By Owen Rogers
Lizzie Armitstead’s winning streak came to an end in the Netherlands on Saturday. The world champion abandoned the second round of the Women’s WorldTour after around 50 km of the Ronde van Drenthe, apparently feeling sick.
According to her Boels-Dolmans team directeur sportif Danny Stam, Armitstead had been feeling unwell since Tuesday.
Though the British rider now loses her WorldTour lead to Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv), who finished fourth, the race was won by her team mate, Chantal Blaak.
Dutch woman Blaak sprinted clear of four riders who had escaped the peloton with nearly 60km to race, allowing her to claim her second win of the season.
The race, based around the Dutch town of Hoogeveen in the north east of the country, is known for its vicious cobbles, resembling fist sized pebbles, and for the steep ascent of the VAMberg.
That climb, covered three times in the 138km race, is built on a landfill site and tops out at 23%, though it averages 17% over its 400 metres.
It was these factors, as opposed to the wind, so often a defining factor in Dutch racing, which proved the decisive factor in today’s race. On the third and final cobbles sector the peloton split and Trixi Worrak (Canyon-SRAM), Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS) and Van der Breggen joined Blaak as they built a gap.
Notable by their absence were Wiggle-High5. The British team had started the race with six riders capable of taking the win, and worked hard to bring the break to heel. For a while they managed to keep the gap to 20 seconds, but ultimately could not break them back.
With only 28 km to ride, on the final ascent of the VAMberg the group had an advantage of 1-30 which was to prove unassailable as Wiggle finally gave up the chase.
“We knew it would split over the cobbles,” Blaak’s British team mate Nikki Harris said after the race. “There wasn’t much wind, so then it was a case of staying at the front and following attacks. Luckily Chantal got in the right group, we knew she had a good sprint, so when she was there we were quite confident she could go for it.”
The race was Harris’s fifth of the season and follows on from a successful winter racing cyclo-cross. Twenty-nine year old Harris had a stellar winter, regaining the British national champion’s jersey and becoming the first Briton to win a World Cup.
With two top ten rides and over 30 km in the break to set up Armitstead’s win at Strade Bianche last week, it’s been a good start to the road season for Harris.
“I’ve gone straight in from the cross season to the road season,” she explained. “I’m going to take a little bit of a rest at the end of April but so far it’s working out well. I’ve got good form and I can get stuck in with the girls. The team are happy with me and I’ve been able to do any job I’ve been asked.”
The victory was the Boels-Dolmans team’s fifth year and as any cyclist knows, cake is the key to success, “Banana bread, that fuelled the girls this morning. Every week one of us makes a cake, so I put it down to that.”
In the men’s race, a UCI 1.1 ranked competition, British rider Mark McNally came in second place. The race, held over a 197km route similar to the women’s event, culminated in a small group heading to the line.
With his Wanty-Groupe Gobert teammate Kenny de Haes in the group with him and eventual winner Jesper Asselmann (Roompot-Oranje Pelton) off the front the Liverpudlian was told on the race radio to work.
“Kenny’s quite fast and no one really wanted to help me,” Mc Nally told Cycling Weekly.
“So I thought I would keep the pace up so no one would attack, but then and then about a kilometre and a half to go I got swamped so I had a little bit of respite. I was thinking more about getting the line going again and then I had a gap. I thought that’s a long 'k’ this, but I hung on for grim death.”
The result is McNally’s best result since signing with the Belgian Pro Continental outfit at the start of the season.
Women's Ronde van Drenthe results
1. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boels-Dolmans at 3:36. 13
2. Gracie Elvin (Aus) Orica-AIS, st
3. Trixi Worrak (Ger) Canyon-SRAM, st
4. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Rabo-Liv, st
5. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) Ale Cipollini at 1-49
6. Shelley Olds (USA) Cylance, st
7. Floortje Mackaij (Ned) Liv-Plantur, st
8. Lauren Kitchen (Aus) Hitec Products, st
9. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Orica-AIS, st
10. Leah Kirchmann (Can) Liv-Plantur, st
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