World champion Chantal Blaak bagged her first WorldTour victory in the rainbow bands on Sunday at Amstel Gold Race.
The 28-year-old out-sprinted compatriot Lucinda Brand (Sunweb) and Australian Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) into second and third place respectively.
After a tense final 10km, the trio broke away from five fellow escapees on the last of three accents of the Cauberg with just under two kilometres to go. Spratt attacked first but Blaak was able to follow, racing the intelligently until she followed Brand when she opened her sprint first.
The event is the home race for Blaak’s Boels-Dolmans team, the route passing the HQ of sponsor Dolmans, and the pressure was on the team to repeat Anna van der Breggen’s success at last year’s race.
How it happened
Under clear blue skies the 116.9 km race set off from Grote Markt in Maastricht, soon rolling through huge crowds who had come to see both men’s and women’s events begin.
The race comprised an opening section of 66km before it entered a final circuit of 16.9km, which the peloton tackled three times. This loop took in the the Geulhemmerberg, Bemelerberg and the race’s signature climb, the Cauberg, the last of which was ascended four on occasions. Unlike the men’s race, this remains the event’s final challenge, the finish line coming around one kilometre over the top.
The opening kilometres were uneventful, a crash for Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) and a front wheel puncture for Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) who placed third here last year, the only moments of note.
With 40km behind them, Blaak’s Boels-Dolmans team came to the front on the approach to the Eyserbosweg, the fifth of the day’s 17 climbs, lifting the pressure. However, it was only on the seventh climb, the Keutenberg and its 20 per cent ramps, that the pressure told, the peloton splitting into three, the front group comprising 40 riders.
As they approached the Cauberg for the first time eight riders broke clear. Blaak, Spratt and Brand joined by Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM), Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo-Bigla), Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Wiggle-High5), Riejanne Markus (Waowdeals) and Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance) crested the Cauberg with a lead of 30 seconds over the chasers.
With all the top teams represented in that group, however, their advantage soon exceeded 2.30, as behind them the peloton reformed.
Though the gap came down to just over one minute, a late effort to catch the break by Movistar and Alé-Cipollini failed, and by the time the leaders crossed the finish line for the penultimate time their advantage was 1.35.
As the leaders began the final ascent of the Bemelerberg, their lead at 1-15, Sunweb came to the front, slowing the pursuit to protect the interests off Brand ahead.
“It’s amazing, I had so many fans on the road and I heard my name so many times and that is good for my morale today,” Blaak said afterwards.
“It is always complicated if you are with eight in the breakaway, you are the only one from your team and you have the trust from behind, so I am the one who has to do it today because everyone of my team is strong enough to win. So it was in my hands and that is pressure, but I like that.”
The Women’s WorldTour enters an intense phase now, with the next race La Flèche Wallonne coming on Wednesday, followed next Sunday by the second edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Amstel Gold Race Women (116.9km)
1. Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boels-Dolmans, in 3-24-17
2. Lucinda Brand (Ned) Sunweb, same time
3. Amanda Spratt (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 3s
4. Riejanne Markus (Ned) Waowdeals, at 4s
5. Alexis Ryan (USA) Canyon-SRAM, at 14s
6. Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Fra) Wiggle-High5, at 41s
7. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita) Cylance, at 56s
8. Lotta Lepistö (Fin) Cervélo-Bigla, at 1-30
9. Eugenia Bujak (Pol) BTC City Ljubljana
10. Marianne Vos (Ned) Waowdeals, all same time