Lonneke Uneken (SD Worx) took the third stage in the Simac Ladies’ Tour, after a huge crash in the final four kilometres prevented the bunch sprint finish that had seemed inevitable all day.
Uneken was part of a group of six who were in front of the crash and contested the finish by themselves, with Susanne Andersen (Team DSM) coming second, and her teammate Pfeiffer Georgi coming in third. Despite being caught up in the crash herself, Marlen Reusser, the emphatic victor of yesterday’s time-trial, clung onto the yellow jersey, coming in 31 seconds down, and maintaining a slim lead of ten seconds on Chantal Blaak, and twelve seconds on Ellen van Dijk.
The stage ran 123km from Stamproy to Weert, involving several convoluted loops around the same roads. It was an extremely flat stage, with only 50m of elevation: it was difficult to get an attack clear. Despite a few efforts, they stayed together for much of the opening half of the stage: at 48km, Femke Markus (Parkhotel Valkenburg) attempted to break away but couldn’t get clear. A fifteen-strong breakaway detached from the peloton at 55km, getting a twenty second gap, but didn’t last long, with everyone back together at 65km.
From about 45km, there were increasing attacks as they went through roads lined with leafy foliage, but the sprinters’ teams were in no mood for a repeat of the first stage. Hanna Nilsson (Lotto Soudal) and Quinty Ton (GT Krush Tunap Pro Cycling) went clear but were swiftly caught.
Alison Jackson tried an attack (Lotto Soudal); she looked back as she pedalled on, seeing how much she could string out the peloton behind her. Quinty Ton went again at 41km, alone this time, but couldn’t maintain it for long.
At the intermediate sprint – their first time past the finish line – Silvia Persico (Valcar Travel and Service) took first, Femke Marcus (Parkhotel Valkenburg) took second, and Chiara Consonni (Valcar Travel and Service) took third. Femke Marcus and Elisa Balsamo (Valcar – Travel & Service) shot off the front as they rounded the corner of the intermediate sprint, but were quickly devoured back up by the peloton.
GT Krush Tunap Pro Cycling attacked again, and it was a third time a little luckier. It was the eighteen-year old Daniek Hengeveld who finally managed to get clear, producing a fourteen second gap. As she rode alone through the utterly flat landscape, the gap fluctuated, but it got out to nearly twenty seconds. The peloton, however, was always looming behind her, always creeping round the corner in the back of the camera shot.
Team DSM took control, not wanting to be caught out again, and caught Hengeveld with fifteen kilometres to go. As teams scrambled for position, fighting for control of the front, it seemed inevitable that the bunch sprint, somewhat elusive recently with the repeated success of breakaways, would finally materialise.
Suddenly, with only four kilometres to go, half the peloton was down. Lorena Wiebes’ (DSM) wheel caught the edge of the road, and with the pace high and the road tightly packed, it had a disastrous effect. Everyone was either involved or caught behind it, with the exception of just six riders: from SD Worx, Chantal Blaak, Demi Vollering, Amy Pieters and Lonneke Uneken; and from Team DSM, Susanne Anderson and Pfeiffer Georgi. Uneken said after the stage that SD Worx had been planning an attack in the final five kilometres, which was why most of them were at the front, and avoided the carnage.
Notably, Marlen Reusser was stuck behind, since she’d been languishing at the back of the peloton, without a great deal of support from Ale BTC Ljubljana, who were further up. The six riders who were free threatened to take the lead from her – particularly Chantal Blaak, who ended up moving into second in the general classification, overtaking Ellen van Dijk (Trek – Segafredo).
Lonneke Uneken, with the three other SD Worx riders there to support her, ended up taking the stage in a sprint. Susanne Andersen narrowly missed out, but she and Pfeiffer Georgi placed second and third. Marlen Reusser crossed the line thirty seconds later, in the first group coming back from the crash, and kept her yellow jersey by ten seconds.