Chantal Blaak wins Euskal Emakumeen Bira stage three from late race breakaway

by Jessi Braverman

Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) won a three-up sprint to claim victory on stage three of Euskal Emakumeen Bira on Saturday. Part of a group of four riders that escaped with around 30 kilometres left to race, Blaak, Elena Cecchini (Lotto Soudal Ladies), and Australia’s Katrin Garfoot (Orica-AIS) and Shara Gillow (Rabo Liv) broke away from a reduced bunch before the day’s final climb.

Gillow would eventually be called back to help her teammates in the chase and Blaak, Cecchini and Garfoot would join forces with the early breakaway of Rosella Ratto (Inpa Sottoli Giusfredi) and Anna Ramirez (Bizkaia-Durango). Ratto and Ramirez lost contact with the leaders on the upper slopes of the final climb, and Blaak outsprinted Cecchini and Garfoot for stage honors in Iturmendi.

It is Blaak’s second win of the season and the second win for Boels-Dolmans at Euskal Emakumeen Bira, bringing the team’s 2015 win tally to 13.

Euskal Emakumeen Bira 2015 (2.1) stage -3

“Who would have guessed it this morning?” asked Blaak in a team statement posted to Facebook. “I had problems to follow the front group at the moment we had to take a big climb, but I survived. On the top, we saw there were four rides of Boels-Dolmans in the front, so we started attacking.”

“I got some space with Garfoot and Cecchni,” Blaak added. “We managed to overtake two other riders, and when we got to the finish, I knew there was a possibility to win. I did, and I’m very happy with that. On this terrain and in this field of contenders, this is a victory to remember.”

Ramirez was the first reported attack on the longest stage of the Basque tour, slipping away from the peloton before the first intermediate sprint. The peloton brought her back to contest the sprint, and Ratto was the next to break away. Ramirez bridged across, and the duo collaborated to build up their advantage to nearly six minutes before the first GPM.

As the road rose, the pace increased, and the peloton began to split. Approximately 20 riders went over the top of the mid-stage climb together, trailing the two leaders by 2:30.

With an elite group established, teams with a numerical advantage began to exchange punches, each sending riders up the road. A group of five slipped away. Rabo-Liv reeled them back to the bunch. Evelyn Stevens (Boels-Dolmans) attacked alone. She too was overtaken. Finally Blaak, Cecchini, Garfoot and Gillow managed to gain a lasting advantage over the peloton.

Euskal Emakumeen Bira 2015 (2.1) stage -3

With Rabo Liv struggling to shut down the move, Gillow dropped back to the peloton to work for her teammate Kasia Niewiadoma. The Pole started the stage in yellow and would need to limit her losses to avoid losing the race leader’s jersey to Garfoot, who had started the stage in seventh overall at 1:33.

The late race break managed to gain a maximum advantage of 1:35 before the final climb, losing on a few seconds over the climb and on the run-in to the finish. Blaak crossed the line 1:28 ahead of the yellow jersey group. Garfoot finished at three seconds, jumping up fifth overall, eight seconds behind Niewiadoma.

Niewiadoma and Ashleigh Moolman-Paiso (Bigla) remained tied on time, two seconds ahead of Garfoot’s teammate Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS). Guarnier is fourth overall at seven seconds. Garfoot rounds out the top five.

With only eight seconds separating first from fifth, stage five should prove another aggressive day over the undulating Basque roads. The stage includes three categorised climbs in the second half of the stage. For a full description of the stage five route, check out this Velofocus preview.

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