Marta Bastianelli takes victory in a gruelling edition of Ronde van Drenthe

Former world champion takes the lead of the Women's WorldTour after a stellar start to her season

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Marta Bastianelli took the lead of the Women’s WorldTour standings with victory at Saturday’s Ronde van Drenthe. The Italian out-sprinted fellow former world champion Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) to take the win after a gnarly race in the Netherlands.

Eventually finishing third, Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) kicked off the winning move off, attacking a small leading group with around 10km remaining. Blaak worked hard to hold her compatriot’s wheel, but the gap only came down when European champion Bastianelli came to her aid.

Though Van Dijk tried again, the final five kilometres were a game of cat and mouse as a 10 rider chasing group attempted to get on terms. However, the leading three passed the flamme rouge with a decent gap.

Blaak opened her sprint fractionally earlier than Team Virtu rider Bastianelli, but the Italian managed to kick and crossed the line just ahead.

It has been a remarkable start to the year for 31-year-old Bastianelli. Not only can she add Saturday’s result to victory at Omloop Het van Hageland two weeks ago, but of her six races so far, eighth is her lowest placing.

How it happened

At 165.7km the race was the longest of the season and one of the longest in Women’s WorldTour history. The narrow roads caused early problems with a couple of crashes, though the bunch stayed together until it hit the first exposed sector where the peloton of 123 women spilt for the first time, within 15km of the start.

While the wind was not as strong as previous days, it still took its toll on the peloton which continued to split and reform as the route zigged and zagged across the flat countryside in the far north east of the Netherlands. 

The route covered 11 stretches of keien cobbles, like large round pebbles they are smaller than traditional pavé, and provided a brutal test, especially when wet after the repeated rain and hail showers.

By the time the race completed the fifth of those cobbled sections with 95km remaining, the peloton had split decisively, a group of 40-50 riders leading a second group by nearly two minutes.

Shortly after, and during a lull in the action, Maria Sperotto (Bigla) launched a speculative solo attack, building a lead of 1-30 while the race eased momentarily, coming back together. But as the wind built once again to gale force, the leaders once again upped the pace, splitting the race to pieces once more, and as they approached the signature climb of VAMberg Sperotto was caught. 

Built on a rubbish tip, the climb has been re-vamped for this race, made longer with addition of cobbles on final 200 metres. The first ascent had come early in the day, however two further climbs came in quick succession, with 62 and 51km remaining, with Mitchelton-Scott’s Grace Brown attacking and cresting both ascents with a small advantage each time.

The Australian built on that lead as the race entered the closing 50km, her advantage extending to more than a minute, while behind a group of 20-30 riders chased, with a smaller group in turn closing on them.

Other than the chasing group expanding, the situation remained static, her lead growing and shrinking only slightly, and only in the closing 20km did the group make any read dent in Brown’s lead, catching her with 15km to go and precipitating the winning move.

Result

Ronde van Drenthe Women’s WorldTour: Zuidwolde to Hoogeveen (165.7km)

1. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) Team Virtu, in 4-24-14
2. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boels-Dolmans
3. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Trek Segafredo all at same time
4. Amy Pieters (Ned) Boels-Dolmans at 20 sec
5. Lotte Kopecky (Bel) Lotto-Soul Ladies
6. Amalie Dideriksen (Den) Boels-Dolmans
7. Floortje Mackaij (Ned) Sunweb
8. Kirsten Wild (Ned) WNT Rotor
9. Romy Kasper (Ger) Alé-Cipollini
10. Jip van den Bos (Ned) Boles-Dolmans, all at same time