It was yet another win from a breakaway as Alison Jackson (Liv Racing) took the first stage of the Simac Ladies’ Tour, with Maelle Grossetete (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) second, after both spent all day together at the front. It was a nail-biting finish as the breakaway hung on at the very last second, the final sprint contested between the two members of the break, as the peloton, a mere hundred and fifty metres behind them fought for the minor places. Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) came third, and Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) came fourth, but will cede her leader’s jersey to Alison Jackson and move into second place.
Today’s stage ran 134.4km from Zwolle to Hardenberg; although Zwolle originally derives from ‘hill’, the stage was flat and set up for sprinters. The route was set up to pay tribute to retiring riders, winding through Hasselt, Anna van der Breggen’s home town; although she isn’t taking part this year, she appeared at the start to fire the gun to set the race off, and was presented with gifts from the organizers to mark her imminent retirement. Zwolle is also home to the retiring Kirsten Wild, winner of ten stages on the Simac Ladies’ Tour.
After 25km, Alison Jackson started a day of aggressive racing by making the first attack, going solo and gaining 50 seconds. However, in short order she was joined by Maelle Grossetete and Nina Buijsman (Parkhotel Valkenburg), who together maintained a gap of around a minute and a half.
At 57km, the breakaway reached the only categorized climb of the day, at Lemelerberg. Alison Jackson and Nina Buijsman sprinted for it: Jackson took first, putting herself into the climber’s jersey for tomorrow, and Buijsman took second, with Maelle Grossetete coming in third. Nina Buijsman was dominant in the mountains classification at the recent Ladies’ Tour of Norway, while Alison Jackson fought hard to take the points classification.
By 50km to go, when the breakaway had carved out a gap of two and a half minutes, the peloton began to make efforts to reduce it: they were perhaps wary, thinking of the recent cases of breakaways going all the way. Team DSM took on a role in the front, with help from Movistar and Jumbo-Visma.
Points at the intermediate sprint also went to the breakaway, as they wrestled for the bonus seconds among themselves: Maelle Grossetete took first, with Nina Buijsman again second. Alison Jackson tried to sprint around the other two, but ended up taking third. Sanne Bouwmeester (GT Krush Tunap Pro Cycling) attempted to bridge across to the break, managing a thirty second gap on the peloton.
The breakaway still pushed on, getting back to a two and a half minute lead with 33km to go. Alison Jackson yelled the time gap to Buijsman and Grossetete: they knew they had a chance.
Bouwmeester, at this point, fell back and rejoined the peloton, having maintained about ten seconds for several kilometres. GT Krush Tunap riders then repeatedly made slightly last-ditch attempts to attack, but the peloton refused to let them go. All their focus was on creating the predicted sprint finish.
With 20km to go, the break still had two minutes. By 13km, the gap was down to a minute, with the peloton strung out by the pace. In the scramble for positioning, Marlen Reusser (Ale BTC Ljubljana) crashed.
With their gap steadily decreasing, the break dropped Nina Buijsman at 10km to go. It seemed, with a lead of only 25 seconds at 5km to go, inevitable that they would be caught, but Jackson and Buijsman hung on, with one desperate final effort. As the road widened, the sprint trains formed, looming menacingly behind the breakaway, looking, in the fore-shortened camera shot, like they were on the edge of absorbing them. The finish line drew near – it would be agonisingly close to be caught now.
They clung on, somehow, until the final strait. Buijsman and Jackson separated after a long day of working together, went to opposite sides of the road, and started a long sprint: Jackson just edged ahead to take the victory as the peloton surged behind them.
After her win, Jackson said she’d been influenced by the recent success of breakaways: “I saw an opportunity early on, and normally I’m waiting for the sprint, you know, we’ve seen that long breakaways actually get a lot of success when you’re with strong people, and it just happened that the other two bridged to me, and yeah, we worked hard, and just snuck that win! I’m just super happy – a win’s a win, but it’s been a tough year, and I just really think it’s a gift.”
“I knew that we had the tailwind coming back, so we had to fight really hard, the three of us, I really pushed the girls to ride hard in the headwind, to keep as much of a gap as we could. Maelle and I [were] just pushing each other – I think I was the strongest, I was taking the longest pulls. My team behind were rooting for me the whole time, so it was a positive headspace.”
She finished off her interview with the exclamation: “It’s so fun to win!”