US national champion Ruth Winder won the tightest of sprints at Brabantse Pijl on Wednesday (April 14).
The Trek-Segafredo rider won by a matter of millimetres after SDWorx rider Demi Vollering celebrated early, the American pipping the Dutch rider on the line.
Winder and Vollering had been on the wheel of Elisa Balsamo (Valcar Travel and Service) when she opened her sprint, and the two emerged from her slipstream to duke it out for the win, with the Italian coming in third.
A six-woman group had broken away at the beginning of a final 22km lap, and worked flawlessly together to build a lead of over a minute on the chasing group. Vollering had already done a lot of work, and seemed confident as the kilometres ticked by, leading onto the final climb to the line and for much of the penultimate kilometre.
Winder remained well hidden in the group, and though her Dutch rival was able to slip back into the group in the closing 1000m, the American only put her nose in wind as she opened her sprint.
Brit Jos Lowden has had an excellent season for Drops-Le Col and bagged her best result in Overijse with fifth place.
Trek-Segafredo and SDWorx are the two deepest teams in the peloton but Trek only had three wins to their name coming into Wednesday’s race.
How it happened
Brabantse Pijl has only been a UCI classified event since 2018, when Marta Bastianelli (Alé-BTC Ljubljana) won, but was previously known as the Pajot Hills Classics, which had two editions in 2016 and ’17.
Since the rebranding it has become increasingly important as a cross-over race from the cobbles of northern Belgium to the hillier races of the south.
An uphill finish and a total of 22 climbs, some of which were covered three times on a closing circuit, the race provides a stiff challenge for those building their form ahead of those better known events to follow.
The race headed east to start, hitting the closing circuit and the short but sharp Hertstraat the first of the ascents which would be covered three times, just after joining the closing circuit with 65km covered.
Ridden twice, that 22km circuit contained five climbs, including the final one kilometre at an average 4.3 per cent gradient to the line.
The only early action came on the the climbs, with teams like Parkhotel-Valkenburg, Canyon-SRAM attempting to animate before finally one of Lotto-Soudal’s attacks resulted in Jesse Vandenbulcke got away.
The Belgian was only able to gain 25 seconds lead though, other teams reacting and towing the whole peloton back together as the race entered the final 80km. This set off a ripple effect though, with first Tibco-SVB trying their luck and Rupelcleaning also getting away.
Even Trek-Segafredo’s Lauretta Hanson tried her luck, but the race stayed resolutely together, the peloton apparently content to wait for the flurry of climbs that would come on the local lap. Here, on the cobbled Hertstraat the pace lifted significantly, and the peloton’s back door began to creak open, riders being dropped.
Moskesstraat, another cobbled climb, saw the attacks begin in earnest, a group of around five women getting off the front, and while they were unable to consolidate their pace saw more women dropped, as the peloton began to thin dramatically.
By the time the race crossed the line for the first time, with 44km to go, less than half the 140 starters remained, though the race calmed once again.
Seven women emerged from the first ascent of the Hagaard, just after the finish line, and though they upped the pace they were joined by three more, including Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) undermining cooperation, the pace easing and a large group re-formed.
More attacks form the bunch came on the uphill approach to the line next time round, Annemiek van Vleuten setting up her Movistar team mate, Leah Thomas who led the way drawing five others with her. The American was joined by her compatriot national champion, Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo), Demi Vollering (SDWorx), Juliette Labous (DSM), Elisa Balsamo (Valcar Travel and Service) and Brit Jos Lowden (Drops-Le Col) who led onto the final lap.
The six women led the race by 30 seconds as they reached the top of the Hertstraat for the final time. Behind both BikeExchange and FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope had missed the move and tried to close the gap but the leaders took an advantage of 55 seconds into the final 10km.
On the Moskesstraat climb Emila Fahlin (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) led a counter attack but succeeded only in taking Van Vleuten, Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo) and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio with her, and with each having a team mate ahead, the move broke down.
Despite a chase by another Brit, Amelia Sharpe (NXTG) and Pauliena Rooijakkers (Liv Racing), as the leading group hit the bottom of the climb to the line they led by more than one minute.
Brabantse Pijl Elite Women, Lennik – Overijse (127.3km)
1. Ruth Winder (USA) Trek-Segafredo in 3-20-00
2. Demi Vollering (Ned) SDWorx
3. Elisa Balsamo (Ita) Valcar Travel and Service
4. Leah Thomas (USA) Movistar
5. Jos Lowden (Gbr) Drops Le Col), all at same time
6. Juliette Labous (Fra) DSM, at 6 sec
7. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) SDWorx, at 57 sec
8. Emilia Fahlin (Swe) FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope
9. Lucinda Brand (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
10. Pauliena Rooijakkers (Ned) Liv Racing ,all at same time