The 10th edition of the Healthy Ageing Tour kicked off under cloudy skies in the Netherlands with 126km of racing over 28 laps of the TT Circuit Assen. It was announced two weeks before the race that each stage of the UCI 2.1 race would be held on closed circuits and without spectators, ensuring that the racing would go on for one of the few women’s stage races on the calendar.
Stage 2’s individual time trial around Lauwersoog offered the first opportunity for the GC to take its shape, and it was no big surprise when former ITT World Champion Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) took the win. The Dutchwoman had one the Healthy Ageing Tour thrice before, and in 2021, she demolished the field by 26 seconds over the 14.4km course. Extreme weather protocols were put into place during the stage, with the start being delayed for hours due to high winds. Riders opted for their road bikes for the added control, and everyone made it through the stage thanks to the action taken by the race organizers.
The Queen Stage of the Healthy Ageing Tour was set for 115km of racing in Wijster – the women would race 17 laps around a manmade circuit that featured narrow roads, plenty of twists and turns, and the part-cobblestone climb of the VAM-Berg which averages over 6% for 500 meters. Van Dijk carried a 26-second lead into the final stage, but with SD Worx looking to be the strongest team, it was going to be a battle right down to the end.
If Stage 3 wasn’t already hard enough, the Dutch weather rolled in again, dumping cold rain over the course, and leaving winds ripping across the wide-open roads. Soon enough, the entire circuit was soaked just as the race began kicking off – 45km in, a decisive breakaway formed that included Lonneke Uneken (SD Worx), Emma Norsgaard (Movistar), Stage 1 winner D’Hoore (SD Worx), Anna Hendersen (Jumbo-Visma), and Lauretta Hanson (Trek-Segafredo).
Uneken – opening 45km:
Average Power: 211w
Normalized Power: 268w
Norsgaard – opening 45km:
Average Power: 232w (3.6w/kg)
Normalized Power: 277w (4.3w/kg)
Norsgaard – forming the breakaway:
Average Power: 332w (5.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 381w (5.9w/kg)
While the breakaway didn’t truly settle into their gap until roughly 45km into the stage, we can see in Uneken’s and Norsgaard’s power files that the major moves began between kilometers 20 and 25. On the VAM-berg, riders made their move at over 6w/kg, kicking again after the technical descent, and pushing the pace again as the road flattened out during the longer part of the circuit.
For the next 50-odd kilometers, the break of five worked together to extend its gap to the peloton, pulling out roughly a two-minute lead by the midpoint of the stage. In Norsgaard’s file, we can see that, impressively, she is able to bring her heart rate down while working in the breakaway. This is a trait typically seen in top-level riders, who are both extremely fit and calm under pressure. Lowering your heart rate during a race is one of the keys to saving precious energy for the finale. Every bit saved at 100km to go will come in handy with 10km to go and 1km to go.
This is also tied to calorie consumption and kilojoules (kJs) burned, as we have discussed in previous articles. When the heart rate is high – typically caused by nervousness, a lack of fitness, or being cold – the body is burning more energy than it would be at a lower heart rate. This makes it more difficult to replace calories during a race and making it more likely that a rider will bonk when they run out of energy reserves. On Stage 3 of the Healthy Ageing Tour, Norsgaard and Uneken showed an impressive amount of calm and collection in the breakaway, evidenced by their explosive efforts that dropped riders off their wheel at the end of the race.
Norsgaard – working in the breakaway:
Average Power: 251w (3.9w/kg)
Normalized Power: 278w (4.3w/kg)
It is interesting to see how riding in the breakaway affects Norsgaard’s efforts – over the same duration, her normalized power is almost exactly the same, whereas her average power is significantly higher while in the breakaway. This is because riding the breakaway is a much steadier effort, with riders pulling through and off, sharing the workload, and doing very little coasting. Back in the peloton, the efforts will be much punchier. In the draft of 100+ riders, a rider in the middle of the group could be coasting on the flats and downhills, but then sprinting to hold the wheel out of every corner and up the steep climbs. Overall, the breakaway effort probably suited Norsgaard better, who excels in time trials and long road races.
With 45km to go, the breakaway of five still had a minute over the peloton which was now down to just 30 or so riders. The gap was down to 40 seconds with 35km to go, and not too long after, the breakaway was caught.
For the next 10km, it was hard to tell who was in the break versus who was in the field, and who was bridging across to the break versus who was getting dropped from the break. When the imaginary dust finally settled, a new breakaway was formed that included Uneken, Norsgaard, and Hendersen from the original, plus a newcomer in Karol Ann Canuel (SD Worx). Lisa Klein (Canyon-SRAM), Christine Majerus (SD Worx), Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit), and D’Hoore chased in a second group that eventually made it across to the lead breakaway; but it wasn’t long before Uneken attacked solo with 20km to go.
Uneken – breakaway reshuffling:
Average Power: 221w
Normalized Power: 256w
Uneken – attack with 20km to go:
Average Power: 271w
Max Power: 764w
Before she knew it, Uneken already had a minute and 15-second lead over the chasing group. All of her competitors completely stopped riding, letting the gap go while looking at each other to chase. Here, at the beginning of Norsgaard’s file, we can exactly how much the chase group slowed when Uneken attacked at kilometer 95. The Dane’s heart rate had been in the 170s for hours; but when the group sat up, her heart rate came down to the 130s for the first time since the neutral rollout.
Norsgaard – final 20km:
Average Power: 216w (3.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 287w (4.5w/kg)
Originally, Uneken wasn’t seen as a GC threat when she made her move into the early breakaway – in fact, she was a minute and 49 seconds down on Van Dijk at the start of the day. But as the peloton eased off, Uneken continued to ride away, and with 10km to go, she already had a three-minute lead.
SD Worx went to the front of the peloton – but things aren’t always as they appear. SD Worx was not chasing their teammate. In fact, they were slowing the group and letting the gap go out to Uneken.
Uneken – winning solo move:
Average Power: 237w
Max Power: 262w
After a long day in the break, the cold weather and fatigue began taking their toll on Uneken, who looked to be struggling on the climbs with less than 10km to go. The peloton brought down the Dutchwoman’s lead to less than two minutes with 6km to go. In the peloton-turned chase group, Norsgaard looked to be the strongest, attacking and pushing the pace at every possibility. As Uneken crawled across the finish line to take a wonderful solo victory, Norsgaard has distanced the rest of her group, and came up the VAM-berg to take second on the stage, a minute and 14 seconds behind Uneken. But as the seconds ticked by, we are all still waiting for Van Dijk. Eventually, Van Dijk crossed the line a minute and 29 seconds down on Uneken, doing enough to seal her fourth overall victory at the Healthy Ageing Tour.
Norsgaard – final 7.5km:
Average Power: 277w (4.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 341w (5.3w/kg)
Average Power: 429w (6.6w/kg)
Peak 1min Power: 539w (8.3w/kg)
After three days of exciting and unpredictable racing, including a flat sprint, a tough time trial, and a wet and hilly circuit race, the top-5 riders in GC were separated by less than 30 seconds. Van Dijk came out of top, while Brennauer finished second overall, Norsgaard in third, and Uneken in fourth. The 21-year-old Dutch rider was the star of the show on the final stage of the race, taking his first-ever pro win in the most impressive solo fashion. With Norsgaard not far behind, from the time trials, to the sprints and hilly road races, there’s a lot to look forward to in the future of women’s professional cycling.
Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava