SDWorx were once again victorious, their 21 year-old Dutchwoman Lonneke Uneken winning the final stage of the Healthy Ageing Tour on Friday.
After being under pressure for much of the 115.1km final stage, Ellen van Dijk held on to win the race for a record fourth time.
Uneken had been part of the days breakaway,which went clear with around 20km of the 115.1km race gone. However, with the attritional course taking its toll, that group was caught with around 18km to go. This formed a a strong group of hitters which contained four SDWorx riders, and in what was a tactical master stroke, the team sent Uneken up the road again, despite her being their worst placed rider on GC.
Despite a chase from former German champion Lisa Klein (Canyon-SRAM) Uneken’s lead was soon out to three minutes as momentum disappeared and the GC looked to be available. However, the gap was reduced on the closing lap.
On the final ascent of the VAMberg Emma Norsgaard (Movistar) attacked with Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT) the duo crossing the line in second and third, but they were unable to dislodge Van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo), who was fourth on the day.
SDWorx have dominated the opening part of the year, of six race days so far this season SDWorx have taken four victories, significantly with four different women.
How it happened
The second weekend of any normal March would see the women’s peloton fulfil a date with the the VAMberg, but with the one Ronde van Drenthe postponed until late in the year it was down to Heathy Ageing Tour organisers to ensure they were racing there.
Only 48m high, VAMberg is an artificial hill built on an old landfill site, the owners constructing a network of tarmac roads in the area for use by cycles. A slightly longer circuit was used for last year’s Dutch nationals, where Anna van der Breggen (SDWorx) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) won their respective driekleur jerseys, in what were both tough, gnarly races, and today’s stage was no different.
However, the Healthy Ageing Tour’s slightly shorter 6.6km lap, which was ridden 17.5 times allowed far less recovery time from the two ascents of the berg. Both climbs are short and sharp, the first being 500m at 7%, with ramps of 24% coming on a cobbled section, the other ascent just 200m at 12%.
With so much climbing the 115.1km race was bound to be one of attrition, and sure enough in the first five kilometres the race had split before, after a further 5,000m stage one winner Jolien D’hoore (SDWorx) was off the front gaining a lead of 1.32.
This was clearly a tactic for SDWorx, whose best placed rider on GC was Amy Pieters, just 23 seconds behind Van Dijk, as shortly after Uneken was part of a four woman group who bridged across with Lauretta Hanson (Trek-Segafredo), Emma Norsgaard (Movistar) and Brit Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma), forming a group of five.
Both Henderson and Norsgaard started the day close to Van Dijk’s overall lead, so despite the presence of the Dutchwoman’s Trek-Segafredo team mate, Hanson who sat on, it was a surprise the break was allowed a lead of 1.40, putting Norsgaard in the virtual lead.
As the kilometres ebbed so did the size of the peloton, with just 46 of the 94 starters left, though as the race entered the closing 40km the leaders’ advantage was down to 48 seconds.
However, with Van Dijk increasingly isolated at the head of the bunch Hanson was called back from the break to assist as rivals began a series of jabs at the general classification leader.
Starting the day only 39 seconds down, 2019 overall winner Lisa Klein (Canyon-SRAM) was one of those jabs, attacking with 36km remaining. Though she was unable to close the gap, SDWorx’s Canadian road champion Karol-Ann Canuel could and she took D’hoore’s place in the leading group.
With Klein left dangling between the two groups, Hanson took on the job of bringing both her and the break back. Before that was achieved though, SDWorx played one of their many tactical cards, Christine Majerus launching a stinging attack on the steepest cobbled section and taking Lisa Brennauer (Ceratzit-WNT) across to the front.
This move shredded what was left of the peloton as Van Dijk was forced to close the gap, taking Elise Chabbey (Canyon-SRAM) and Pieters across with her.
SDWorx now had four women in a leading group of nine, and as freezing rain began to drench the race Uneken launched her race winning move, the Dutch rider quickly building a lead in excess of a minute.
With no one willing to drag more SDWorx riders to the front the pace dropped, allowing another group to get across. This included Klein, who went straight over the top in pursuit of Uneken, putting pressure on Van Dijk who seemed either unable or unwilling to chase, despite now having Hanson in support once again.
At the front though Uneken powered on, and despite have been in the break for much of the race her lead over Klein extended to 2.30 and three minutes to Van Dijk, giving her the virtual lead, having started the stage with a deficit of 1.59.
The pace was upped on the penultimate ascent of the VAMberg, splitting the group and leaving only six chasers, who closed the gap before the final climb of the VAMberg.
Healthy Ageing Tour stage three, VAMberg – VAMberg (115.1km)
1. Lonneke Uneken (Ned) SDWorx in 3-32-13
2. Emma Norsgaard (Den) Movistar att 1-14
3. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Ceratizit-WNT at 1-15
4. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Trek-Segafredo at1-29
5. Lisa Klein (Ger) Canyon-SRAM at 1-33
6. Amy Pieters (Ned) SDWorx at 1-35
7. Alice Barnes (Gbr) Canyon-SRAM at 1-40
8. Amber van der Hulst (Ned) Parkhotel Valkenburg at 2-20
9. Pfeifer Georgi (Gbr) DSM at 2-54
10. Marta Lach (Pol) at 2-58
Final general classification
1. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Trek-Segafredo in 7-08-38
2. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Ceratizit-WNT at 06 sec
3. Emma Norsgaard (Den) Movistar at 12 sec
4. Lonneke Uneken (Ned) SDWorx at 20 sec
5. Amy Pieters (Ned) SDWorx at 29 sec
6. Lisa Klein (Ger) Canyon-SRAM at 43 sec
7. Alice Barnes (Gbr) Canyon-SRAM at 56 sec
8. Teuntje Beekhuis (Ned) Jumbo-Visma at 2-42
9. Amber van der Hulst (Ned) Parkhotel Valkenburg at 2-43
10. Anna Henderson (Gbr) Jumbo-Visma at 2-50