Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen once again proved her absolute superiority by winning Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.
As she did at Stade Bianche earlier this year, the 27-year-old Dutchwoman broke clear of a small group of elite riders to win alone.
The success also proves her Boels-Dolmans team is still by far and away the best in the women’s peloton, placing four riders in the top ten after an absolutely dominant performance.
Van der Breggen, who won the Women’s WorldTour individual standings last season, escaped with 27km of the 151km race remaining, breaking clear of an elite group of 12 riders which had formed over the top of the Kruisberg, the ninth of 11 climbs of the day.
With two team mates among the pursuers, cooperation was in short supply and she was followed home by fellow Boels-Dolmans rider Amy Pieters, with Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) in third.
How it happened
Rain began falling as the 143-rider peloton rolled over the start line in Oudenaarde, where they finished just over four hours later. The weather restricted early ambitions with no break forming until more than 25km were behind the bunch.
Other than a couple of short lived attacks, the opening 50km were uneventful. Neither a solo break from Parkhotel Valkenburg’s Natalie van Gogh or an earlier eight woman move were able to gain more than 50 second’s lead, making the opening 100km largely uneventful.
The first serious gaps in the peloton came from a crash on the run into the Muur van Geraardsbergen. Around 15 riders came down, with Alé Cipollini’s Chloe Hosking – one of the favourites – taken down.
In the same incident FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope’s Roxanne Fournier crashed between a wall and a lamp post, though her team later reported no serious injuries from the incident.
Coming with 59km to go, the Muur itself caused splits in the bunch, though the post-crash chaos ensured the bunch re-formed with a group of around 50 riders at the front. Despite the calm which ensured on the run into the paved ascent of the Pottelberg, it became clear the chase had sapped the legs of many of the expected antagonists.
After a period of stalemate and despite having spent much of the Kanarieberg on the front, double Italian champion Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM) attacked. Former world road champion Amalie Dideriksen joined her and while they pair failed to gain any advantage, the subsequent increase in speed further thinned the peloton.
Watch: Tour of Flanders 2018 highlights
It was, however, the Kruisberg, with 27km remaining, where the decisive move was made, just 12 riders emerging for the final.
Next week sees the Women’s WorldTour take a week off, the series returning the following Sunday with the Amstel Gold Race on April.
Tour of Flanders women 2018, 153.3km
1. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels-Dolmans in 4-08-46
2. Amy Pieters (Ned) Boels-Dolmans, at 01-08
3. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott
4. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) Cervélo-Bigla
5. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boels-Dolmans
6. Malgorzata Jasinska (Pol) Movistar Women’s Team
7. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Sunweb
8. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Wiggle-High5
9. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM,at same time
10. Megan Guarnier (USA) Boels-Dolmans, at 01-11