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It was just above freezing this morning in Gent, but the bright blue skies and the sun made it a cheerful and almost springlike Saturday morning. The tension that comes with the first big race of the season was palpable, especially among those who hadn’t made the trek to Australia, Qatar or San Luis for early season racing. The women’s peloton set out from the Flemish Cycling Centre Eddy Merckx with a record number of 198 riders. Due to thelarge numbers and early season nervousness, the race unfortunately started out with quite some crashes.
With a lack of wind in the early hours of the race, the peloton was still all together when it arrived at the first climb, the Nokere hill. It was clear Wiggle High5 and Canyon SRAM had plans for today, with each team leading the peloton in the less bumpy gutters on either side of the road. Elisa Longo-Borghini was the designated Wiggle High5 worker today as she did the lion’s share of the work at the front.
Quite different was the situation once the peloton passed the Côte de Trieu. The wind started wreaking havoc in the peloton and riders got dropped on the climb. At the Paterberg, the next climb on the schedule only a couple of kilometers further along the course, a group of around 20 riders started their ascent a little ahead of the rest, with the peloton shattered in groups by now. Dutch champion Lucinda Brand (Rabo-Liv) led the peloton on the steep Paterberg with Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS) and Wiggle High5 riders Emma Johansson, Amy Pieters and Mayuko Hagiwara on her wheel.
But it all came back together as the peloton rode into a strong headwind, and there was little action, At one point, it even looked like the race would end in a bunch sprint, which hasn’t happened since 2009. But Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans) wasn’t going to let that happen and shook up the peloton at the Molenberg, 35 kilometres from the finish, launching an unsuccessful attack, but causing the final lead group to form in the process.
Elvin again showed to be in great form when she escaped the lead group together with Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) at 25 kilometers to go. The two got a maximum advantage of 40 seconds, but when Elvin didn’t take over the lead anymore, Armitstead decided to go on her own.
Elvin was caught by the chase group, but Armitstead plowed on by herself and showed her class by arriving at the final meters of the race with a 37 second advantage to her chasers.
After an impressive ride, Armitstead showed that the rainbow curse is nothing but a fable, proudly displaying the rainbow stripes on her torso as she crossed the finish line solo.
“The rainbow jersey curse? I was number 13 today as well. That shows how much I believe in those things. Yeah. I think World Champions aren’t lucky,” she commented afterward. “You work hard and you don’t suddenly stop working next winter because you’re world champion. It gives me extra motivation more than anything.”
Behind her, the chase group sprinted for second place, with Armitstead’s teammate Chantal Blaak winning the sprint and Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM) finishing in third place. After two podium places in Het Nieuwsblad in 2014 and 2015, Armitstead can finally celebrate a win in Gent.
Be sure to visit Ella CyclingTips tomorrow for an expanded report on the race and a photo gallery by Sean Robinson and Balint Hamvas of Vélofocus.
DEIGNAN Elizabeth DEIGNAN Elizabeth Boels - Dolmans Cycling Team
|Boels - Dolmans Cycling Team||03:23:05|
VAN DEN BROEK-BLAAK Chantal VAN DEN BROEK-BLAAK Chantal Boels - Dolmans Cycling Team
|Boels - Dolmans Cycling Team||0:29|
CROMWELL Tiffany CROMWELL Tiffany Canyon//SRAM Racing