Dani Christmas took victory in the opening stage of the ŠKODA V-Women’s Tour virtual race on Wednesday.
The Lotto-Soudal Ladies rider beat fellow Britons Illi Gardner (CAMS-Tifosi) and Amelia Sharpe (Team Breeze) at the end of the 38.4km run into Bury St Edmunds, a finish which was used at the inaugural Women’s Tour back in 2014.
The three-stage virtual race, which is being broadcast live via the BBC Sport website, app and BBC iPlayer, has replaced the Women’s Tour this year following its cancellation due to coronavirus.
“The legs were nipping a bit at the end but it was fun to do,” said Christmas after winning the bunch sprint. “It was hard from the start and you really have to pay attention as soon as there is a small gap you really have to push a few watts to get back to the bunch. I think there were a few people caught out that way.”
Christmas had initially tried to break away in the closing kilometres only to be reeled back in.
Dame Sarah Storey [Storey Racing], who finished 15th, told Telegraph Sport it was “brilliant” that the BBC was giving the race exposure.
“Every single sport has had to adapt to the situation we find ourselves in,” said the 14-time Paralympic champion who switched from swimming to cycling midway through her career. “I feel for swimmers right now because they don’t really have an option.
“It [virtual racing] is a way to ensure there is some continuity, although it’s almost like a different sport. There’s an element of luck involved in whether you time your efforts just right to get the draft from the on-screen graphic. But it’s almost like a time trial - a race of truth. If you’ve got the power then your avatar will be at the front of the race."
She added: "It's quite brutal. There’s quite a lot of surging, and you can have delays with the internet buffering, so you have to be very good at those on-off efforts for a whole hour."
Thursday’s second stage could see more splits with a hillier route around the climb of Burton Dassett in Warwickshire, including a hill-top finish. The riders are using RGT Cycling software to create their virtual cycling world.
Meanwhile, French fashion label Paule Ka will become Bigla-Katusha’s main sponsor from next month until the end of 2024, the Swiss women’s cycling team have announced.
The deal has been greeted as a potentially transformative one, which can help grow the sport beyond its traditional fan base.