Despite playing down her chances all week, Annemiek van Vleuten won the Ladies Tour of Norway queen stage at the Norefjell ski resort on Saturday.
The Olympic time trial champion crossed the line alone at the end of stage three, having dropped Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio with two kilometres to go. The South African SDWorx rider held on for a convincing second place, while Alé-BTC Ljubljana’s Mavi Garcia was third.
Moolman-Pasio had made a move with 3.2km to go, taking Van Vleuten and Cecilie Uttrup-Ludwig (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) with her. The Dane was first to slip backwards when Van Vleuten moved to the front, eventually finishing fifth, and Moolman-Pasio followed suit just two kilometres out.
Van Vleuten has been imperious in recent weeks, taking silver and gold at the Olympics before a dominant win at the Donostia San Sebastián, and Sunday’s gnarly, final stage finishing in the race’s home town of Halden should prove no problem to the 38 year old, who will add yet another victory to her glittering palmarès.
How it happened
For its third stage, the Ladies Tour of Norway ventured away from its heartland to the south-east of Oslo for the race’s first-ever mountain top finish to the capital’s west.
The 145.1km stage began at seas level in the riverside city of Drammen, winding its way into the mountains to the finish at the ski resort of Norefjell, at 1,000m metres, and used for the alpine ski events of the 1952 Olympics.
Talking of the Olympics, the parcours meant the race began with the recently crowned Olympic time trial gold and road race silver medalist, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) as the outright favourite despite her protestations that she had ‘party legs’ after Olympic celebrations.
As with the previous stages, the race stayed together in the early kilometres, with Drops-Le Col, who have two Norwegian riders in their squad, on the front, though they were disrupted by a brief flurry of attacks ahead of the day’s first classified climb, 32km in.
Even after that ascent the race remained together, the road inexorably climbing on easy slopes and steeper digs, with dark, tree-clad mountains standing sentry on the horizon.
Even after the intermediate sprint point in Vikersund, as the peloton passed one of the highest ski jump slopes in the world, four women managed to get a gap of 20 seconds, however, they were unable to capitalise, and were soon caught.
With around 75km remaining, on one of the day’s first flat sections, Brodie Chapman (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) attacked, quickly gaining a lead of 40 seconds while Ann Helen Olsen (Coop-Hitec Products) chased. However, the young Norwegian was soon caught, and with Chapman clearly looking to set up team-mate Uttrup Ludwig, the peloton fought hard to keep her in sight.
However, though the Australian’s lead went up and down, when she was joined by Norwegian road champion Vita Heine (Norway) the pair’s advantage extended to 1-25.
As the race entered the backwoods during a circumnavigation of the Noresund lake, pressure at the front caused the peloton to split, briefly bringing the gap down. Then, as they returned to civilisation, Brit Sophie Wright (Alé-BTC Ljubljana) launched an attack, chasing the leaders and getting within 30 seconds before finding herself stranded in no-woman’s land.
Wright though was joined by Femke Markus, the Parkhotel-Valkenburg clearly hoping to upstage her sister, stage two winner Riejanne. The Dutch rider went straight to the front but was unable to make an impact on the leaders’ advantage and they were let dangling, only to be caught four kilometres ahead of the final, 11km climb.
With Chapman and Heine caught shortly after, the pace eased as the climb began. Though the tarmac was perfect, the gradient was uneven making a rhythm impossible and the climb began to take its toll, riders dropping off as DSM’s German Liane Lippert went to the front to set up team-mate Juliette Labous.
Canyon-SRAM also took their turn, but the 30 woman peloton exploded when Niamh Fisher-Black (SDWorx) made a move. A 20 woman group emerged but that too fell apart when Moolman-Pasio made her move on the climb’s steepest gradients.
Tomorrow’s final stage takes the race from Drøbak to Halden, another rolling and intense 141km finishing with circuits along the edge of the fjord.
Result Ladies Tour of Norway, stage three: Drammen - Norefjell (145.1km)
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar in 3-52-17
2. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) SDWorx at 35 seconds
3. Mavi Garcia (Esp) Alé-BTC Ljubljana at 41s
4. Marlen Reusser (Sui) Alé-BTC Ljubljana at 44s
5. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at 48s
6. Kristen Faulkner (USA) Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank at 50s
7. Rachel Neylan (Aus) Parkhotel Valkenburg at same time
8. Niamh Fisher-Black (NZ) SDWorx at 1-01
9. Lucinda Brand (Ned) Trek-Segafredo at 1-12
10. Juliette Labous (Fra) DSM at same time
General classification after stage three
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar in 11-10-25
2. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) SDWorx at 39 seconds
3. Mavi Garcia (Esp) Alé-BTC Ljubljana at 47s
4. Kristen Faulkner (USA) Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank at 50s
5. Marlen Reusser (Sui) Alé-BTC Ljubljana at 54s
6. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwi g (Den) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at 58s
7. Rachel Neylan (Aus) Parkhotel Valkenburg at 1-00
8. Niamh Fisher-Black (NZ) SDWorx at 1-11
9. Riejanne Markus (Ned) Jumbo-Visma at 1-13
10. Lucinda Brand (Ned) Trek-Segafredo at 1-22
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