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The 2011 Tour ta’ Malta was always set to be a landmark race after it was announced that this year’s 17th edition has set new records in terms of participation.

John Zammit, president of the Malta Cycling Federation, told a news conference that the 2011 Tour would be contested by a record 111 riders stating “The Tour ta’ Malta is gaining in popularity and that is mirrored in the entries for this year’s race”.

In 2010, Squadra Donne’s Iona Sewell won the women’s race overall, so there was plenty to race for and the team we’re no doubt excited on returning to the event to see it gaining popularity, with the event in 2011 setting a new record for overseas participation with 17 foreign teams racing against the five homegrown teams from Malta.

“This will be a huge boost for the sport here. Surely, we are going to experience one of the most contested Tours ever” said Zammit.

The Squadra Donne team had a superb race which saw the girls on the podium a number of times, with Steph taking the prize for highest placed Maltese rider and Iona, last year winner, claiming overall third.

Here is a stage by stage overview from the team:

Tour ta’ Malta: Stage 1.
Individual Time Trial – Coastline
(Distance: 25km / 4 laps)

“This stage took us along the familiar Coast Road – four laps, 25 km in total.
The women riders were first off. There was a slight increase in wind speed but this was not a major problem on the hillier sections of the course.
Whilst all of the team rode really well, Iona set the fastest time for the whole race – 42 min 34s. However, the Chief Timekeeper took a different view and gave first place to a rider who had not completed the whole circuit!
Tomorrow the race goes to the gruelling St Martin Circuit with its sinuous 2km climb – to be covered six times. The team’s plan is to rectify the timekeeper’s mistakes and make it obvious which is the best team in the Tour ta’ Malta.”

Tour ta’ Malta: Stage 2.

Road Race – San Martin circuit
(Distance: 10 laps/100kms for men, 7 laps/70kms for women)

“In the blazing sunshine and scorching heat, today’s stage took us six times around the St Martin circuit. The first climb saw the field scattered and Iona, riding onto the leader’s wheel, soon found herself in the break. Steph and Alice formed a chasing group with one member of the Dutch team and another Maltese rider.
It was a tough course – made even tougher by the heat. All four girls worked really hard – Iona again making it onto the podium (in third place) with Alice and Steph taking 4th and 5th.

Big thanks to Elaine for handing out bottles and to Jon and Steve for all their encouragement and support.
Tomorrow we’re off to Gozo and it’s going to be an early start…”

Tour ta’ Malta: Stage 3.

Gozo Road Race at Nadur
(Distance: 60km/10 laps)

“We were up at the crack of dawn. All the bikes were loaded onto two removal vans and we piled onto the coach – rather bleary-eyed… most of us hadn’t managed our usual caffeine fix (except Jon and Steve, of course, who always come prepared with their enormous flask of tea!)
At around 7:30am, we wheeled our bikes onto the ferry and set off for Gozo. It was another beautifully sunny day with clear blue sky, although there was a strong breeze.
There was a hilly ride to the start of the race course – a new course for 2011. Most of us were pleased to discover that the climb wasn’t half as long or as hard as the previous day’s! We were also rather happy when it was announced that we would only be riding 6 laps of the course, rather than 8!
After a neutralised lap (to familiarise ourselves with the circuit) we had a 30s break before the race started. The Polish and Italian riders (lying first and second in GC) flew up the climb. Alice, Iona and one of the Dutch riders put in a good chase. Iona managed to stay away for over a lap. Sarah and Steph found themselves safely in the bunch (well… what was left of the bunch – several riders had lost contact with the bunch on the first climb.)
The Dutch girls attacked a number of times but never managed to stay away. The men’s race merged with the ladies’ on the fourth lap – only for a short stretch of the course – but enough time for Alice to shout at Andrew (her boyfriend) and give him some encouragement. Sarah pinged off the back of the bunch when she found herself last around the corner at the dead turn (at one end of the course) and following a dodgy wheel. Despite a good chase, she wasn’t able to catch the bunch before the climb. After hurtling down the descent, she worked hard with a Dutch girl to chase back on and successfully caught the bunch again but after all this chasing, found herself off the back of the bunch again on the final climb.
With the Italian and Polish girls safely in 1st and 2nd places, third place was to be decided after a bunch sprint. Alice was first across the line, securing another place on the podium for Squadra Donne.”

Tour ta’ Malta: Stage 4.

Individual Time Trial at Zebbug By-Pass
(Distance: 12km/3 laps)

“We had another early start but we were all relieved that we’d only be racing for 12 km! This was another individual time trial: three laps of a great, fast stretch of dual carriageway. The course started with a fantastic downhill section, where you couldn’t help but pick up some speed. After a dead turn at a roundabout, we found ourselves slogging back up the same drag that we had just flown down!
Iona had a fantastic ride and took third place. (Further results will appear on the blog when we know them!)
After a gentle ride back to Sliema, it was time for the prize presentation.
Iona Sewell took 3rd place in the overall competition with Steph Magri winning the first Maltese rider competition. Fantastic results for Squadra Donne!”

Read a race report from Jon Miles here on Velo UK.

The girls state that of course, none of this could have happened without the constant and never-failing support and encouragement of Steve and Jon… massages, food, bottles, water, mechanical assistance, spare parts etc. etc. the list goes on. They couldn’t have asked for anything more from their dedicated Team Manager and Soigneur.

Visit the Squadra-Donne website for more information on the team, and for a full schedule of the teams races for the season.

The Squadra Donne Team is supported by the following sponsors:
Shutt Velo Rapide
St George’s Cyclery