Three in Top Ten Overall After Ladies Tour of Qatar Stage TwoWed 5 Feb 2014
Emma Johansson leapfrogged up to fourth overall with two stages down and two remaining at the Ladies Tour of Qatar. The Swede sits 28” behind new race leader Amy Pieters (Giant-Shimano). Part of a 21 rider breakaway that formed early on in the day, Johansson was the team’s top finisher on stage two in seventh place, crossing the finish line a handful of seconds ahead of Melissa Hoskins and Valentina Scandolara, who also made the early split.
Pieters took the stage win from a four-up sprint ahead of Anna Van der Breggen (Rabo Liv) and Charlotte Becker (Wiggle Honda). The quartet escaped the grip of the front group just outside the final ten kilometres. Despite a fierce chase by ORICA-AIS and Specialized-lululemon, the four leaders were able to maintain their advantage to the line.
Overnight race leader Kirsten Wild (Giant-Shimano) won the small group sprint for fifth place ahead of Chloe Hosking (Hitec Products) and Johansson. Hoskins rounded out the stage top ten at 31” while Scandolara, in 11th place on the stage, led home a small group at 37”.
“We had three good riders in the lead group,” said Sport Director Gene Bates. “There were obviously other strong riders in the move as well. With representation from every team, we knew it wasn’t go to come back. The gap quickly went out to over six minutes.”
“We knew we had to attack from that group,” Bates continued. “We wanted to avoid a sprint in the end. The girls threw everything they had at it, and we saw constant attacks from a lot of different teams. They were either caught napping or underestimated that last move, and they missed out on the one that stayed away in the final.”
Massive gusts of winds provided the impetus for the early aggression that forced a split in the bunch in the opening minutes of the race. The leading group contained most of the general classification players and big name sprinters. Shelley Olds (Ale Cipollini) and Lizzie Armitstead (Boels Dolmans) were the only two overall contenders who missed the move.
“We came into today’s stage with plan to attack hard and often to break the race up,” said Bates. “We planned to go on the offensive straightaway. It was blowing a gale from kilometre zero, and we really wanted to get off on the right foot.”
“The girls did a great job getting into the move,” Bates added. “Unfortunately, Loes [Gunnewijk] punctured at the worst possible moment, so she missed the break. I haven’t really had a chance to speak to Jessie [MacLean] or Gracie [Elvin] yet, but I suspect they were just caught out of position at the wrong time.”
The gap between the leaders and the peloton grew quickly during the first 90 minutes of the stage. Following the first of two intermediate sprints, the attacks began to come from the lead group. The constant aggression increased the speed within the breakaway, making it more difficult for riders to slip away.
“The girls attacked quite a bit,” said Bates. “They followed the moves made by others. They rode a really strong race until they missed the last attack there at the end.”
“All three contributed to the chase to try to bring back the four that got away,” Bates continued. “It was to no avail. Mel had a really good effort with two kilometres to go. She got a good gap, but she wasn’t able to maintain it.”
With two in the top ten on the stage and three in the top ten overall, Bates is pleased with the level of fitness and tactical skills his squad of six has shown during the first half of the Tour of Qatar. Although Johansson remains 10” off Hosking in third overall, he expects his team leader to challenge for a podium position.
“Three in the top ten is a good reflection of how the team is going at the moment,” said Bates. “We’re really strong and we made some good decisions during the stage. We haven’t been able to convert that to a stage win yet. I reckon we’ll chase a good overall result. Emma would find it difficult to get the bonus seconds on the road, so we’ll need to be on the offensive and break the race up the best we can.”
“We’re halfway through the race now,” Bates added. “I think we can get a lot more out of ourselves during the next two days. The race isn’t over yet.”