Former world champion Chantal van den Broek-Blaak capped off a dominant Boels-Dolmans performance, winning the Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
The Dutch rider attacked a small group near the top of the Oude Kwaremont, with 17km remaining, soloing to the line in Oudenaarde.
The 2017 world champion crested the Paterberg, the day’s final climb, with a tenuous lead of only 15 seconds with 14km remaining, however, with two Boels-Dolmans team mates in the chasing group cooperation was in short supply.
There were though numerous attempts to close the gap, the Mitchelton-Scott pair of Annemiek Van Vleuten and Grace Brown the chief protagonists, but Van den Broek-Blaak eked out her advantage, entering the final 5km with 45 seconds’ lead.
Behind her team mate Amy Pieters won the sprint for second place, with local rider Lotte Koppecky (Lotto-Soudal) unable to become the first Belgian in ten years to win and settling for third.
How it happened
With four teams withdrawing from this year’s shortened edition, including the Alé-Cipollini squad of last year’s winner Marta Bastianelli, only 117 women rolled out of Oudenaarde for the 135.6km.
For the first time in its 17 editions, the women’s event began in the afternoon, the peloton rolling out as the action was kicking off in the men’s race.
After some early attacks, a group of seven managed to get a gap, with former Irish champion Alice Sharpe (Ciclotel) joined by Teuntje Beekhuis (Lotto-Soudal), Gloria Rodriguez (Movistar), Mieke Kröger (Hitec Products), Adriana Trias (Massi Tactic), Heidi Franz (Rally Cycling) and Emily Newson (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank).
With Trias soon dropped, and Manchester based Sharpe gapped when she punctured, the breakaway had built a lead of three minutes as the race tackled the Lippenhovestraat, the first of four flat cobbled sectors, with 35km done.
Though that gap came down on the Paddestraat, the advantage again grew to 3.40 as they approached the first of the day’s 11 climbs, the Kattenberg, where three riders who had tried to bridge, caught at the top.
As the climbs began to come more regularly the gap began to come down, dropping below two minutes as the race crossed sector four, Haaghoek, and heading onto the Leberg, 70km out.
Over the Berendries the race lit up, with some of the expected protagonists making moves, and, after a period of pressure from two Sunweb riders, Liane Lippert and 2017 Flanders winner Coryn Rivera made a move, with Kristen Faulkner hoping to make it two Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank women at the front.
Behind, the peloton allowed the trio only around 45 seconds, while the original breakaway’s lead once again extended, approaching two minutes.
With 50km to go Boels-Dolmans took command, coming to the front and upping the pace and bringing the three escapees back, while the five leading women dangled off the front. On the Kanarieberg world champion Anna van der Breggen hit the front, driving the pace, and splitting the bunch, reaching the top at the head of a smaller peloton and with three team mates on her wheel.
With the original break finally caught on the Taaienberg, inside the final 40km, a flurry of attacks followed. Riejanne Markus (CCC-Liv) and Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-SRAM) were allowed a small gap which grew to 45 seconds as they entered the closing 30km, climbing out of Ronse on the cobbled climb of Kruisberg.
Here, with the gap around 30 seconds, Van der Breggen returned to the front, thinning the group more, and setting the stage for team mate Van den Broek-Blaak to attack at the top.
This created a further selection as they continued to climb, now on the smooth drag that is the Hotond, where the leaders were caught and European champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) attacked, creating a gap.
With Van Vleuten so dangerous Van der Breggen followed, caught her compatriot stetting up the delicious prospect of the world’s two best women fighting for the win. But she was clearly working for her Van den Broek-Blaak just behind, and in a bizarre twist she refused to ride, the two Dutchwomen sharing a joke before the group re-formed on the descent towards the penultimate climb, the Oude Kwaremont.
After a brief hiatus, near the top of the climb, Van den Broek-Blaak launched her winning move, powering off the front and emerging from the cobbled climb with a slim lead of 10 seconds. With team mates Van der Breggen and Pieters among the chasers and marking every move it Van den Broek-Blaak’s victory was all but assured.
Tour of Flanders Women: Oudenaarde – Oudenaarde (135.6km)
1. Chantal van den Broek Blaak (Ned) Boels-Dolmans in 3-29-57
2. Amy Pieters (Ned) Boels-Dolmans at 1-01
3. Lotte Kopecky (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
4. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Ceratizit-WNT
5. Sarah Roy (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott
6. Alena Amialiusik (Blr) Canyoon-SRAM
7. Demi Vollering (Ned) Parkhotel-Valkenburg
8. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek Segafredo
9. Lauren Stephens (USA) Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank
10. Marta Cavalli (Ita) Valcar Travel and Service all at same time