Luxembourgish champion Christine Majerus sprinted to fifth place in Stadskanaal on the third stage of the Healthy Ageing Tour. The 154-kilometre day, the longest of the five-day, six-stage Dutch tour was won by Lisa Brennauer (CANYON//SRAM) in a large reduced bunch sprint.
Kasia Pawlowska, recently returned from injury, flew the Boels-Dolmans flag in the stage-long breakaway that was swept up only in the closing kilometres.
“We wanted echelons and obviously we tried several times to force a big split, but we couldn’t do as much damage as we did last time,” said Majerus. “Eventually Kasia got in the break, which was good for us.”
Roxane Knetemann (Dutch National Team), Stephanie Pohl (Cervelo Bigla) and Esra Tromp (Parkhotel Valkenburg - Destil) forced clear in first break that was given breathing room. The trio extended their advantage beyond the minute mark as attacks continued from the peloton.
“When the first three went away, a lot of girls wanted to join them,” said Pawlowska. “There were many counter-attacks, and I got lucky with a good one.”
Pawlowska, Daiva Tuslaite (Alé Cipollini), Vita Heine (Hitec Products), Paulien Koster (NWVG), Nicole Steigenga (Swaboladies), Christina Siggard (VéloCONCEPT) and Sara Pentan (VéloCONCEPT) successfully bridged across to create a ten-rider breakaway with 100-kilometres still to race. In their wake, the peloton split and then regrouped in the wind.
“We tried to break the race up again here, but it didn’t really work,” said Majerus. “It was a good ride as a group, and we always stuck together. We just couldn’t make splits stick.”
The peloton slowed following the windswept section. The breakaway did not. The gap stretched out beyond the four-minute mark. Knetemann was best-placed on the general classification amongst the escapees at 2:40. At 3:55, Pawlowska was second best-placed.
“When the gap got very big, of course I was thinking about if we would stay away,” said Pawlowska. “The team didn’t need to do anything because if we made it, and the gap was big, I could jump to second on the general classification. The main goal today was that.”
“At four minutes, it was a good situation for us,” Majerus added. “Roxane and Kasia were dangerous for the GC so Team Sunweb had to work.”
With Ellen van Dijk in the yellow race leader’s jersey, Sunweb was the first team to assume responsibility for the chase. Eventually CANYON/SRAM joined Sunweb on the front. They halved the gap fairly quickly but closing it entirely proved more difficult.
Pawlowska and her breakmates reached Stadskanaal for the final two 12.2 kilometre circuit laps with a 1:40 advantage. Shortly after the passage of the finish line, Steigenga attacked. She immediately opened up a 20-second advantage.
“There were a few counter-attacks by the rest of us, but nothing really worked,” said Pawlowska. “The girls all looked at each other with no one taking initiative.”
Steigenga started the final lap with a 30-second advantage over Pawlowska’s group and one minute over the peloton. The front of the race came back together in the final three kilometres.
“We tried a few attacks before the group was caught and a few attacks after,” said Majerus. “The best one was with Anna [van der Breggen] but with wind in back, it was really fast – too fast to get away.”
Majerus worked with Amy Pieters in the build-up to the sprint.
“We hoped to come in with speed and see a gap opening,” Majerus explained. “Instead, I had to go toward the barriers and had to brake. It wasn’t much of a sprint in the end. The one with the biggest gear and the most weight had an advantage.
“We did try until the very end,” Majerus added. “We had a plan, but plans do not always work. There are still more days to come.”
Van der Breggen finished on bunch time to maintain second overall on the general classification. She sits 24 seconds behind Van Dijk heading into the weekend.