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It was always the plan today to make it into the breakaway, but rarely does a plan come off in such an emphatic and enthralling way.
In the earliest moments of the race, while some of the team buses were still leaving the départ, Henrietta Christie escaped from the peloton. Christie spent four kilometers off the front of the race. It’s a fantastic turnaround for the young Kiwi, who suffered through days she described as “character-building” in the opening stages.
Next to attack was Audrey Cordon-Ragot, in the company of 13 other riders, in what was to become the defining move of the day. The team just missed out on having Barbara Malcotti, another serious GC contender as the race continues to tilt upward,in the move, but the Italian couldn’t find a clear path through the other riders to follow Cordon-Ragot’s wheel.
Audrey’s move established a healthy margin early on, filled with powerful riders and with most of the 14 sharing turns. When it became clear that the peloton was not interested in keeping it pegged back, the gap climbed and climbed.
As the best placed rider on GC, Audrey moved into the virtual maillot jaune when the gap went above two minutes and 21 seconds. When the gap hit a lofty nine minutes, the team began to hope of converting it from the virtual to real.
DS Joanne Kiesanowski explained the mood in the team car behind Audrey in these moments.
“After the gap kept growing, from five minutes to like ten minutes quite rapidly – then we knew that the move had quite a good shot of making it all the way to the line. We knew Audrey had 20 seconds on Kastelijn, so then that became the goal – to take it to the line and win the yellow jersey.”
This was a back-loaded stage, with all the climbing in the second half of the parcours – and once the GC teams began attacking one another, the margin of advantage began to ebb.
Audrey powered away from the break at the intermediate sprint at 29km to go, with Yara Kastalijn of Fenix–Deceuninck following in her slipstream. Winning the intermediate secured precious bonus seconds for Cordon-Ragot, as well as points in the green jersey classification. The pair pressed their advantage, while back in the peloton the maillot jaune, Lotte Kopecky, began her own solo pursuit of the leaders.
Ultimately, it was Kastalijn who won the day, with Audrey swept up by the group of favorites. A trip to the podium followed, a bittersweet reward on a day when the team dared for something more. Cordon-Ragot had been the ‘virtual leader’ for 110 kilometres.
It was a stronger day all around for the team, with Marjolein van’t Geloof bouncing back from a tough day yesterday, and Antri Christoforou coming through strong after suffering on the first and second stages.
Christie summarized the stage, and shed a little further light on her brief breakaway.
“Today was a good day and we executed the plan well. As this was the longest stage, we really wanted to be aggressive and race hard. Our plan from the start was to get either Audrey or Marjolein in the breakaway. I saw an opportunity before the first climb to attack and allow the girls to be ready to counter, which worked well. We got Audrey up the road with over 10min advantage at one point. We then focused on keeping Barbara and Eri in good position ready for the final climbs.”
While Audrey was disappointed not to go all the way, she has risen up the GC to sit 20th overall. Her exploits will also serve to motivate the squad even more.
“The belief will be that much higher now in the group,” said Kiesanowski. “We’re looking forward to tomorrow already. We believed in Audrey, once those time gaps were evident, we knew it was doable that she could go all the way to the line and take the yellow jersey. And I mean, that’s a dream to do that, for any French rider.”