It was a characteristic victory for Annemiek van Vleuten (Team Movistar) in Stage 3 of the Ladies’ Tour of Norway, where she took both the stage and the leader’s jersey with an attack towards the end of the first mountain-top finish in the race’s history. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Team SD Worx) took second, and Margarita Garcia Canellas (Ale BTC Ljubljana) came third.
The 151.3km course, running from Drammen to Norefjell, curved alongside the Drammenselva river, before approaching the 11.1km climb to the ski-resort of Norefjell. The winner of Stage 2, Riejanne Markus, started the day in yellow with a two second lead, the commissaires making the overnight decision to reverse yesterday’s ranking that kept Kristen Faulkner ahead.
The first categorized climb came at 32km into the stage, at Komperud. The current wearer of the polka-dots, Nina Buijsman (Parkhotel Valkenburg) took maximum points on the 2.3km climb, with Anna Shackley (Team SD Worx) second, Janneke Ensing (Team Bike-Exchange) third, and Julie van de Velde (Team Jumbo-Visma) fourth. A break-away was attempted, but was quickly reeled back in by the peloton.
At the first intermediate sprint at Vikersund, at 50.3km, Tanja Erath (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank) came first, Alison Jackson (Liv Racing) second, Sofia Bertizzolo (Liv Racing) third, and Kristen Faulkner (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank) fourth.
Brodie Chapman (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitane) then broke away, opening up a gap of thirty seconds. Anne Helen Olsen (Team Coop-Hitec Products) attempted to bridge across to her, but was caught by the peloton, who continued to keep the pace high, restlessly attacking, stretching out and regrouping. They were marred slightly by crashes, including one taking down Niamh Fisher-Black (Team SD Worx). Although the peloton initially reduced Chapman’s lead, the Australian continued to push forward on her own, and extended her lead back to around forty-five seconds.
The second intermediate sprint came with 64.9km to go, at Prestfoss. Chapman, still solitary, took the maximum points, sprinting for it and throwing her bike to the line despite the empty road around her. Behind, Alison Jackson and Kristen Faulkner battled again for the minor places, with Jackson coming second, and Faulkner third.
Vita Heine from the Norwegian National Team joined Chapman, who was calm enough taking a moment to wave at fans and their fluttering Norwegian flags. The two established a lead of a minute and a half as the race looped round glinting expanses of water. The peloton took a short break from their restless attacking, but were soon back to it, reducing Chapman and Heine’s lead back down to a minute.
As the peloton wound through the thick forests up to the ski slopes, on dark tarmac damp from drizzle, most attempts to break free were swallowed back up, but Sophie Wright (Ale BTC Ljubljana) made a more concerted effort to bridge across to the two riders in front. She was joined by Femke Markus (Parkhotel Valkenburg). They took a minute’s lead on the peloton, but remained around forty seconds behind Chapman and Heine.
As they came towards the foot of the final climb, Team SD-Worx came to the front of the peloton, and, after some brief discussion, were quickly joined by Movistar, both chasing to close the gap before the climbing started. By 17km to go, the peloton had caught the chasers Wright and Markus; by 13km, Heine and Chapman were caught.
The final climb to Norefjell started at 134km; the average gradient of the 11km climb was 6.1%, but in places went as high as 18.3%. Movistar pushed forward, the fast pace immediately fracturing the peloton as they started the climb to the ski station, and quickly leaving behind those uninterested in the stage win. A group of around 30 stayed together at the front, including the yellow jersey, Riejanne Markus (Team Jumbo Visma).
Niamh Fisher Black (Team SD Workx) attacked first; Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Team SD Worx) then pushed forward, but Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), in the resplendent pinkish-purple of the WWT leader, and now without any team-mates in the front group, refused to let her go.
The front group continued to bleed riders. With 3km to go, and as the steepest gradients started, Annemiek van Vleuten attacked, with Ashleigh Moolman Pasio attempting to cling to her wheel. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig stuck with them for a moment, but was dropped. Van Vleuten rose out of the saddle and stormed ahead, quickly distancing herself from Moolman-Pasio. The scattered, isolated riders were left behind her to try and staunch the flow of seconds.
The Olympic time-trial champion, and road race silver medallist, now leads the general classification, with Moolman-Pasio and Margarita Garcia Canellas second and third. Riejanne Markus managed to stay inside the top 10.