Lotte Kopecky repaid incredible teamwork by winning the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, becoming only the second Belgian woman to win her home race.
In a repeat of her Strade Bianche success just a month ago, Kopecky out-sprinted Annemiek van Vleuten to win the race wearing the dreikleur jersey of national champion. After leading for much final 12km Kopecky’s SD Worx team-mate Chantal van den Broek-Blaak took third place.
It was a remarkable race and remarkable teamwork from SD Worx, the Dutch team marking every move, Luxembourg champion Christine Majerus a constant presence throughout the middle race, only burning matches when they needed to.
After the final climb, the Paterberg, the team had three women in a six-woman leading group and played their cards until only Kopecky, Van den Broek-Blaak and Van Vleuten remained. Van den Broek-Blaak led the race into the final 200m where Van Veluten started her sprint, but Kopecky had been sat on for 10km and had too much power, crossing the line with her head in her hands.
Movistar were also all in for one woman, Van Vleuten looking to become the first woman to win Flanders for a third occasion. However, their tactic seemed questionable at times, especially when their sprinter, Arlenis Sierra infiltrated a late break.
The 2022 edition was aggressive all day and it was complex; breakaways and attacks coming and going throughout. However, for the pre-race favourites the newly added Koppenberg, coming 44km from the line, was seen as a key point and they were intent on containing ahead of the fabled cobbled climb.
Only here did the race truly explode to become one that will remain in the memory.
How it happened
Since its inception in 2004 the Tour of Flanders has been the one-day jewel in the women’s calendar, and despite the introduction of other Monuments to the season it remains one of the most coveted races.
The first edition - won by Zulfiya Zabirova - covered just 94km, but women’s racing has been a pet project for organisers Flanders Classics, and they have extended it to 158.6km for this year. And while this is not the longest ever - the 2019 race was 600m longer - the key climb of Koppenberg has been added for the first time.
That came after 115km and was one of 11 climbs, six of which were cobbled, to go with an additional five sectors of pavé.
The peloton began with a long loop east, including the cobbled Paddestraat and Lippenhovestraat, the day’s climbing beginning only after they returned through the start in Oudenaarde, the tarmacced Wolvenberg opening hilly hostilities with 68km done.
By this time the day’s breakaway of Clara Honsinger (EF Education-Tibco-SVB), Sofie van Rooijen (Parkhotel Valkenburg), Olivia Baril (Valcar Travel and Service) and Maria Martins (Le Col-Wahoo) had started to dissolve.
A further chasing group had struggled for momentum until Katrijn De Clercq (Lotto Soudal), Naomi De Roeck and Lotte Popelier (both Bingoal Casino - Chevalmeire - Van Eyck) were joined by Canyon-SRAM’s Tiffany Cromwell.
After the Wolvenberg only Honsinger and Baril remained at the front, and with 80km remaining the peloton was closing in on the now shattered pursuing group and bringing the leaders’ advantage to just 2-30.
On the Molenberg Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo) upped the pace, briefly shattering the bunch and catching what remained of the pursuers, before two climbs further on and the American team tried again, this time 2014 Flanders winner Ellen van Dijk upping the pace stretching the bunch. Brand then went again, this time with British time trial champion Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma) on her wheel, though they took were soon back in the peloton.
This was about the sum total of Trek-Segafredo’s contribution, despite the pre-race hype over world champion Elisa Balsamo, who eventually 27th, 1-13 down.
A 20km stretch with no classified climbs ensued and saw three more attack, reaching the front and making for five leaders. With Marit Raaijmakers (Human Powered Health) Camilla Alessio (Ceratizit-WNT) and Maike van der Duin (Le Col-Wahoo) now at the front and the peloton steeling themselves ahead of the final, the leaders’ gap increased to 1-30.
Even as the race for the Koppenberg lifted the speed of the bunch, the five leaders took 1-45 onto the fabled climb and it was Van der Duin who led over the top, though by the time she did the bunch were in view.
Last year’s winner Annemiek van Veluten (Movistar) led the bunch, though by then she had three SD Worx riders on her wheel in Demi Vollering, Marlen Reusser and Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky.
While the Koppenberg split the race, allowing a group of nine women, including three each from Movistar and SD Worx to get a small gap, back on tarmac a peloton of around 40 reformed, the leaders coming ever closer.
The Taaienberg also failed to shatter the pack, but it put paid to the breakaway, only Van der Duin staying away, though the Le Col-Wahoo rider was caught on the descent as SD Worx took control.
Once again the race entered a period of flux, this time 11 women representing most of the biggest teams escaping on the undulating run towards the Kruisberg, the first of the final three climbs.
However, not only did the cobbled Kruisberg shatter the leading group, Van Vleuten put in her first attack, though unusually she was unable to escape, and as what was left of the peloton re-formed on the Hotond, where SD Worx went again, this time European time trial champion Reusser attacking over the top.
After a brief rest on the back, and as cohesion in the leading group began to fail, the Swiss rider Reusser attacked, and while she was quickly caught, her team-mate then upped the pace, putting pressure on Movistar who were chasing behind despite the presence of their sprinter, Arlenis Sierra at the front.
FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope’s Australian Brodie Chapman led onto the cobbles of the Oude Kwaremont, and working with Reusser they led until the Paterberg. Meanwhile, with Van Vleuten leading the peloton fell apart, though the Dutch rider was unable to drop the SD Worx pair of Kopecky and 2020 winner Chantal van den Broek-Blaak.
As Chapman and Reusser descended to the foot of the Paterberg, the day’s final climb, Van Vleuten’s chasing group had swelled to eight, SDWorx with two. As she did last year Van Vleuten made her effort on the fearsome cobbled slops but only managed to reach caught Reusser on the top, Kopecky, Van den Broek-Blaak on their coattails with Chapman and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) close behind.
With superior numbers SD worx played their cards. First Reusser then Van den Broek-Blaak attacking, forcing Van Vleuten to chase. Pushing a huge gear she caught the Dutchwoman, only succeeding in dragging Kopecky with her and the three Dutch riders headed towards Oudennarde certain of filling the podium.
Tour of Flanders Women, Oudenaarde - Oudenaarde (158.6km)
1. Lotte Kopecky (Bel) SDWorx, in 4-11-21
2. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar, at same time
3. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Ned) SDWorx, at 2 sec
4. Arlenis Sierra (Cub) Movistar, at 40 sec
5. Marlen Reusser (Sui) SDworx
6. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Den) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope
7. Grace Brown (Aus) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope
8. Kasia Niewiadoma (Pol) Canyon-SRAM all at same time
9. Brodie Chapman (Aus) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope, at 42 sec
10. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) UAE Team ADQ, at 1-10
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