Ellen Van Dijk (HTC-Highroad) has dedicated her stage win at the Ladies Tour of Qatar to her late teammate Carla Swart. The 23-year-old South African was killed while training on January 19.
"I'd like to dedicate this win to our teammate Carla Swart who passed away two weeks ago," Van Dijk said at the finish of stage two in Lusail. "She died in an accident and it's really sad and very hard for us all and we wanted to win for her here."
Swart had signed for the team ahead of the 2011 season and made an instant impression at the squad's December training camp in California. The HTC-Highroad riders are wearing black armbands in Qatar to honour the memory of their late teammate Swart. They were the dominant force on the road to Lusail, forcing a stage-deciding echelon after 36km.
"It was beautiful because there were four of us in the breakaway at the start, although unfortunately we lost Chloe [Hosking] to a mechanical problem," Van Dijk said. However, Van Dijk still had Charlotte Becker and Adrie Visser for company in the seven-rider move, and they delivered her to the stage win and the overall lead.
The Dutchwoman admitted to feeling at home in the strong winds that marked the stage, conditions that she believes were well-suited to her talents.
"I'm from Holland, so I'm used to a little bit of wind, but this was really a lot of wind," Van Dijk joked. "Normally you have some trees or something along the side of the road but here there is nothing, so it's even more crazy than in Holland."
The high drama of stage two was in stark contrast to the rather more conservative racing on offer the previous day, and Van Dijk admitted that she was glad that circumstances allowed her to showcase her current rich vein of form on Thursday.
"Yesterday we couldn't really do anything because there wasn't too much wind," she said. "But I felt really strong because I had a good training camp, so I was really ready to race yesterday."
Van Dijk now leads the race by 15 seconds from her teammate Charlotte Becker, and is strongly positioned to take overall victory on Friday. She is also leading the young rider's classification and the points competition, but Van Dijk explained that after winning the white jersey in 2009, her eyes are firmly fixed on a bigger prize.
"Wearing the young rider's jersey two years was already nice but this is the real jersey," she smiled, after being presented with the leader's golden jersey by Eddy Merckx.
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.