Lepistö claims her third WorldTour victory in thrilling race in Sweden
For the second race in the Vårgårda weekend, the women’s peloton competed in a 140-kilometre road race that includes four difficult gravel sectors. It was a thrilling showcase, seen the world over thanks to a live broadcast for the final two to three hours of the race.
It has been a while since 2011 that the race came down to a reduced bunch sprint instead of a breakaway, but after all attacks had been neutralised, a lead group of 30 riders stormed toward the finish.
At the line, it was Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo-Bigla) who rewarded her team’s hard work with the win, two days after their second-place finish in the team time trial. Newly crowned European road champion Marianne Vos (WM3 Pro Cycling) got second and Leah Kirchmann (Sunweb) rounded out the podium.
The Vårgårda road race
The Vårgårda road race has had the same course since the introduction of the race back in 2006, which consists of two different circuits and features a few climbs and four gravel sectors. With requests from the women’s peloton to have longer races, this year was going to have an additional circuit. But with broadcast times restricted to 1.30 p.m. CET, the last lap was taken out again. You win some, you lose some, and today’s 140-kilometre race would at least be broadcasted live.
The peloton contained 23 teams, made up of the top 10Women’s WorldTour teams, the Australian development team, the Swedish and Norwegian national teams, and 10 other UCI women’s teams.
How the race unfolded
It had been a grey and rainy day for the team time trial on Friday, but the Swedish skies had cleared up in time for the road race.
The peloton was 136-rider strong and the pace was high from the moment the start was given, which prevented any riders from trying to attack throughout the first two short laps.
The first successful attempt of an attack came from Alexandra Nessmar (Swedish national team), Kim de Baat (Lensworld-Kuota) and Grace Brown (Australian national team), who gained a handful of seconds. Defending their last year’s win, Alé Cipollini chased hard, but instead of bringing the break back, eight riders managed to go around the neon squad and bridge up to the trio.
With all big teams represented in the now 11-rider break, the peloton allowed this group to go and it soon reached an advantage of over a minute on the bunch. Some additional riders tried to bridge up to the lead group, but none of them succeeded in doing so.
The lead group contained some strong names, including Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-High5), Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans), Moniek Tenniglo (WM3 Pro Cycling), Amanda Spratt (Orica-Scott), Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM), Romy Kapser (Alé Cipollini) and Sabrina Stultiens (Team Sunweb).
The break soon had an advantage of 2’40” on the bunch, but the gap started decreasing slightly on the second gravel sector on the long loop.
Cervélo-Bigla’s Lisa Klein tried out her legs on the gravel and managed to get a small gap, but realising she wouldn’t make it to the finish line by herself, she let herself drop back in the break. But this wouldn’t be the last time we would see her at the front.
In the peloton meanwhile, FDJ-Futuroscope-NA got some help from Alé Cipollini, Orica-Scott and WM3 Pro Cycling to close the gap to the breakaway. While the latter three teams all had riders in the lead group, they apparently were not confident their riders at the front could finish it off.
With the long circuit coming to an end and aware that the gap between the break and the peloton was coming down, cooperation in the break was gone. Riders started to attack each other and after one of the four shorter circuits at the end of the race was completed, Bronzini, Blaak, Spratt, Stultiens and Ryan formed the new lead group.
However, with a little over 25 kilometres to go, they too were caught by a 15-rider chase group.
A little later, another 20 riders joined them at the front. From this point onwards, it was action all the way to the finish line.
It was a battle between the sprinter teams Alé Cipollini, Cylance Pro Cycling, Cervélo-Bigla and Wiggle-High5, who wanted to keep everything together, against the teams who wanted to reduce this group before reaching the finish line. Team Sunweb and Boels-Dolmans especially launched attack after attack after attack.
None of them stuck, however. And as the race reached the last 1.5 kilometres, Team Sunweb switched their focus to a lead-out for their sprinter, Leah Kirchman. But in doing so, Floortje Mackaij lost Van Dijk’s wheel slightly, and Van Dijk then decided to go it alone, hoping for her first Women’s WorldTour victory of the season. But it wasn’t to be.
Finnish road champ Lotta Lepistö surged past her and held the lead till the finish line, repeating her Women’s WorldTour victory of Gent-Wevelgem. She beat Vos, who showcased her new WM3 European championship kit for the first time, and Kirchmann, who managed third, two spots ahead of Van Dijk. Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) sprinted to fourth.
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“We had the perfect tactic today with Lisa [Klein] in the breakaway,” Lepistö said. “I knew she would be the fastest in that breakaway if it stayed until the end. When it came back, we knew there was a chance of another breakaway so we prepared for that. The girls covered every single move and I didn’t have much to do, I could just rest for the final. It’s amazing how good the team is right now.”
“In the last 10 kilometres, I focussed on keeping everything together until the finish to repay the team for their work,” she continued. “Marianne [Vos] started the sprint and I was on her wheel and forced my way through. I was second here last year so I wanted to make sure I did better. Last year I was very tired from being in the breakaway when we came into the sprint. Today I had good positioning and timed it well. The team is in amazing form and everyone was incredible.”
“I’m very happy with the season. I have six victories and I got all the victories that are important to me. I’m just really happy,” she concluded.
Orica-Scott eventually walked away with 17th place for their sprinter Sarah Roy. Sports director Gene Bates is nevertheless very satisfied with his team’s performance in the race. “Spratty was on a ripping ride today, a truly outstanding performance,” he said. “She wasn’t under any pressure and was coming in from a solid block of training, but she really went for it.”
“We did well going head to head with the favourites group in the final,” he added. “Maybe we were a little too focused on attacks and that led to hesitation and a missed opportunity in the sprint, but overall it was a strong and positive team performance.”
1. Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans)
Young rider classification
1. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla)
Tune in for the Women’s WorldTour again next week, as the Ladies Tour of Norway will be live streamed too!