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Wind punishes peloton at Ladies Tour of Qatar

DOHA, Qatar (VN) — The Tour of Qatar produces attacks and echelons like no other bicycle race, thanks to its windswept countryside and flat roads. During Wednesday’s second stage of the Ladies Tour of Qatar, which was held on the roads north of Doha, Orica-AIS rider Katrin Garfoot had the strength and good fortune to take advantage of those conditions.

Garfoot made one successful move after another, advancing into a group of 26, which was then whittled down to 10. She eventually attacked with 300 meters to go to take the victory. She now leads Trixi Worrack (Canyon-SRAM) by 17 seconds with two stages remaining.

The day’s big loser was overnight leader Kirsten Wild (Hitec), who suffered a nasty crash and lost time, crossing the finish line in Al Khor nearly four minutes behind the leaders.

“I’m just bruised, crashing on my elbow, my knees and face,” Wild said. “I’m happy that al my teeth are all OK, so I can still smile!”

No one was smiling during the race’s final hour, as the wind cut the group into pieces. The peloton’s taller and more powerful riders excelled in the winds. Others had to fight even harder not to lose time.

“There is no race like it all year, it’s totally unique,” said American Shelly Olds (Cyclance), who finished in 12th place, 1:44 down. “You race in Holland, it’s something, but this is just something different – big roads and windy.”

Olds missed the front group, when it separated itself with 15km remaining. Her group tried to keep the gap below one minute. “I wanted my group to ride, but there was no organization and I was alone,” Olds said. “It really helps to have a team around you when you are fighting against girls three times your size.”

After the first sprint of the day, the road turned right and wind from the left buffeted the group. Just when some order was established, the road and wind-direction turned, and the fight began again.

Dutchwoman Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans said she actually hoped for wind.

“You have to be sharp, focused. You have to be there at the front, if you are not, you are screwed because you’ll miss the echelon,” said van Dijk, who finished sixth. “It’s a big fight to get in there with elbows, knees, with everything, all you got, otherwise someone will just push you out.”

After winning the stage, Garfoot said the conditions were similar to those in Holland. Born in Germany, the Australian rider said it created multiple splits during the stage.

“The wind was average today, but it was enough to break up the bunch,” she said. “This wind forces you to go to the front if you don’t want to miss the split.”

Some were able to watch from afar and enjoy the show that the desert roads and 90 women in the Ladies Tour of Qatar created. Rochelle Gilmore raced the Qatari tour five times before retiring and becoming team manager for Wiggle-High5.

Gilmore said the stage was one of the most exciting she’s seen at Qatar.

“Al the teams and quite equal and there many tactics that come into play with the cross-winds and different directions,” Gilmore said. “The situation kept chasing, so that was good. Unlike in other races around the world, no one is waiting for the hills, they have to make it happen.”