Annemiek van Vleuten wins a gritty Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in the rainbow stripes

The Dutchwoman returned from an early mechanical to attack on the Kapelmuur, 17km from the line to take the win in her first race of the year

Another remarkable performance from world champion Annemiek van Vleuten saw her win the women’s race at Omloop het Nieuwsblad on Sunday. The Dutchwoman attacked at the bottom of the Kapelmuur, 17km from the line, and soloed to the finish in characteristic style.

A group of five women had formed after the climb and set about chasing van Vleuten, but with five teams represented, the pursuit was not cohesive.

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Over the top of the race’s final climb, the Bosberg, Ellen van Dijk, returning to action after a serious crash last season, attacked, though was unable to get away.

However, that move dropped British rider Lizzy Banks (Bigla-Katusha), leaving just four riders to chase down a growing lead.

As the race progressed towards the finish in Ninove, and Van Vleuten’s advantage grew to over 35 seconds, and the chasers began to look at each other, appearing to accept their fate.

With Van Vleuten secure over the line, last year’s winner Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) started her sprint early, however Marta Bastianelli (Alé-BTC Ljubljana) came over the top to take second place ahead of Floortje Mackaij (Sunweb), with van den Broek-Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) fourth.

Riding only her second cobbled classics campaign, and after positioning herself perfectly all day, Banks finished an excellent sixth place.

How it happened

The 126.5km race rolled out of Ghent in rapidly deteriorating weather, rain and high winds likely to affect the peloton as they headed for the 10 Flemish bergs and five cobbled sectors.

Attacks began in the opening kilometres, with Nicole Hanselmann (Doltcini-Van Eyk) getting away alone. The Swiss rider made the news for doing the same last year when she caught the back of the men’s race convoy, causing her event to be briefly halted.

There were no such issues this year though, with Hanselmann unable to gain any meaningful advantage she was caught after only 10km, swapping places with team-mate Marieke van Witzenburg.

She suffered the same fate though when a small group tried to bridge and succeeded only in bringing the race back together. Doltcini-Van Eyk were clearly feeling feisty though, sending  Christina Schweinberger up the road, and she was soon joined by Maaike Boogaard (Alé-BTC Ljubljana) and Femke Markus (Parkhotel-Valkenburg).

Her legs unable to match the team’s ambition, Schweinberger was soon dropped and overtaken by lone chaser Emily Newson (Tibco-SVB), the American joining the leaders to form a group of three at the front.

However, though the trio built a lead of 50 seconds, as they reached the day’s first cobbled sector, Haaghoek, after 42km, they were caught, Boels-Dolmans upping the pace in an attempt to split the peloton.

At 2km, Haaghoek stretched the bunch, and when British rider Lizzy Banks (Bigla-Katusha) took to the front on the Leberg, more women were left trailing off the back. This set a pattern, the pace lifting and dropping the leading group consequently thinning then swelling.

One of the increases in pace came with 73km remaining, Sunweb taking to the front on a corner. There van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) suffered a dropped chain, leaving her stranded at the side of the road and forced to endure a long ride to get back on.

While she eventually rejoined the bunch, the succession of climbs and cobbled sectors combined with pressure from Sunweb and Boels-Dolmans to leave many others scattered across Flanders.

The conclusive selection came 48km from the line, when once again Sunweb lifted the pace. Many of the big teams were well represented in that group, and they shared the work, increasing the gap to a large bunch as the race’s decisive points approached.

With 32km to go a brief dig from American champion Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) on the Tenbosse set a flurry of attacks in motion on the run into Geraardsbergen, and the Kaplemuur climb.

Van Vleuten made her move at the very bottom, leading round the corner onto the cobbles, then riding her rivals off her wheel as the gradient bit, dropping Sunweb’s Floortje Mackaij, and leaving the remainder of the group was in tatters.

Over the top, her lead was just 11 seconds, but the chase was not yet organised, and by the time the five riders began working the win was gone. 

Result

Women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2020: Ghent – Ninove (126.6km)

1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton Scott, in 3-34-55
2. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) Alé-BTC Ljubljana, in 42 seconds
3. Floortje Mackaij (Ned) Sunweb
4. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Ned) Boels-Dolmans), both at same time
5. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Trek Segafredo, at 44s
6. Lizzy Banks (Gbr) Bigla-Katusha, at 1-13
7. Eugenia Bujak (Slo) Alé- BTC Ljubljana, at same time
8. Chloe Hosking (Aus) Rally Cycling, at 1-30
9. Jip van den Bos (Ned) Boels-Dolmans
10. Aude Biannic (Fra) Movistar, both at same time