MADINAT AL SHAMAL, Qatar (VN) — The scenery may be bleak, but the splits, echelons, and attacks in the Ladies Tour of Qatar stage 2 Wednesday underscored how exciting racing can be on the oil-rich peninsula.
“I am sure that would have been an impressive race to watch on TV,” Australian Chloe Hosking of team Wiggle-Honda said.
“How cool was that!? It just shows how aggressive female cycling can be, and it is a great showcase for the sport.”
Hosking changed out of her cycling shoes across the road from the podium where stage winner Ellen Van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans) accepted the prize for the day’s stage win and the gold jersey of race leader.
The second group had just finished, 1:57 behind. The former overall leader and yesterday’s stage winner, Annalisa Cucinotta (Alé-Cipollini) was still to finish in a group 16:10 in arrears.
The wind over the Arab state tore apart the group of 80 cyclists immediately after the start, and cycling’s stars did the rest. A lead group of 16 pushed clear an advantage of around two minutes, and from that group, six riders attacked and likely decided the overall of the 2015 race.
The six included team Wiggle’s Hosking and Elisa Longo Borghini, team Boels’ Van Dijk and Lizzie Armitstead, Trixi Worrack (Velocio-SRAM), and Emma Johansson (Orica-AIS). At 400 meters remaining, Van Dijk shot free and held off the others, led by Worrack over Armitstead.
The aggressive racing in difficult conditions has made up for Qatar’s flat, rocky, and empty countryside.
“If you see the differences in the bunch today,” said Boels sports director, Danny Stam, “then you can see there’s real racing in Qatar.”
“It’s really hard when it’s windy,” Armitstead explained. “You have to be focused from kilometer-zero; the slightest turn in the road caught people out.”
Without the climbs that highlight many European races, the teams must think differently and look for other ways to take advantage. And Boels did just that.
Armitstead talked to Stam for advice once the group of 16 had an advantage. Because he saw about half of the riders looking exhausted, he told her and Van Dijk to attack to rid themselves of some potential rivals when the road changed directions and the wind blew from the side.
“That’s what I love about coming here,” Hosking said. “Some say, ‘Flat racing is not hard.’ I say, ‘You come to Qatar and race.’
“How many races do you get in the year where there are only six girls that come to the line and a 10-minute gap? It doesn’t happen that often and it shows how selective this racing can be.”
The race could split and reshuffle more over the next two days, but it will be more a defensive game than an offensive one with Wednesday’s six escapees sitting close together in the overall standings. Van Dijk leads Armitstead by four seconds, Worrack and Hosking by seven, Johansson by 10 and Longo Borghini by 27.
Van Dijk, who won in 2011, may have an advantage.
“I’m from Holland,” she said. “It’s flat and we always have wind, so it’s like it is in Qatar. I feel at home. I like to ride echelons. I like this kind of racing.”