In Finland and in the footsteps of Van der Poel

July 23 rd 2021 - 17:50

Key points: 

  • The 8th edition of the Arctic Race of Norway will be held on 5–8 August 2021.
  • For the first time, the world’s northernmost race will venture outside Norway, with the finish to stage two taking place in the town of Kilpisjärvi in Finland.
  • The first two days will offer the sprinters the opportunity to show their prowess. The general classification will then be decided over the course of the weekend stages, with a summit finish in Målselv on Saturday and a climb to the line in Harstad on Sunday.

The Arctic Race of Norway is an event that people have deeply missed in 2020. Breath-taking landscapes lovers as much as cycling experts have a special feeling for the northernmost bike race. Since 2013, sprint finishes – made popular in Scandinavia by Thor Hushovd who won the inaugural edition and has been the race ambassador all along – as well as punchy and hilltop finales have delighted the fans by delivering unpredictable racing. In seven editions, Alexander Kristoff, Steven Kruijswijk, Sam Bennett, Silvan Dillier, Rein Taarämae, Danny van Poppel, Gianni Moscon, John Degenkolb, Dylan Teuns, Mathieu van der Poel, Bryan Coquard and Alexey Lutsenko have made the most of their respective skills. Some of them have come of age at the Arctic Race of Norway before going on for further conquests. Suspense often remains until the dying moments. Two years ago, the general classification was still unclear as the first riders crossed the finish line on the conclusive stage. Ultimately, Kazakh rider Alexey Lutsenko won the overall by a second, ahead of French national champion Warren Barguil. Elsewhere, if the general public didn’t know yet what cyclo-cross prodigy Mathieu van der Poel was able to achieve in road racing, the images of the Arctic Race of Norway broadcast worldwide announced in 2018 and 2019 what was going to spice up the first week of the 2021 Tour de France.

  Van der Poel’s first of three stage victories took place in Kirkenes, near Russia. For the first time in its eight editions, the Arctic Race of Norway will cross a border to held stage 2 finish in Finland. For the first time also, the event will start in Tromsø, Northern Norway’s most iconic city and the finishing point for the 2014 and 2017 editions. The first stage, on Thursday 5 August, will take the riders to the east to complete a loop before leading back to the city. The riders will then perform three laps of an 8.6 km circuit. A categorised climb (1.2 km at 8%) with 2.5 km to go will stretch the peloton out before it reaches the finish line, where the victorious rider will write his name into the history books alongside those of Alexander Kristoff and Dylan Teuns, the two previous winners in Tromsø.

On the second day of racing, the Arctic Race will visit Nordkjosbotn for the first time. On a day of firsts, the riders will then make the Arctic Race’s inaugural foray outside Norway, with the last 12 km taking place in Finland. Earlier in the stage, the riders will skirt the Storfjord before entering a valley that steadily climbs to 500 m of altitude at Kilpisjärvi. Despite four categorised climbs, this 177,6 km stage should be one for the sprinters unless the wind enables splits in the peloton.

The third day will have an air of déjà vu about it. Running from Finnsnes to Målselv, the 184.5 km route scheduled for stage three is almost identical to the one undertaken on 15 August 2015, during the third edition of the race. The only difference is that the peloton will ride the first loop on the island of Senja in the opposite direction to four years ago, when Belgium’s Ben Hermans emerged victorious. In 2021, this queen stage will offer five opportunities for the riders to collect climbing points, including the final ascent to a summit finish at the ski resort of Målselv (3.7 km at 7.8%). The battle for general classification places should play out on the climbs leading to the “Alpine Village”.

While the public may see the final stage of the Tour de France as nothing more than a stroll in the park for its participants, the same cannot be said for the Arctic Race. The fourth stage, 163,3 km of racing between Gratangen and Harstad, is tailor-made for the puncheurs. Gratangen will welcome the race for the first time. Taking place against a stunning backdrop of fjords, the first part of the final stage will see the riders scale three categorised climbs. The race will then conclude with an 8.4 km circuit in Harstad, which was also the setting for the climax to the very first edition of the race, won by local favourite Thor Hushovd. Fellow countryman Alexander Kristoff would also go on to win the first stage there in 2015. The 2021 winner will have to successfully negotiate three climbs up the hill of Novkollen (2 km at 5,5%), before proving his strength on a final ramp to the finish line.

  Route of the 2021 Arctic Race of Norway:  

  • Thursday 5th August, stage 1:  Tromsø – Tromsø, 142,4km
  • Friday 6th August, stage 2: Nordkjosbotn – Storfjord / Kilpisjärvi, 177,6km 
  • Saturday 7th August, stage 3: Finnsnes – Målselv, 184,5km
  • Sunday 8th August, stage 4: Gratangen - Harstad, 163,5km

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