Bringing the Boels-Dolmans tally of Women’s WorldTour victories to four out of four, Dutch woman Chantal Blaak won today’s Ghent-Wevelgem.
Blaak escaped the clutches of a reduced peloton with Emma Johansson (Wiggle-High5) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-AIS) in the aggressive final stages of the 113km race. Having dropped her two colleagues, she eventually crossed the line over a minute ahead of second placed Lisa Brennauer (Canyon-SRAM), who herself was alone in the final.
As is so often the case for Ghent-Wevelgem, the race was affected by the weather. Last year saw a storm sweep across Flanders, whittling the field to a handful of finishers and blowing some riders in the men’s event from their bikes. Though the gales were less extreme this year, the combination of high winds and the flat lands north of Ypres, where the race began, conspired to create a very hard race.
While the first section of cross-winds in the opening few kilometres of the race did very little damage, the second stretch split the peloton. By the time the race headed towards the first of the five climbs, or hellingen, which define the middle of the race, the winning selection had been made, with a large group of about 30 riders clear.
Watch: Women’s WorldTour contenders for 2016
That group was dominated by Lizzie Armitstead’s Boels-Dolmans team, all six of whom were present, along with four each from Cervelo-Bigla and Wiggle-High5. This group was eroded further on the first of two ascents of the Kemmelberg and, when they crested the Monteberg, the final climb, some 30 kilometres later, eight women had been dropped.
The final 34km, mainly flat, were hard fought, with multiple attacks, including those from Blaak’s teammate, World champion Lizzie Armitstead, who eventually finished in 17th place.
As if to accentuate Boels-Dolmans’ stellar start to 2016, their lowest placed rider today was Christine Majerus in 21st place. Not only have they won all the WorldTour races so far, they have a number of other victories, including Blaak’s own win at Le Samyn des Dames, a race she also won in 2015.
“It’s unbelievable, I cannot believe it’s going so well,” Blaak told Cycling Weekly at the finish. “We didn’t have a clear plan before the start. We are all strong at the moment, so the plan was to be there at the front with the whole team to play the numbers.
“Everything works out, everyone is in good shape and we want to work for each other. I was the one to stay away today, but if it was someone else who had that attack, then my teammate is winning.”
Next week’s Tour of Flanders is the fifth round of the WorldTour and a race which has been on Lizzie Armitstead’s to win list for some years.
2016 Women’s Ghent-Wevelgem (115km)
1. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boels – Dolmans) in 2-56-00
2. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Canyon SRAM Racing, at 1-24
3. Lucinda Brand (Ned) Rabobank-Liv
4. Amy Pieters (Ned) Wiggle High5
5. Carmen Small (USA) Cervélo-Bigla
6. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Orica – AIS
7. Leah Kirchmann (Can) Team Liv-Plantur
8. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Boels – Dolmans
9. Emma Johansson (Swe) Wiggle High5 at 1-27
10. Romy Kasper Boels – Dolmans at 1-32
17. Lizzie Armitstead (GBr) Boels – Dolmans, at 2-23