Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) took her second stage in the 2021 Ladies’ Tour of Simac. Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//Sram Racing) finished in second, losing out to Vos in the sprint, and Chantal Blaak (SD Worx) finished third, securing herself the yellow jersey with a twenty second lead over Reusser, whose valiant defense wasn’t quite enough.
The stage was composed of eight circuits of 18.5km, setting off from Geleen, in the south-east of the Netherlands. The organizers made the most out of its single climb, with several sets of Queen of the Mountains points on offer. There were a number of riders who, after the terrible crash at the very end of yesterday’s stage, didn’t start today: notably Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM), Sarah Roy (Team BikeExchange), and Barbara Guarischi (Team Movistar). Some teams were ravaged by the crash: Movistar, by the end of today, had only a single rider left.
It was a cast-over, drizzling day, the narrow roads wet and slick; by the end of the stage, the riders were spattered with mud. The peloton split early on, setting up for a day of fractured groups. The first Queen of the Mountains went to Alison Jackson (Liv Racing), who was clearly seeking to keep hold of her jersey. At the first intermediate sprint, Chantal Blaak took first, taking bonus seconds to start creeping up on Marlen Reusser in the general classification, with Marianne Vos second and Demi Vollering (SD Worx) coming third.
At twenty six kilometres into the race, Anouska Koster (Jumbo Visma) broke away solo. She took the second queen of the mountains: Alison Jackson came in second, and the yellow jersey Marlen Reusser (Ale BTC Ljubljana), came in third. Koster then stayed ahead to take the third queen of the mountains: Alison Jackson was second again. Koster was steadily, but surely, posing a threat to Jackson’s jersey.
With fifty five kilometres to go, Koster was still three minutes ahead, and behind her, the peloton was reduced. Jumbo Visma controlled attacks, but the riding was increasingly aggressive.
Eventually, a small group of eleven riders detached, chasing down Koster, including Chantal Blaak and Marianne Vos. Marlen Reusser, significantly, wasn’t in it. Instead, she was agonizingly close, leading the second group behind and attempting to time-trial across as Chantal Blaak, her rival in the general classification, aggressively lead the first group and pulled ahead. Marianne Vos just followed on the wheel: she wasn’t going to help Blaak chase down her teammate.
The gap to Koster was collapsing, with Koster down to 1’10” ahead, losing the position she’d held as virtual leader. With thirty-seven kilometres to go, it was down to under a minute.
Koster was, however, still ahead for the intermediate sprint, taking the 3 bonus seconds. This was the moment for the decisive attack in the group chasing her: Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//Sram Racing) attacked, with Marianne Vos clinging to her wheel, and Chantal Blaak following just behind, clinging to Vos’ wheel. Blaak came around the two as they went over the line, taking the crucial two bonus seconds – meaning Reusser’s lead over Blaak was reduced to a mere six seconds.
The three of them then caught Koster, creating a group of four at the head of the race. Marlen Reusser was leading the group just behind, gritting her teeth and doing the work in the chase. Despite the fact she wasn’t getting much help from Ale BTC Ljubljana, she would not let the jersey just slip away from her. Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo), who’d started the day third in the general classification, joined the front group.
Despite Reusser’s best efforts, the leading group of four, working together well, was beginning to slip out of sight. It was not yet impossible: the first chasing group kept swinging into camera shot behind the leading group, tantalizingly close. Marta Bastianelli (Ale BTC Ljubljana) now appeared to help, but they still couldn’t close it, with the chasing group lacking cohesion and the SD Worx riders running interference.
Alison Jackson attacked, stringing the group out. Reusser tried to get clear, but Amy Pieters (SD Worx) jumped on her wheel, and dragged her back into the group. The leading group were seventeen seconds ahead now.
Anouska Koster dropped back from the leading group. Marlen Reusser was still leading the chase group. At twenty four kilometres, they were 37 seconds down. At twenty two kilometres, Reusser tried again to solo across to the leaders, depleting yet more energy, but Amy Pieters again closed the gap. Reusser shook her head. Bastinelli made her way to the front; Laura Tomasi (Ale BTC Ljubljana) found her way to the back of the group and came to join her, the two of them giving everything and making one last push for their leader, whose situation seemed increasingly bleak.
The gap continued to spool out, at fifty-one seconds with twenty kilometres to go. SD Worx appeared in the front of the chasing group as the depleted forces of Ale BTC Ljubljana started to lose control, with the chasing group losing energy, losing pressure. Bastinelli got on the front again, and tried to draw out a gap, but yet again, SD Worx stuck like flies to fly-paper and refused to let them go. Tomasi and Bastinelli were trying and trying, but the gap stayed stubbornly too far – out to a minute by fourteen kilometres to go, a minute and ten seconds by thirteen to go.
Suddenly, the chasing group reanimated. Megan Jastrab (Team DSM) was pulling hard on the front, preparing for an attack from Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM), who would finish the day in the white jersey. Alison Jackson clung to her wheel as they shattered the group, with the rest of the group just clinging on behind them, lead by Demi Vollering (SD Worx). The gap was down to 41” at 8.3km to go – closing it suddenly seemed tantalizingly possible. Vollering and Reusser both managed to haul themselves across to Georgi and Jackson, with Reusser yet again taking a lead in the chase, the gap down to 35 seconds. But, as Pieters and Vollering came to the front and ran interference, the gap began to slip back out. It wouldn’t be a last-minute catch today.
In the front group, with Chantal Blaak assured of taking the yellow jersey if she could just keep steady, it was between Vos and Niewiadoma for the stage win. With two kilometres to go, Niewiadoma attacked on a climb, in a show of sudden aggression. Marianne Vos clung to her, as they gapped Blaak. Niewiadoma was unable to get free, as Vos refused to move from Niewiadoma’s back wheel. Blaak rejoined them and sat on the back as Vos and Niewiadoma played cat and mouse, staring each other down. Niewiadoma was inches ahead, Vos just behind her, glancing back at Blaak, checking the chasers hadn’t got them as they slowed down for the final psychological games. Niewiadoma went on the final 500m, but couldn’t gap Vos. They slowed down, waited it out, and finally, Marianne Vos kicked off a sprint and left the others behind.
Chantal Blaak takes the lead in the general classification, with Vos maintaining the points jersey, and Alison Jackson keeps the mountains classification. The stage also ended with the field quite significantly reduced: after nine riders didn’t start, nineteen more didn’t finish.