The Matrix Fitness-Prendas women’s team have made an impressive start to Johnsons Health Tech Grand Prix Series so Paul Burgoine joined them in Woking to see what made them tick in the series …
The Matrix Fitness-Prendas women’s team have made an impressive start to Johnsons Health Tech Grand Prix Series, with Annie Simpson leading the overall competition as well as the sprint competition whilst the team have a slender lead from Node 4 Giodana in the Team classification.
I joined the team for the penultimate round in Woking where the squad for the evening was Annie Simpson (series leader), Hannah Walker, Jessie Walker (junior) and Penny Rowson and managed by Stefan Wyman.
Penny Rowson, Hannah Walker and Jessie Walker
I asked Annie how she felt the Series had gone so far after the first three rounds and she responded by saying that it had been a bit of a dream so far. Coming into the Johnson Grand Prix series for women at the Halfords Tour Series, Annie didn’t imagine she would be in such a good position and wasn’t expecting the results she has achieved thus far.
Annie feels the team work in the Matrix Fitness – Prendas squad had been enhanced by the closeness of the competition between themselves and Node 4 – Giordana and they were relishing the challenge in the final two rounds. Annie spoke of the importance of the TV coverage on ITV4 and the way it can open more doors for women’s racing in this country by showcasing the fact that women’s racing is every bit as exciting as the men’s, if not more so – by not having one dominant team made for more competitive and exciting racing.
In addition, Annie feels that more in-depth coverage in the future is essential to encourage new sponsorship which will also help to highlight women’s racing in this country.
Stefan Wyman has said he’d like to see women’s races covered as a separate entity and not run alongside the men’s races, something Annie would also like to see this eventually. She believes that women’s racing tends to be overshadowed, but you need to have a starting point and this is it. Annie did however feel that the coverage already in place is good and a definite improvement from last year.
In the team talk prior to the last round in Woking, Stefan encouraged the girls to relax in the race to stay near the front and to keep communicating with each other. The Sprints competition was not a major priority for Annie but if given the chance to go for it she would. As for the the overall title though (individual), it was just a matter of finishing in front of Node 4 – Giordana’s Corrine Hall whilst for the team competition,the girls in Matrix Fitness-Prendas had only to watch Node 4 –Giodana because it was a two horse race between the two teams now in the series.
The girls in the team were soon off and away in their 45 minute race and it wasn’t long before the field was reduced to about 25 riders with all four of the Matrix Fitess-Prendas girls in the peloton and looking comfortable. There were some early attempts to get away by Hannah Barnes (National Circuit Race Champion for Women) amongst others, but all moves were covered and shut down by Penny Rowson who continued to chase down attack after attack early in the race.
The first Sprint of the evening was after about ten minutes of racing and it was Hannah Walker who was trying to sweep up some points, managing to take second place. Annie was trying to initiate a break but to no avail. Others tried as well to get away from the bunch but still Penny closed it all down when a Matrix Fitness Prendas rider was present in the move.
In the second sprint, Hannah Walker again took second place robbing valuable points from Annie’s rivals and then after about 25 minutes, it was Jessie Walker (Matrix Fitness Prendas) covering the breaks and looking more and more confident in the race despite being a junior. In the closing laps, she even made a brave attempt to get away on her own but got caught with around one and a half laps to go. Unbelievably, Penny Rowson went off the front with Lucy Garner (Node 4 – Giodana) and Ruth Winder (Team VanderKitten) and this time the break stuck to the end.
Garner, World Junior Women’s Road Race champion, took the win with American Winder in second and Penny in a well deserved third place.
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This was obviously not one of Annie’s best nights but that is where the team work comes in. Even with two laps remaining, Annie had two of her team sitting in front of her in a protecting role. All throughout the race, her team supported her – Hannah Walker sweeping up sprint points whilst Penny and Jessie tirelessly chased down other teams.
This level of team work is not as apparent in the men’s racing and the excitement among the girls when they got back together after the race was very special as they are obviously a very tight knit team. Annie said after the race, she felt terrible but thought the girls were amazing and she was so proud of them all. Annie explained how she’d had nothing in her legs at Woking but her team were on everything. Annie added that taking the team prize tonight was perfect – especially after the way they rode.
Penny Rowsen meanwhile said she would have liked the win but again reflected on the team effort and how Jessie’s counter attack in the final two laps gave her the impetus to attack herself and get third place. Hannah Walker spoke of her role saying said her main task tonight was to keep Annie in her leader’s jerseys and she certainly did that by mopping up the sprint points and finishing in sixth on the night.
It was a most enjoyable afternoon and I would like to thank the girls of Matrix Fitness – Prendas and DS Stefan Wyman for letting me tag along. I think you would need to look hard to find a closer Knit team than this and in the race, they displayed an amazing show of strength around their team leader when she wasn’t feeling at her best.