Christine Majerus has raced every edition of Festival Elsy Jacobs. In ten starts, she had yet to stand on the top step of the podium in the race organised by her local cycling club – until Saturday, that is.
The Luxembourgish champion timed her sprint to perfection. With a grin spread wide across her face, she saluted the home crowd over the line. Majerus climbed to the top step of the podium in Steinfort. Ten starts – and finally the long-awaited victory.
“I’m really happy the girls trusted me today, and I’m happy I could pay them back,” said Majerus. “This wasn’t an easy stage to win, and it’s really satisfying to pull it off. I could tell on the faces of everyone here that they’re really happy, so I’m extra happy I can make people happy like that. If I can defend the jersey tomorrow, I think that’s worth all the money my club has paid for the 10 years of Elsy Jacobs races.”
The 97-kilometre day is the first of two road stages expected to decide the overall. The route consisted of a large opening loop, including one GPM, following five times around a local circuit. Each local lap included the GPM climb but points were only awarded for the mountain classification on two of the five laps.
Majerus started the day in third overall, three seconds behind prologue winner Ashleigh Moolman Paiso (Cervélo-Bigla) and two seconds down on Moolman Paiso’s teammate Lisa Klein.
“It was hard to make a plan today,” noted Majerus. “The lap is hard but not as hard as tomorrow. We didn’t necessary want to isolate some of us or let someone ride away with Bigla.”
Up the first GPM, Moolman Paiso and her teammates pushed the pace and fractured the peloton. A group of around 30 riders emerged on the right end of the split. Boels-Domans had four in the group in Majerus, Karol-Ann Canuel, Megan Guarnier and Kaisa Pawlowska.
“They went really fast up that climb and the peloton was in one big long line,” said Majerus. “I was in bad position on the bottom of it and had to do a big effort to come third position on Ashleigh’s wheel. Bigla pulled all the way through the top of the GPM.
“At the beginning, I hesitated to decide if we should help or not,” Majerus noted. “Amalie [Dideriksen] and Jip [van den Bos] weren’t there, and Amalie was meant to be my lead-out.”
As the gap grew and the likelihood of the groups merging became slimmer, Majerus elected to put her teammates to work. Canuel, Guarnier and Pawlowska traded pulls with Cervélo-Bigla to allow Majerus to save energy for the finale.
“Bigla was riding beause Amalie was the biggest threat to Lisa for the young rider jersey, and they wanted to take her out of the classification,” said Majerus. “They took out hope for the group behind to come back. When I realised that, Karo, Kasia and Megan could do work, and I had to cover attacks on the climb.”
Despite the day’s outcome, Majerus insisted that she wasn’t feeling fantastic. She dug deep in the prologue, slept poorly and felt like she hadn’t had a chance to recover properly.
“It was not my best day but I could feel that I was one of the best,” noted Majerus. “When Marie [Vilmann] went for the GPM, I went with her because I wasn’t going to let any Bigla riders go without me. If they’re gone, then we have to ride behind and our race is blocked. That was the only thing that I was a little concerned about and had to pay attention to before the finish.”
The race stayed together. The reduced bunch geared up for the sprint. Majerus felt relatively fresh around the final circuit lap in large part due to the work done by her teammates.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to win the stage in a sprint, so it was a bit of poker to play it that way,” said Majerus. “It’s a hard sprint. First there’s the climb three kilometres from the finish. Ashleigh went full there, so I had to do an effort to match her and still have enough time to recover before the sprint.”
The run-in the finish is a false-flat for about 500 metres that flattens out in the 150 metres before the line.
“You can come pretty late on it – you should come pretty late on it,” Majerus noted. “The girls did really good work covering late attacks. I was trying to follow wheels and find a good gap and be patient.
“At 300 metres, there was a gap in front of me,” Majerus added. “I knew it was the gap I should go through, but I also knew it was a long way. I took the risk and went full.”
With the acceleration, Majerus immediately gained distance on the reduced bunch. She stayed tight to the right-side of the barriers as she powered toward the line.
“There’s a little right curve, so along the barriers there is the shortest way,” Majerus explained. “With 60, 70 metres to go, I knew I had won it. It was nice to be able to enjoy it a little bit.”
Majerus will start stage two, the final day of the three-day tour, in race leader’s yellow. She has a three-second advantage over Moolman-Paiso and seven seconds over Eugenia Bujak (BTC City Ljubljana).
“It’s a harder day than today,” she said. “I hope we can play a little bit with our climbers and make the race hard. I have to admit that I’m not ready to answer questions about tomorrow. I want to enjoy this and let it settle before I think how we can win the race.
“I hope the yellow jersey gives me some wings,” she added. “I want to win it, but if it doesn’t happen, with what I’ve done until now, I’m already happy. Everything from here is a bonus. I’ll do my best tomorrow, and if I do my best, things will work out, I think.”
The win in Steinfort is the second Boels-Dolmans victory of the day. Three hours before Majerus pulled on her yellow jersey, Lizzie Deignan soloed to victory at the Women’s Tour de Yorkshire.
“When we were driving to the start, we were watching the live stage of Yorkshire, and we were so happy to see Lizzie win,” said Majerus. “It was an awesome effort for someone that doesn’t like time trials. Lizzie was so strong in the Ardennes and still working for Anna. Showing that she can win on home soil, which is never easy, shows that she is back to her best.
“We were never really gone though,” Majerus continued. “Seriously – everyone says that but we weren’t. We had some bad luck at the beginning of the year, but we were always still there despite struggling with illness and injury. We were almost always in contention, but we missed the little two percent in the end to go for the win. Right now everyone is in top shape and fitting into her place and dedicated to the job, and this is what happens.
“When you go into victory mode, it keeps everyone motivated,” she added. “It’s so much easier to stay focused on your job. I hope it keeps going like this.”