mackaij (Team DSM) emerged to chase her down, with Rachel Neylan (Parkhotel Valkenburg) just behind, but they couldn’t touch her. Garcia attacked again, catching Neylan and Mackaij, but couldn’t get across to Borghini.
The pressure was going out of the main group, as Borghini looked at the empty road behind her. She had a gap of 40”, with only 3km left. The others were left with a fierce battle for podium places.
As Borghini came into the home strait, twenty five seconds clear, she still kept looking behind her, checking for the group. She rode up the long flat rise to the finish and had one final glance at the chasing group, now rounding the corner behind her, before she put her arms out to celebrate and crossed the line. Behind her, they could only sprint for second.
Afterwards, Borghini said: “It’s always such a nice race to win, Plouay is such a great place for cycling.”
On her tactics, she said: “Today, I felt really strong and I knew I had to go solo because this is my only way to win a race.” She explained that she’d initially been attacking just to make the race hard, but her teammate Audrey Cordon-Ragot, a Brittany local who was targeting the race, had an unfortunately timed crash.
She also added: “This is a victory for our team manager Luca Guercilena. I want to say hello to him and wish him good luck with his treatment.” The Trek-Segafredo manager recently announced that he would be taking a break from running the men’s and women’s team to start treatment for lymphoma.