After a broken collarbone disrupted the start of the season, Jolien D’hoore (Boels-Dolmans) took her first victory of the 2019 season on Thursday when she won the opening stage of the Emakumeen Bira. The stage saw several attacks, but the work of D’hoore’s Boels-Dolmans teammates meant that it all came down to a sprint.
D’hoore fractured her collarbone in March in a crash at the Drentse 8 van Westerveld, just her second race of the season, putting her out of action for much of the spring classics. While she returned to racing at the Tour of Flanders and Healthy Ageing Tour, D’hoore was yet to raise her arms at the finish line, the moment every sprinter lives for.
Back on the top step of the rostrum, she said that she is completely recovered from her injury and looking forward to racing – and winning – again.
“I am fresh as I haven’t raced much yet. Many others have taken a break after the spring classics, but I kept on training and working hard to come back. I’m happy I’m on this level already, so now I will race as much as I can the next couple of weeks, and I hope to win as much as I can.”
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) went off the front on the second climb of the day and built an advantage that threatened to foil Boels-Dolmans’ sprint plans. This was part of a deliberate race strategy by Trek-Segafredo who had also provided the day’s early breakaway.
“First Anna Plichta was in the front, then Tayler Wiles tried something,” Longo Borgini explained. “I countered when they caught her, and in the end, there was this duo going out with me and Amanda. I just went all-out. And you never know, sometimes you can make it to the finish. I’m happy with my performance, and the team rode well too. I’m taking it day by day now. I will go with the flow this week, and when I have a chance, I will take it with both hands.”
Unlike Longo Borghini, Spratt hadn’t premeditated an attack. Instead, the focus of the defending champion was on the time bonuses available at two bonus sprints, and Spratt won both sprints to earn a six-second boost in the overall classification.
“With no time trial this year it could be closer on the GC, and with three good options for the GC here, it’s smart for us to take these opportunities. It wasn’t the plan to get away with Longo Borghini. Just as I was getting to the front, I could see Elisa getting ready to attack so I went with her. I worked with her at first, but then we decided it wasn’t something that would stay away.”
When the attack was brought back, it was upon Gracie Elvin to achieve a result for Mitchelton-Scott: “I made sure I stayed focused and looked after myself. I’m grateful to the girls who did a great job to position me into the last kilometre. I wasn’t quite fast enough, but I’m still really happy to be on the podium.”
Sofia Bertizzolo (Team Virtu Cycling) just edged out Elvin for second place in a close finish. The team had originally designated Emilie Moberg as its sprinter, and the Norwegian was in the mix at both intermediate sprints. But the high pace over the Basque hills made Moberg lose contact.
“When Longo Borghini and Spratt attacked on the second climb, it was very hard for Emilie to stay in the peloton,” said Bertizzolo. “I sprinted in her place, and I’m happy with this result. Although I can be fast, I’m not a real sprinter. I can stay in touch on the shorter climbs, but I think the climbs in the next days will be too much for me.”
The Emakumeen Bira continues with an 111-kilometre stage from Aduna to Amasa on Friday that finishes with a six-percent climb on the last kilometre.
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