Elisa Balsamo sprinted to victory at the Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne, her second Women's WorldTour win in five days.
The Trek-Segafredo rider timed her effort on the long drag to the finish line perfectly, holding off Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) in the final, with Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ) in third.
The race was impacted by crashes, with a large incident bringing down more than 15 riders in the middle of the peloton with 17km to go.
Balsamo was left without teammates in the final of the Belgian classic, and hit the front with 150m to go to take the win. She revealed after the finish line that she was only told that she had to sprint in the last kilometre of the race.
How it happened
The route for the women's version of the Classic Brugge-De Panne was much the same as the men's on Wednesday, with one lap removed.
As a result, it was an incredibly flat and fast day for the 135 riders heading out of Bruges on Thursday.
There were many aborted attempts to make a breakaway stick, with the first move proper containing Hannah Ludwig (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team), Antonia Gröndahl (IBCT), April Tacey (Le Col-Wahoo), and Nicole Steigenga (Team Coop - Hitec Products) forming at 150km. However, they never were allowed much leeway by a peloton keen to keep a handle on things.
One team, Parkhotel Valkenburg, were clearly upset to miss that first move, as they sent two riders, Kirstie van Haaften and Marith Vanhove, up the road 10km later to try and expand the break. They formed together with 115km to go, but were not even allowed a minute to the peloton.
In fact, they were caught with 76km until the De Panne finish line, which seemed like far too early for things to come back together, but clearly, there was a real impetus within the peloton to control things for the sprint which would come a couple of hours later.
Another attack with 73km to go saw another four head up the road, from smaller teams. Danique Braam (Bingoal Casino-Chevalmeire-Van Eyck Sport), Sara Van de Vel (IBCT), Fien Delbaere (Multum Accountants Ladies Cycling Team), and Senne Knaven (AG Insurance-NXTG Team)
However, yet again they were not allowed much distance and were caught not even 20km later.
As the peloton crossed the finish line for a second time, the bunch was fully formed with everyone together. Mieke Kröger (Human Powered Health) tried to do something special, and attacked with 19km to go, but she never looked like holding off the might of the riders behind.
Meanwhile, a narrowing of the road between two hedges appeared to cause a big crash with 16.8km to go, which brought down well over 15 riders, and took some out of contention.
The bunch reformed, and caught Kröger, and readied itself for the fast finish. Another Crash, which brought down Anna Trevisi (UAE Team ADQ) with 2.6km to go, did not take as many riders down, but did split the peloton into smaller groups, impacting the final sprint.
Movistar were the first to move, in an attempt to create the conditions for Emma Norsgaard to win. However, Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo), having just been informed that she was the team's only representative in the front group, showed her skill and strength to power in front. Behind, there was little that Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) could do, as her winning run came to an end.
Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne 2022 (162.8km)
1. Elisa Balsamo (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, in 3-52-11
2. Lorena Wiebes (Ned) Team DSM
3. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) UAE Team ADQ
4. Uneken Lonneke (Ned) SD-Worx
5. Maria Martins (Por) Le Col-Wahoo
6. Emma Norsgaard (Den) Movistar
7. Chiara Consonni (Ita) Valcar-Travel & Service
8. Alice Barnes (GBr) Canyon-SRAM
9. Lotte Kopecky (Bel) SD-Worx
10. Clara Copponi (Fra) FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope
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