Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo-Bigla) capped off her ascension of form to take her first victory of the season at the Auensteiner – Radsporttage this weekend. The South African began the final stage in second place overall, and went for broke, attacking three laps from the finish to push stage 2 winner Annemiek Van Vleuten (Orica-AIS) out of the lead.
After a difficult spring with illness and crashes, Moolman-Pasio believes she is back on track for the upcoming Aviva Women's Tour and her bid for the Olympic Games in Rio.
"I'm just really happy with the win today," Moolman-Pasio said. "Yesterday we had a good pep talk from Thomas [Campana, team manager -ed.]. He was happy with our performance but he felt we had so much more to give. He was hard but very inspiring and that showed today. The team gave everything and they executed the team plan to perfection. I definitely couldn't have done it without my teammates today. I'm really happy to reward them with a win."
Moolman-Pasio took a risk to attack three laps from the finish, and only one rider, Lisa Brennauer (Canyon-SRAM), could follow. The pair were brought back by Orica-AIS, but it was a much reduced peloton that rejoined. When Moolman-Pasio went again it was a solo move, and she made it stick to the tune of 1:39 over chasers Katrin Garfoot (Orica-AIS), Emma Johnasson (Wiggle-High5) and Brennauer.
It was a nearly identical performance to the one that netted her the overall win there last year.
"After all the hardship I've gone through this season, its great to win solo like this. The team plan might have sounded a bit crazy at the start of the day," she said. "I went full gas from the bottom of the climb and I was on my own. I still had three laps to go and just kept thinking of everyone who believed in me like Thomas and my husband, Carl, who is here."
The team now goes on to the Aviva Women's Tour, the next round of the Women's WorldTour.
Brennauer discovers attacking style
Lisa Brennauer (Canyon-SRAM) showed she is on strong form and ready to defend her Aviva Women's Tour title with an impressive performance on the final stage of the three-stage, two-day Auensteiner Radsporttage. Brennauer tried her hand at attacking on a climb - a rare move for the former time trial world champion - and managed to distance herself from race leader Annemiek Van Vleuten (Orica-AIS) enough to take second overall behind stage and overall winner Moolman-Pasio.
"Moolman was strong. Actually their whole team was strong yesterday. The first attack she did I could go with her but I was close to the limit," Brennauer said. "When she went again on the first part of the climb I could go with her, and I was one of the only few who could. But on the final part of the climb on the steep section she danced away from me and I couldn't stay any longer."
Brennauer has been expanding her talents this season. Rather than relying on her time trial prowess, she has dabbled in bunch sprints, coming second in the Sacramento stage in the Tour of California, second in Gent-Wevelgem, and she won the points classification in the Energiewacht Tour. But attacking on a climb is something new for the German champion.
"I could see that Annemiek was suffering on the climbs and on the final QOM I thought, 'well why not.' I don't think I've ever attacked on a climb before. At the first part the bigger part of our group was still there with me but I kept going and over the top there were just three of us. Johansson and I worked while Garfoot sat on. We weren't going to catch Moolman, but I just went full gas to try to improve on GC."
"I'm happy because I raced smart and attacking on a climb is pretty cool. It's a good result for me and for our team ahead of next week's stage race," said Brennauer.
Nikki Harris extends contract with Boels-Dolmans
After coming in fifth place at the 2016 UCI Cyclocross World Championships in Heusden-Zolder, Harris dipped her toe into a full road season for the first time.
Her first job was to help Lizzie Armitstead to the win in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and then was an early attacker at Strade Bianche, setting Armitstead up for another victory. The team knew she had the form from the 'cross season, but road racing at that level was new for her.
"I didn't really appreciate it at the time, but in hindsight, what I was able to do at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was quite special," Harris said. "I jumped into my first classic ever with only a bit of notice and was able to make a key contribution to the team's win and also finish in the first group on the road. Looking back, I'm quite proud of that."
"It's been quite a big change for me coming from a 'cross only team, but I couldn't be happier with how things are going," added Harris. "We have a great bunch of riders and staff who fit well together. It's a really nice atmosphere both on and off the bike. Everyone knows her role and has a great work ethic. Re-signing with the team was a natural decision. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."
Harris is not the only rider to renew: Boels Rental and Dolmans Landscaping Group extended their sponsorship through at least the end of 2018. Stam, Armitstead, Chantal Blaak, Christine Majerus and Amalie Dideriksen have all recently renewed their contracts through the 2017-2018 seasons.
Van Vleuten gains confidence for national championships
Although Annemiek Van Vleuten faded in the finale of the Auensteiner-Radsporttage and dropped to third overall after being in the race lead, she took heart from winning the stage 2a time trial, a 7.6km test she won ahead of Moolman-Pasio and Brennauer.
"I was really happy with this morning" Van Vleuten said of the time trial. "It was a time trial that really suited me with a bit of climbing, some technical parts and I also had really good power this morning.
"The nationals are coming up so it was a good final time trial and gives me a lot of confidence for that. Then this afternoon, I completely lost my good legs from this morning, maybe I went so deep in the TT that I couldn't recover for this afternoon. So I had a super, super bad afternoon I was unable to follow anyone on the climbs.
"It was super teamwork today, a few times when I dropped on the uphill Katrin and Rachel Neylan worked to bring me back, so it was really good for Katrin after all that hard work to finish second on the stage, it shows her good form.
"It was great today to see all the team support around me but of course I am super disappointed with how I felt this afternoon. Ashleigh was really outstanding today, she attacked on the climb and no-one could stay with her so a really great ride from her."
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