Annemiek Van Vleuten took her third win of the year with a consummate performance at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday.
The former road and double-time trial world champion outsprinted compatriot Demi Vollering after the pair rode the final 13km alone. The two women escaped on the day’s final climb, the Bosberg, and with two SDWorx teammates in an eight-woman chasing group Vollering was able to sit on.
The two Dutch women entered the final 2000m with a lead of more than one minute, but Van Vleuten eased up, imploring Vollering to come through. However, the younger woman held fast, staying out of the wind as their lead began to come down, despite finessing in the chasing group.
As the peloton caught the chasers, Vollering finally came through inside the last kilometre, leading ahead of one of right-angled bends. However, it was Van Vleuten’s nous and experience which won the day, the Movistar rider dive-bombing on a bend 400m from the line, opening her sprint leaving Vollering unable to come by.
In her first race of the year, Vollering was left distraught in second place, while another Dutch rider, Lorena Wiebes (DSM) led the peloton home in third place.
Van Vleuten has started the year in formidable form, last week winning a mountain stage of the Setmana Valenciana Volta Comunitat Fémines, taking GC at the four-day race.
How it happened
The first of this year’s women’s cobbled classics set out from its home at the T’kuipke velodrome, home of the Ghent Six-Day, and took a typically circuitous 128.4km route to it’s relatively new finish in Ninove.
On the way the peloton encountered the season’s first cobbles and bergs, obstacles that will characterise the coming week’s racing. The day covered nine bergs, two of which, Muur Kapelmuur in Geraardsbergen, and the Bosberg were cobbled, along with another five stretches of pavé.
Not only are those two final climbs cobbled, they also come in quick succession, the top of the Bosberg coming a frantic 13km from the finish. The last three of the 17 editions have been won solo, with those final climbs proving pivotal to the result.
With just over 25km ridden a small break of two women escaped the peloton’s clutches, Emily Newsom (EF Education-Tbco-SVB) and Svenja Betz (IBCT) building a lead approaching four minutes. However, while Betz was dropped briefly, she was picked up by four others who caught the American and a group of six entered the final 55km with a lead of just over three minutes.
Newsom, Betz, Kylie Waterreus (Lotto Soudal), Anastasia Carbonari (Valcar Travel and Service) Laura Tomasi (UAE Team ADQ) and Fien Delbraere (Multum) completed the first stretch of cobbles, the Huisepontweg, with 57km gone and a lead of 3.20.
However, their lead was wiped out in the ensuing 15 km, and the race headed onto the Haaghoek and into the final 35km with Trek-Segafredo massed on the front.
While they led onto the Leberg, it was on this fifth climb that Swiss champion Marlen Reusser (SDWorx) powered clear, taking Liane Lippert, European champion Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) and British time trial champion Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma) with her.
The leading quartet worked well and when DSM and Trek-Segafredo spread across the front of the bunch on a narrow road they finally broke the elastic, the advantage quickly growing to more than a minute.
But on wider roads with the power of Movistar, Canyon-SRAM and FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope leading the way, the gap began to come down, and the lead was reduced to 29 seconds as they hit the bottom of Muur Kapelmuur.
On the climb Henderson was dropped, but crested the climb with 2020 winner Annemiek van Veluten (Movistar) and Demi Vollering (SDWorx), the latter sitting on as they chased the leading trio, including her team-mate.
Meanwhile, as three became six at the front, a third SDworx rider, Belgian road and time trial champion, Lotte Kopecky chased on alone, catching them at the foot of the Bosberg, the day’s final climb.
But, in true spring classics style, the race was in a constant state of flux. As they hit the cobbles, with three more women within touching distance, Van Vleuten attacked, with only Vollering able to hold the wheel.
Once again Vollering held the box hand, two teammates behind giving her the excuse to sit on, while Reusser led the chasers, whose number had swollen to eight. Despite Reusser’s effort, as the race entered the final five kilometres Van Vleuten had taken the leaders’ advantage to 55 seconds and the race was set for a two-up sprint.
Result Omloop Het Niewsblad Elite Women: Ghent - Ninove (128.4km)
1. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Movistar in 3-28-15
2. Demi Vollering (Ned) SDWorx, at same time
3. Lorena Wiebes (DSM) DSM at 25 seconds
4. Elisa Balsamo (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
5. Clara Copponi (Ita) FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope
6. Emma Bjerg (Den) Movistar
7. Anna Henderson (Gbr) Jumbo-Visma
8. Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Ita) Ceratizit-WNT
9. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) UAE Team ADQ
10. Julie Leth (Den) Uno-X, all at same time
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