While the men’s peloton were competing in their opening weekend in Belgium, the women were doing much the same with their two races providing contrasting results.
A group of around 30 women contested the final of Saturday’s Omloop Het Neuwsblad, while the following day a lone rider took victory at Omloop van het Hageland Tielt-Winge.
Though both events are ranked UCI 1.1, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is the race most hanker after winning and the result was a surprise for many. Beating a number of the world’s top sprinters, Virtu Cycling’s Christina Siggaard won from a group of around 30 who made it through the same final kilometres as the men.
The Danish sprinter has been bubbling under the surface for a few years, joining the team on its inception last year, after racing for the British registered Matrix Fitness team in 2015.
Saturday was, however, the best result of her career and it is possible we will see more from the 23-year-old sprinter through the spring. Under the guidance of former professional Carmen Small, who retired only last year, the team is quietly building into a force to be reckoned with.
On Sunday at Omloop van het Hageland Team Sunweb were hugely aggressive, instigating nearly every break throughout the 131km race.
With eight kilometres to go they launched former world time trial champion Ellen van Dijk off the front. Though it was close, the power she used effectively in support of others last spring, was enough for van Dijk to notch up an early win.
Last year the women’s Het Nieuwsblad began in a car park three kilometres from the men’s event, so that both races started, were presented and finished in the same place on Saturday is a step forward. However, there were no pictures on the television coverage of the men’s race, the women’s event barely being acknowledged.
In contrast, Sunday’s event at Tielt-Winge, far east of Kuurne where the men were doing battle, was shown in its entirety via livestream, opening women’s racing to whoever can use a search engine and has time to watch.
Last year Team Sunweb were the team of the early spring, winning Het Nieuwsblad, Trofeo Binda and the Tour of Flanders, and Sunday’s result suggests they are ready to do the same in 2018. However, Hannah Barnes’ GC success at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana showed Canyon-SRAM’s intent, while Dani Rowe (née King) was very active for Waowdeals and Wiggle-High5 were also aggressive throughout Saturday’s race.
New world champion Chantal Blaak and her Boels-Dolmans team also raced aggressively in both the weekend’s races proving all the top teams are ready to fight at Saturday’s Women’s WorldTour opener Strade Bianche.