The world champion finished over one minute behind Swedish winner Emilia Fahlin (Alé-Cipollini) who became the first home winner of the Crescent Vårgårda road race.
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The victory was the 27-year-old Swede’s first major win for nearly five years and her Italian team’s first WorldTour success.
Fahlin had been a major protagonist in a group of nine riders who escaped the peloton with 46 of the 141km left to race, and sprinted clear of second placed Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo-Bigla), arguably the best sprinter in the group.
Early in the race Lepistö’s Swiss team mate Nicole Hanselmann, who won the opening stage of last week’s Ladies Tour of Norway, broke clear on the third of four opening 11km circuits, establishing a gap of two minutes.
Starting the race with just four riders, the presence of the Swiss rider up the road allowed Lepistö to sit tight in the bunch, as the peloton prepared to head onto a long 53km loop characterised by four sectors of gravel roads made more testing by overnight rain.
Despite the late withdrawal of Marianne Vos, Rabo-Liv, dominant in Norway last week, joined forces with Boels-Dolmans in neutralising Hanselmann’s advantage at the end of the second gravel sector, with 68km behind them.
However, it was the fourth stretch of gravel which proved decisive. Lacking representation from all the major teams, an initial strong break of seven women served to split the peloton as they were chased down. It was then, as the race returned to Vårgårda to begin four final laps of the same 11km circuit as before, that the race winning break of nine riders escaped from a reduced bunch.
This group contained British road race champion Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) and Armitstead’s Dutch teammate Chantal Blaak, meaning the world champion and her team did not need to work in the peloton behind.
Working well together, the group built and maintained an advantage, beginning the final 11km lap with a lead of 42 seconds on two chasers, including Brit Dani King (Wiggle-High5.) Only in the closing kilometres did the cooperation break down as those unsure of their sprint tried to get away.
Though Fahlin was one of those aggressors, she was able to take advantage of excellent positioning in the final turn to out sprint more notable fast women to the line.
Team time trial
The race was second WorldTour event of the weekend in the Swedish town. Friday saw Boels-Dolmans continued their domination of the series, winning the team time trial by 37 seconds ahead of Cervélo-Bigla.
The event is a final indicator of form before October’s world championships which the Dutch team will be keen to win. Last year was the first year the race was not won on Specialized bikes since the event was reinstated in 2012, and Boels-Dolmans, who placed second in Richmond will be keen to show the American manufacturer’s dominance in the sector.
Next Saturday’s GP Plouay-Bretagne, which Armitstead won last year to seal her second consecutive World Cup title, is the penultimate Women’s WorldTour event of the year.
Though the Englishwoman remains second in the standings, Sunday’s result sealed the overall series win for her American teammate and Giro Rosa winner, Megan Guarnier.
Crescent Vårgårda Road Race
1. Emilia Fahlin (Swe) Alé-Cipollini, at 2-01-27
2. Lotta Lepistö (Fin) Cervélo-Bigla, same time
3. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boels-Dolmans, same time
4. Amy Pieters (Ned) Wiggle-High5, same time
5. Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Ita) Lensworld-Zannata, at 2 sec
6. Hannah Barnes (GBr) Canyon-SRAM, at 3 sec
7. Amanda Spratt (Aus) Orica-AIS, same time
8. Julia Soek (Ned) Liv-Plantur, at 4 sec
9. Shara Gillow (Aus) Rabo-Liv, at 6 sec
10. Roxanne Knetemann (Ned) Rabo-Liv, at 13 sec
Crescent Vårgårda Team Time Trial
1. Boels-Dolmans, in 51-43
2. Cervélo-Bigla, at 36 seconds
3. Rabo-Liv, at 1-16
4. Canyon-SRAM, at 1-41
5. Wiggle-High5, at 1-45
6. BTC City Ljubljana, at 2-35
7. Bepink, at 2-40
8. Cylance, at 2-57
9. Team Liv-Plantur, at 3-07
10. Parkhotel-Valkenburg, at 3-22