Marta Bastianelli continued her fine streak of form on Sunday, winning the Tour of Flanders. The Italian out-sprinted Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) in second place and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla), after the trio rode the closing 13km alone.
The group had formed on the run in to the final climb, the Paterberg, only 13km from the finish in Oudenaarde, and had initially included Canyon-SRAM’s Kasia Niewiadoma. The former Polish champion though was dropped at the top of the climb and unable to close the gap.
As the kilometres ebbed away and with European champion Bastianelli the strongest sprinter of the three it was down to the others to attack, and Van Vleuten was particularly active. The world time trial champion seemed below par and was unable to get a gap, with Bastianelli closing her down each time.
The trio had little time for cat and mouse, however, as a group of four was chasing hard in the closing 10km, and was within 25 seconds as they passed under the flame rouge with one kilometre to go.
It has been an extraordinary season for the former world road champion. She is yet to finish lower than eighth in 10 race starts, and now has three wins to her credit. She is also now the clear leader in the WorldTour standings.
How it happened
At 159km, this year’s Tour of Flanders was the longest since the women’s event was created in 2004. Won by Zoulfia Zabirova, that inaugural edition was just 94km, the increase in distance an indication of how the sport has developed in the intervening seasons.
This year that greater distance ensured the bunch were happy to let a large group of riders get away, and after only six kilometres four women led by 30 seconds, and they were soon chased down by three others.
Ilaria Sanguinetti (Valcar-Cylance), Giulia Marchesini (AromItalia-Vaiano), Kseniya Dobrynina (Sevetto-Piumate Beltrami TSA), Silvia Valsecchi (BePink), Séverine Eraud (Doltcini-Van Eyck), Kylie Watterreus (Healthmate-Cycle Live) and Chanella Stougje (Hitec Products) worked well and by the time 30km had passed their lead had increased to 3.15.
Behind there were some significant crashes. Winner in 2017, Coryn Rivera (Sunweb) was forced to abandon, and she was followed by Jip van den Bos, who was one of three Boels-Dolmans riders to hit the ground early on.
Passing through the start in Oudenaarde with 44km ridden, the lead remained in excess of three minutes, though that was to change as the intensity increased on the ten climbs which peppered the latter part of the race.
The Muur in Geraardsbergen saw the break begin to fall apart, Valsecchi, and Dobrynina losing contact, and the peloton followed suit on the vicious cobbled slopes.
With 60km to go the teams of the race favourites began to move to the front and the gap was reduced to the one minute as the race entered the closing 50km.
Here, as the bunch approached the climb of Kanarieberg, the pace increased spectacularly and the break was caught before Canyon-SRAM’s Tiffany Cromwell launched an attack.
Though she was caught at the top the race was now on and there would be little let up.
First Trek-Segafredo, then Boels-Dolmans and Mitchelton-Scott came to the front, their pressure ensuring the bunch lost numbers on every incline.
A brief lull in traction on the run in to the Oude Kwaremont saw some get back on, but when Bastianelli opened it up during the second half of the day’s longest cobbled climb, the race finally split apart.
Over the top Ludwig attacked the group which then included Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv), but when she punctured and Niewiadoma was dropped the podium was decided.
Tour of Flanders 2019 (Women’s WorldTour): Oudenaarde – Oudenaarde (159.2km)
1. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) Team Virtu, in 4-16-50
2. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott
3. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) Bigla, all at same time
4. Sofia Betizzolo (Ita) Team Virtu, at 7 seconds
5. Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
6. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM, all at same time
7. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boels-Dolmans, at 10s
8. Lisa Brennauer (Ger) WNT-Rotor, at 55s
9. Lucinda Brand (Ned) Sunweb
10. Amy Pieters (Ned) Boels-Dolmans, all at same time