It’s rare in cycling for a plan to come together. There are an uncountable number of changeable elements in the sport, from the tactics of other riders, to the chances of crashes and ill-timed mechanicals. One of the most challenging things about bike racing is often not the physical side but trying to control the uncontrollable. It’s for this reason that winning is one of the sweetest things imaginable: it only happens when somehow, somewhere, the stars align and everything goes right. It is the one, rare moment where, for the victor, the noise stops and a sort of peace is found among the chaos that is unavoidably ingrained in professional cycling.
Winners of races often use one word when they are being interviewed: unbelievable. And when you think about all of the things that could have happened to change the course and outcome of a bike race, this description makes perfect sense. Emma Norsgaard, the eventual champion of stage six of the Tour de France Femmes, was a perfect representation today of a rider who, simply, could not fathom what had happened on the roads to Blagnac that led her to victory.
It all started with a hot and sweaty night of poor sleep in a room with broken air-conditioning. “I woke up this morning like oh no, another day. Another day I have to work, another day I have to suffer,” Norsgaard explained, speaking candidly at the end of the stage. “I was in such a bad mood and needed three cups of coffee before anyone could speak to me.”
The Danish woman had not been massively enjoying her Tour de France Femmes until then. The hot, sticky weather and beating, relentless sun that had plagued the riders throughout the last two stages was not agreeing with the rider from the Nordic region, and Norsgaard was starting to get frustrated with herself for not making it over the punchy climbs on the Tour route as well as she thought she should have.
“Then my DS came up with this plan,” she reminisced, “I needed to go in the breakaway. I was like are you kidding me? I love him now but before I was like, come on, man.”
This is the first twist in Norsgaard’s tale about her stage win today. The Movistar rider has historically been thought of as a fast finisher, even describing herself as the “chubby little sprinter from Denmark” in her own Instagram bio. Today should have been a stage suited to a bunch kick – something that once it seemed as if the 24-year-old would have licked her lips at the thought of. Norsgaard in the breakaway was not something many people would have predicted ahead of today's stage.
“I've tried to change a little bit into a more Classics rider. I need to realise I’m not as fast as Charlotte Kool or Lorena Wiebes anymore. I needed to seek success elsewhere,” Norsgaard affirmed when questioned about her change in tact.
And in the breakaway she was. Alongside Sandra Alonso and Agnieszka Skalniak-Sójka, Norsgaard formed part of a trio that established itself early in the stage. It was a tall order for three riders to stay away from a peloton with squads like Team dsm-firmenich chasing behind who had a vested interest in bringing things back together, but somehow, the time gap was not tumbling as rapidly as many would have expected.
As the kilometres ticked down, the possibility that this brave trio might stay away started to seem plausible. “I had no idea how close they were behind, I didn't listen to anything on the radio other than: Vamos!’ Norsgaard said. “The last 10 kilometres, I was really pushing the other girls and trying to encourage them and I think they heard the same in the radio like me. The last 5km maybe I started believing it and started pulling like there was no tomorrow.”
Against all odds, Emma Norsgaard did it. She had the day where everything went right, escaping the jaws of defeat to get Movistar’s second stage win of the Tour de France Femmes, a race which is going very well for the Spanish team indeed. “I’m lost for words, I did not expect this,” she gasped afterwards.
Norsgaard’s win was one of the best so far this race, because it really was, truly, unexpected. For the rider who was once seen as a pure sprinter to win from a long-range move, who woke up grouchy and who did not really want to be in the breakaway at all, it wasn’t really meant to be, but it was. The woman herself put her victory today down to one, key thing: Movistar’s morale.
“When Liane won a few days ago, I was so emotional I was already crying when she won, Norsgaard said. “It was super good for the team, super good for the atmosphere. We are really enjoying the time together and we are really friends. This makes miracles.”