After the four-day Vuelta a Burgos Feminas in May, the Ladies Tour of Norway marked only the second Women’s WorldTour stage race of the season so far. With many riders still taking post-Olympic breaks and gearing up for the second part of the year, the season is still in something of a limbo phase. Those who did take to the start line in Norway, however, were there to seize the opportunity to make their mark in the absence of some of the peloton’s biggest names such as Anna van der Breggen and Demi Vollering.
Given the type of racing on display and the unusual mix of riders in the bunch, what conclusions can we take from the Ladies Tour of Norway?
The Kiesenhoffer Effect
Anna Kiesenhoffer’s win in the road race in Tokyo appeared to have inspired a few in the peloton to take risks they may not usually have the confidence to execute. Kristen Faulkner of Tibco-SVB is a rider who has shown exceptional physical talent since bursting onto the scene last year whilst balancing a career as a venture capitalist, however she had yet to use that talent to propel her to a WorldTour win.
The first stage of the race saw a breakaway of five riders move off the front with Faulkner embedded in the group. Countering an attack by Anna Christian of Drops-Le Col s/b Tempur, Faulkner broke away solo with 20km to go and despite almost getting caught on the finishing straight managed to stave off the sprinting peloton to take her first WWT victory and claim the leader’s jersey.
The absence of many team leaders also appeared to galvanize riders into gutsy moves at this race. Jumbo-Visma’s Riejanne Markus who, with Marianne Vos absent, was given free rein to pull off a similar move to Faulkner's and win on stage two. Markus bridged to a two-up move with Aude Biannic and Audrey Cordon Ragot and, after the two Frenchwomen were dropped, accelerated again to stay away. In a repeat of the previous stage’s tense finish, Markus took the win just in front of a charging peloton with another upset for the sprint teams.
Annemiek van Vleuten is still on top
When it comes to long climbs, Annemiek van Vleuten can really only be challenged by World Champion Anna van der Breggen. In the latter’s absence, the 11km climb to the finish on stage three had the European Champion’s name written all over it. Her rivals did their best to stop her— with Canyon//SRAM putting in a huge effort near the bottom as well as a valiant effort from SD Worx’s Ashleigh Moolman Pasio to stick to the Dutchwoman’s wheel — but in the end van Vleuten stamped her mark with a signature solo win.
Chloe Hosking is back
Before starting in Norway, Trek-Segafredo’s Australian sprinter hadn’t raced since March after a case of Covid-19 left her out of competition. It has been a long, slow comeback for the 30-year-old for whom simply being on the start line must have felt like a victory of its own. As it happened, Hosking’s time away had been a productive one and she out-sprinted Coryn Rivera and Chiarra Consonni to take her first victory in Trek-Segafredo colours on the final stage.
It is often the case that wins beget wins, and with plenty more opportunities for a rider of Hosking’s talent coming up in the latter part of the season the Trek-Segafredo rider firmly threw down the gauntlet and threw her name into the fight for the title of fastest woman in the peloton.
The women’s peloton needs more top-level stage racing
With Norway being just the second Women’s WorldTour race of the season and at just four stages long, there is an obvious need for more racing across multiple stages. The tense battles and opportunities that come out of a stage race provide a much-needed variation for both fans and riders and give chances to those who live in the shadows of team leaders under the pressure of one-day racing.
Of course, Covid had a part to play in the blitzed 2021 calendar and with 2022 looking set to deliver some exciting new races — including the reincarnation of this race as the dramatically-named Battle of the North — the exasperated prayers of those looking for more stage racing drama might finally be answered.