World champion Anna van der Breggen began her final season with a win at Omloop het Nieuwsblad. The Dutchwoman benefitted from a dominant performance from her newly named SDWorx team.
The Dutch squad placed two women on the podium, with Amy Pieters finishing third behind Danish champion Emma Norsgaard (Movistar).
As usual the climb of Kapelmuur proved key, thinning a group which caught Van der Breggen’s team mate Demi Vollering who had been up the road, but it was Bosberg where the rainbow jersey made her move.
Here, over the top of the day’s final climb she had a small gap, and while the pursuit remained concerted, despite the presence of three SDWorx riders, no one was able to get on terms with an imperious Van der Breggen.
Van der Breggen’s victory makes it two wins from four starts since she won the rainbow jersey in similar dominant style at Imola last September. It is also the first win for the team since changing its name from Boels-Dolmans and undergoing a significant restructuring and change in personnel.
How it happened
Saturday’s 124.4km race began in Ghent, the peloton taking on eight cobbled sectors, including among the same number of climbs, the legendary ascent of Kapelmuur, topping out some 17km from the finish in the East Flanders town of Ninove.
Within just four kilometres a group of three women headed up the road, Brit rider Lizzy Bennett (Drops-LeCol) joined by Kylie Waterreus (Multum Accountants LSK) and Claudia Jongerius (Bingoal Casino-Chevalmeire).
The three women were allowed their heads, soon building a lead of 3-30 after the first hour and 39km of racing. By the time they reached the race’s first cobbled sector, the Huisepontweg, with 67km remaining, the gap was out to 5-30, the bunch having been caught at a closed railway crossing.
Gaps this large are unusual in the women’s sport, but such was the power of the peloton as soon as they were released their deficit began to tumble. As they crested the Wolvenberg, closing in on the final 50km, the lead had been reduced to less than 2.30, the peloton pack behind.
It was on the Holleweg that the SDWorx team of world champion Anna van der Breggen came to the front, with the teams of all the favourites attentive on their wheels, though the race settled briefly as the leaders came into sight, just before the Molenberg.
A late dig form Jongerius ensured she was the last to be caught, but at the top of the Molenberg SDWorx returned to the front, stringing out a peloton already stretched by the climb, and eventually snapping the elastic.
It was here the hopes of 2016 winner, Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) were dashed when she and last year’s winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) were caught behind a split, which continued to open under pressure from SDWorx.
The revamped Dutch team’s strength made for a breathless final and forced a leading group of 35 women, including all six of their squad, and with such strength they were able to apply pressure on each of the climbs while retaining all options for the final. One of these digs on the Elverenberg with 30km to go, saw new signing Demi Vollering get up the road.
With such an imbalance of power the chase lacked cohesion, Vollering’s team mates jumping on any effort to close the gap. Working for Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky, only Liv Racing were happy to commit riders to the pursuit.
Vollering reached Geraardsbergen, home of the testing cobbled climb of the Kapelmuur with a lead of only 30 seconds, and as the road kicked up the lead began to drop.
As the road began to ramp up steeply, the cobbles becoming more aggressive, Italian champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) attacked the pack, and though she was caught near the top so was Vollering, and a group of ten women emerged ahead of the day’s final climb, the Bosberg.
On the lead in to the climb, Longo Borghini went again, though she was joined by two reluctant companions and the Italian was caught by Van der Breggen on the cobbled climb.
With the cancellation of the regular women’s opening weekend Sunday race, Omloop Het van Hageland and no women’s race at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the next time the women’s peloton are in action will be Le Samyn des Dames on Tuesday.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Women, Ghent – Ninove (124.4km)
1. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) SDWorx in 3-21-00
2. Emma Norsgaard (Den) Movistar, at 23 seconds
3. Amy Pieters (Ned) SDWorx, at same time
4. Lotte Kopecky (Bel) Liv Racing
5. Hannah Barnes (Gbr) Canyon-SRAM
6. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) Alé-BTC Ljubljana
7. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Ceratizit WNT
8. Grace Brown (Aus) Bike Exchange
9. Marta Cavalli (Ita) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, all at same time
10. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 26s