Dutch riders dominate the racing at the first big European women's event of the 2017 season in Belgium
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the first European race of the women’s professional season, saw the Dutch dominate. Team Sunweb’s women’s team are registered in the Netherlands and it was new signing Lucinda Brand who took the honours, with her compatriot and new team-mate Ellen van Dijk in fourth place.
After a flurry of attacks in the final 20 kilometres, the 27-year-old went clear of the remaining group of six riders, soloing to victory, some 15 seconds ahead of second-placed Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans).
Both joined the team from other Dutch outfits this year and even before the race began in Ghent this morning, it appeared as if such strength and experience would transform the team.
Cold wind was blowing across Flanders when the peloton left the Centrum Eddy Merckx, Ghent’s second velodrome, and the peloton seemed content to take their time easing into the new season.
Almost immediately Demmy Druyts (Sport Vlaanderen-Etixx) escaped, building a lead of over three minutes. However, as the peloton approached the Tiegemberg, the day’s second climb, the gap began to tumble.
By the time the peloton reached the bottom of the Kluisberg, some 52km into the 124k race, she was caught, and just 12 kilometres later the leading teams lifted the pressure, and a leading group of around 35 riders was formed on the climb.
Over the top, Van Dijk and Wiggle-High5’s Elisa Longo-Borghini went clear. Both are excellent time triallists, but when the Italian began missing turns the pair were caught by four others, including Brand.
Also in the group were two riders from Orica-Scott, however one of them, Amanda Spratt was struggling to maintain contact and was dropped in the final.
A flurry of attacks, including from Annemiek van Vleuten, the Australian team’s other rider, led to Brand’s final effort and a podium of three Dutch women, with Blaak in second and Van Vleuten third.
“I think us Dutch like these courses,” Brand said after the race. “They are are hard and maybe we are born for it.
“Ellen was very strong and that gave us confidence, but we had to decide which way to play it with such strong riders in the group.
“I had the last attack but that was the hard part, the final 5km. But it was really cool.”