The Scandinavian block continues as the peloton travels east for the 5th edition of the Ladies Tour of Norway in round 19 of the UCI Women’s World Tour.
World Tour Recap
Despite her absence from Vårgårda at the weekend, Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) holds on to the purple leader’s jersey with a 199 point cushion to Marianne Vos (CCC Liv). Vos’ second place finish on Sunday saw her leapfrog Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram) in the overall standings and the CCC Liv rider now stands within striking distance of her compatriot. With van Vleuten missing from action again this week we could see the leader’s jersey swap hands for the first time since Liege-Bastogne-Liege back in April. It would require a repetition of her dominant performance of last year, which saw Vos win all three stages and the overall, but with her recent string of excellent results it wouldn’t be a big surprise if she managed to pull off such a feat.
In the youth standings, Marta Cavalli (Valcar Cylance) and Lorena Wiebes (Parkhotel Valkenburg) continue their closely fought battle over the blue jersey. With just two points separating the pair, we could see this jersey exchange hands too and we may well have a new wearer at the next round of the Womens World Tour in Plouay, France.
The Tour of Norway
Now in its 5th year The Tour of Norway has become a firm favourite on the calendar. With hilly parcours and technical finishing circuits the tour is known for exciting and unpredictable racing and this year promises to provide plenty of thrilling action. The 4 days of racing begins on Thursday with the battle for the general classification rising to a crescendo over the weekend.
The opening 128km stage from Åsgårdstrand to Horten is likely to be one for the sprinters. The rolling terrain may promote some aggressive racing early on but things will be expected to come back together by the time the bunch enters the finishing circuits. With the final 400m ramping up the sprint looks set to suit the likes of Vos, Rivera (Team Sunweb) and Vårgårda winner, Marta Bastianelli (Team Virtu).
Friday’s stage won’t determine the overal general classification, but it is likely to see the race begin to split. The race heads to inner Østfold for the 3rd consecutive year and the bunch faces a tricky 133.6km from Mysen to Askim. The longer loop sees a fair amount of steady climbing and the undulations may well encourage plenty of attacking to take place and a thinning of the bunch may occur. As riders come in to Askim they will tackle a challenging 8.1km finishing circuit which is likely to reduce the bunch further. Although the roads of stage 2 may be familiar to the peloton the outcome isn’t as predictable; it could be a successful day for a break or it could be another opportunity for the fastest finishers to power to victory from a reduced bunch sprint.
Saturday marks the first of two challenging days and the battle for the yellow jersey truly begin. Stage 3 sees the first summit finish in the tour’s history with riders facing the notorious Knardal hill in the final. Touted as a potential race deciding climb, Knardal hill winds its way up from Halden to the historic Fredriksten fortress famed for its military significance in border wars. At 1.3km in length with an average gradient of 7.3% and a maximum gradient of 10.6% it may will prove to be significant in deciding the race too.
The 125km stage undulates from Moss to Halden and after 110km of racing, two laps of the finishing circuit will await. The peloton will climb Knardal hill twice in the final 15km so expect to see riders strewn all over the road. At the head of affairs, it will likely be a showdown between the strong climbers such as the ‘Mur de Huy queen’, Van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans), Vos and Polish climber Niewiadoma.
Although Saturday’s stage could be decisive, there’s still plenty of racing to be done as the queen’s stage falls on the final day of the race. The 4th stage is becoming somewhat of a tradition in the Tour of Norway and the 156.2km from Svinesund to Halden remain unchanged from the past two editions. Tired and heavy legs will face; undulating roads as the peloton zig zags across the Norweigian/Sweden border, a 7km long uphill gravel sector as well as a difficult finishing circuit. The 5km finishing loop around Halden features narrow roads, many turns and a cobbled section; its technical, hard and promotes very aggressive racing. As we have seen in the past two years there is likely to be lots of attacking in the final 16km as riders such as Majerus (Boels Dolmans) and Brand (Team Sunweb) look to escape and upset the day for the sprinters.
Last year saw Vos triumph in a dominant display of strength as she took all three stage victories as well as the overall title. Having also clinched victory in the 2017 edition she will look to make it at a hat-trick of Norway wins this year. Vos will be confident in her sprinting form and the inaugural summit finish of Knardal hill is unlikely to faze her as the 5 times Fleche Wallonne winner thrives on both the flat and hilly finishes.
Vos, however will have to fend off challenges from the likes of 2014 winner Anna van der Breggen and Polish climber Niewiadoma who will both look to gain time on the slopes up to Fredriksten fortress. Another potential contender to watch is Trek-Segafredo’s Ruth Winder. The newly crowned American road champion was active in Vårgårda and is clearly in good form.
Vårgårda winner Marta Bastianelli will also pose a big threat in the bunch sprints and will no doubt be hunting for stage victories as she looks to add to her tally of 6 wins in 2019. In terms of the general classification the big question is whether she can limit her losses enough on Knardal hill. Other sprinters looking to take stage wins include Parkhotel Valkenburg’s Lorena Wiebes, Chloe Hosking (Alé Cipollini) and Sunweb’s Coryn Rivera.
The rolling terrain and the technical finishing circuits also creates plenty of opportunities for potentially successful breakaways which means we are likely to see the rouleurs of the peloton amongst the action. Expect to see the likes of Christine Majerus (Boels Dolmans), Grace Brown (Mitchelton-Scott), Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb), Tayler Wiles (Trek-Segafredo) and Alison Jackson (Team Tibco SVB) race aggressively and look to seize opportunities.
Unpredictability breeds exciting racing and the 2019 edition of The Tour of Norway looks set to be a thrilling 4 days.
When: 22nd – 25th August
4 days of unpredictable, exciting racing over rolling terrain: Stage 1, Åsgårdstrand – Horten, 128km
Who to watch for GC:
Van der Breggen ****