After the Postnord Vårgårda WestSweden road race and time-trial were cancelled for the second year in a row, the Ladies Tour of Norway remains the only race left standing in the Scandinavian race block for the women.
The four-day stage race is the 12th round of this year’s Women’s WorldTour, which is currently being led by Annemiek van Vleuten ahead of Demi Vollering. The race had grand ambitions to merge with the Swedish races to become a 10-day event dubbed ‘The Battle of the North’ for 2021. However, the pandemic caused the expansion to be postponed. The Swedish organisers have since pulled out of the project, but from 2022 a six-day race will take place the week after the two Postnord Vårgårda events.
Stage 1 Halden - Sarpsborg 141.5km (12/08)
The first stage of this year’s race is a lumpy 141.5km. The first intermediate sprint and QOM points come in quick succession at km 31 and km 47. The stage’s two climbs are unlikely to create too much of a split at only 1.1km at 5.5% and 2km at 3.5%, respectively. However, the slightly longer climb comes with 52km to go and might provide a launchpad for a breakaway if riders take the opportunity to attack. A looping route, the riders pass the finish line for the first time at km 117.6 before completing the finishing circuit for one final time.
This first stage could provide an opportunity for the riders who have historically dominated this race to get their names up the rankings early. Equally, it could suit punchier riders like Lotte Kopecky. However, if the race comes down to a bunch kick, Emma Norsgaard or Alice Barnes are difficult to look past; that is unless a returning Chloe Hosking has regained her usual form after suffering from Covid-19 earlier in the season.
Stage 2 Askim - Mysen 145.2km (13/08)
Stage two is more of the same, with an occasionally lumpy but mostly flat day. Featuring two intermediate sprints and just one QOM point, the latter comes at km 84.7 and is just 1.2km at 5.3%. The stage comprises a series of circuits around the finish Town of Mysen, where the riders pass the line twice. The race covers the larger of these circuits before heading back towards the finish and cutting across part of the first loop before the riders complete a smaller finishing lap, eventually crossing the line for a final time after 145km.
Stage 3 - Drammen - Norefjell 145km (14/08)
Stage three is the ‘queen stage’ of the race. However, the climbers will have to wait until the end of the stage to battle it out. The early QOM point comes at km 32 but is merely 2.3km at 3.3%. Two sprint points and a lumpy 84km later, the riders will finally come to the foot of the 11km climb. Not only is this a long ascent, but it is also steep; its average of 6% being misleadingly tame, as the climb features a maximum gradient of 18%.
If a punchy rider or a sprinter holds the general classification lead at this point in the race, this climb will provide a launchpad for climbers to take over and take time on their rivals and shake up the race. Annemiek van Vleuten, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Marta Cavalli and Lizzie Deignan will likely feature on this stage.
Stage 4 - Drøbak - Halden 141.6km (15/08)The race returns to business as usual for the fourth and final stage with an undulating 141km featuring two short climbs. Despite being a point-to-point day, it again culminates in a finishing circuit.
Those who lost time on the previous stage will be using this day to limit the damage, meaning we may see riders go on the attack and attempt to get into breakaways to claw back time on GC. If their efforts prove unsuccessful, then it will be another one for the fast finishers.
Riders to watch
Having won consecutive editions between 2017 and 2019, Marianne Vos is a sure favourite. Lucinda Brand, Megan Guarnier and Anna van der Breggen took the other three editions, and Brand will also line up in Norway. Also in attendance will be Coryn Rivera, who has twice stood on the overall podium, finishing third in 2018 and second in 2019. However, the final climb on stage three might see the results break the mould of previous years.
Should faster riders like Emma Norsgaard, Alice Barnes, Coryn Rivera and Lotte Kopecky make it over the 11km climb on stage three with limited damage, they’ll become favourites for the GC. However, with Annemiek van Vleuten and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig on the startlist, the climb will likely be raced hard, and sprinters will lose time.
Van Vleuten back to winning ways at San Sebastian (Image: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Van Vleuten is back on top having taken the Olympic time-trial title off the back of a silver medal in the road race (that she thought was gold) along with winning the Clásica San Sebastian WorldTour race last week. If other teams can’t stop her, then the Dutchwoman is sure to attempt to go solo on the climb and take a chunk of time on stage three. It’s down to the likes of Trek-Segafredo with Lizzie Deignan and FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope with Uttrup Ludwig and Marta Cavalli to stop the Olympic time-trial champion from stealing the show.
SD Worx won’t be bringing any of their usual leaders to this race. However, Kiwi climber Niamh Fisher-Black could be their best bet on the hilliest day, with 21-year-old Lonneke Uneken likely to excel on the rolling stages. Anna Shackley is also on the team after riding in support of Deignan at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.