Words by Amy Jones | Photo by SWpix.com
As only the second Women’s WorldTour level stage race of the season, the Ladies Tour of Norway provided a welcome variation for the peloton and presented opportunities for riders who are usually put to work on behalf of team leaders.
Still in a post-Olympic transition period wherein many of the top riders are still enjoying a break after the Games and before the second half of the season, the four-day race threw up some new names on the top step. To look at the winner of the overall GC — Annemiek van Vleuten — would be to assume that it was business as usual in Norway, but the absence of the likes of Anna van der Breggen, Demi Vollering, and Marianne Vos meant that other riders were given chances they might not usually be presented with.
Kristen Faulkner’s move on stage one appeared to be a direct product of The Anna Kiesenhofer Effect. Perhaps inspired by the Austrian Olympic Champion, Faulkner left her breakaway companions behind with 20km to go, staying solo for three laps of the finishing circuit and taking her first ever WorldTour win.
The Tibco-SVB rider has been showing great promise since she burst onto the scene at her first UCI race last September — after giving up a career as a Venture Capitalist in Silicon Valley — but a win had eluded her. The 28-year-old American has shown her natural athleticism but had also been known to make some tactical misjudgements in the past, this time, however, she got it just right.
It wasn’t just Faulkner who seized her chance to win, however. In the absence of Marianne Vos team Jumbo-Visma might have found themselves somewhat directionless at this race. The Dutchwoman has won the Ladies Tour of Norway three times but opted to sit out this year’s edition, leaving room for other riders on the team to take chances they might not usually be given space to take whilst working for the leader.
26-year-old Riejanne Markus seized her opportunity on stage two, bridging a one-minute gap to the front group with 47km to go. After the rest of the breakaway started to drop it looked like Markus, who was left in front alone, was doomed with 25km to go, but in another move reminiscent of the Olympic Champion she carried on her effort and stayed away to the line, upsetting the sprinters and taking her first WWT win.
Although not quite the same type of win, Norway also saw the return of Chloe Hosking to the peloton after the Australian sprinter was sidelined by Covid in March. With the support of her team, Trek-Segafredo, Hosking returned to the startline last week which would have been seen as a win in itself for many, but the 30-year-old showed that she is not only back in the bunch but back on top by winning the bunch sprint on stage four. Hers is a comeback story of the kind most athletes dream of and Hosking described taking a win in her first race back for four months as “surreal”. Hosking will undoubtedly feature prominently in the coming races.
Stage three may have bucked the trend, featuring an 11km climb to the finish which had Annemiek van Vleuten’s name written all over it, but although the Dutchwoman took the win and sealed off the GC there were a number of impressive rides behind her. Notably, Swiss rider Marlen Reusser fresh from taking silver at the Olympic Games in the time trial, and 21-year-old Niamh Fisher black who looks set to step up with Team SD Worx. The excitement in Norway served to highlight the dearth of stage racing on the Women’s WorldTour calendar but also set the stage for an exciting 2022 which will feature — amongst other multi-day events such as the Tour de France Femmes — a revamped version of the same race dubbed The Battle of the North and extended to six stages. As for the rest of this year — with Simac Ladies Tour, Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta and The Women’s Tour still to come — the second part of the season might be marked as a time for the opportunists to come through.