Megan Guarnier won the final stage of the Ladies Tour of Norway on Sunday. The American out-sprinted two former teammates in Halden, handily edging out Ellen van Dijk (Sunweb) and Marianne Vos (WM3 Energie) for the stage three victory.
Along with the stage win, Guarnier picked up 10 bonus seconds, which propelled her up two spots on the general classification. She closed out the four-day stage race in second overall, 13 seconds down on Vos.
“The team tried the whole week for intermediate sprints because we knew it would come down to seconds,” said Guarnier. “I’m glad that work paid off in a small way.
“It was nice to have Christine [Majerus] on the podium in stage one,” added Guarnier. “As always, we stayed motivated in the race, and I’m happy we could take the top step on the final stage and get on the general classification podium. It really was a team effort.”
The final stage of Ladies Tour of Norway was the longest race on the 2017 UCI Women’s WorldTour calendar. The stage covered 156.6-kilometres between Svinesund and Halden. Dubbed “the Swe-Nor stage”, Sunday’s race started at the border between Sweden and Norway on the old Svinesund Bridge with half the peloton in Sweden and half in Norway.
Although the pace was high and the field aggressive during the first half of the race, no escape was able to gain more than 10-seconds or stay away for more than a handful of kilometres. Twice the peloton split. Both times the fractures repaired and the groups came back together.
“We knew it was a long day, and we had to take the distance into consideration,” said Guarnier. “We were never under pressure in the beginning of the race. The team was always well-represented.”
A three-rider escape finally forced clear around the 80-kilometre mark. The group included Daiva Tuslaite (Alé Cipollini), Ingrid Moe (Norway) and Lisen Hockings (Australia). The peloton allowed the trio’s gap to extend beyond three minutes before they began to chase in earnest.
“There was still lots of racing left at this point, and it wasn’t only up to us to chase,” noted Guarnier.
Tuslaite was taken out of the escape by a mechanical, and Moe was unable to match the pace set by Hockings. The Australian entered the Halden city circuits as a lone leader with a 1:16 gap over the bunch.
“We knew the final laps were very technical and quite hard, so we knew there would be opportunities for us,” said Guarnier.
Rachel Neylan (ORICA-SCOTT) was the first to capitalise on the opportunities available. She attacked out of the peloton and bridged across to Hockings. The pair worked together for a lap until Hockings lost contact with Neylan.
In Neylan’s wake, repeated attacks and accelerations thinned out a tiring field. An attack from Van Dijk was the final nail in Neylan’s proverbial coffin.
“There’s a risk when you let anyone go up the road that it won’t come back,” explained Guarnier. “I looked at what the other teams were doing and what their motivations were, and I thought that it wasn’t my job to chase it back. I knew there were other riders in the general classification that would be interested in bringing it back as well.”
Vos took up the chase. Her pace caused a seven-rider group to take shape off the front of the bunch. Guarnier had made the split.
A reduced peloton bridged the junction to the Guarnier/Vos group, and Linda Villumsen (Veloconcept) immediately countered the catch. The Danish-born Kiwi pocketed a small gap that was closed in the wind-up to the sprint, which Van Dijk opened with nearly a half-kilometre still to race. Guarnier used the final corner to overtake Van Dijk and held on until the finish line.
“It was a hard stage,” said Guarnier. “I wouldn’t say I completely rule myself out as a sprinter, but I’m definitely not a bunch sprinter. That kind of hectic is not something I look forward to.
“We stayed on our toes, and we tried to make sure we were ready and offensive in the final laps,” she added. “Ideally it wouldn’t come down to a sprint, but it was a reduced bunch sprint in the end."