Anna van der Breggen powers to a solo victory at women’s Amstel Gold Race return

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Joining an exclusive winner list of Debby Mansveld, Leontien van Moorsel and Nicole Cooke, Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) crowned herself the winner of the inaugural Women’s WorldTour Amstel Gold Race today after an impressive solo.

The anticipation in the peloton of this first women’s Amstel Gold Race in 14 years was high and made for a fast, hard and open race. With too many favourites vying for the win until the final lap, it was Van der Breggen who made the race winning move in the lead-up to the final ascent of the Cauberg.

She went early but hard, gapping the chasers and reaching the finish a full 55 seconds ahead of the next rider Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans). The tightest of sprints for third played out just behind Deignan, resulting in not one but two third place finishers, Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott).

Highlights videos:

Amstel Gold Race (1.WWT) Maastricht → Berg & Terblijt

VAN DER BREGGEN Anna Boels - Dolmans Cycling Team
DEIGNAN Elizabeth Boels - Dolmans Cycling Team
NIEWIADOMA Katarzyna WM3 Energie
Women's Amstel Gold Race 2017 podium
2017 Amstel Gold Race: 1. Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans), 2. Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans), 3. Kasia Niewiadoma (Wm3 Pro Cycling) and, not pictured,  Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott)

Women’s Amstel Gold revival

We had to wait 14 years to see the return of a women’s Amstel Gold Race. While the men’s race dates back to 1966, women had to wait until 2001 for their first Amstel Gold Race, which resulted in a full Dutch podium with Debby Mansveld taking the win ahead of Mirjam Melchers and Leontien van Moorsel in third.

Leontien van Moorsel won in 2002  and Nicole Cooke crossed the line first in 2003. But when the women’s and men’s races threatened to clash during the 2013 edition, the organisers decided to pull the plug on the women’s race right there and then.

Despite lots of lobbying and requests to organiser Leo van Vliet to return a women’s event, it took over a decade to get the women’s race back on the calendar. And when it did, it was immediately awarded Women’s WorldTour status.

Two women who rode the last edition in 2003 lined up again today; Amber Neben (BePink-Cogeas), finishing 20th, and Trixi Worrack (Canyon-SRAM), 25th. Leontien van Moorsel was back as the women’s race director.

Nicole Cooke wins the 2003 Women’s Amstel Gold Race ahead of Australia’s Olivia Gollan.

How it went down

After a mixed team presentation, with men’s teams and women’s teams joining the stage alternately – and sometimes together – the women set off at 10.40 a.m. CET from the Market square in Maastricht, 20 minutes after the depart of the men.

With a lot of prestige and publicity surrounding the event, the women were eager to make the race an entertaining one and get into a break early. Dutchies Willeke Knol (Cylance Pro Cycling) and Winanda Spoor (Lensworld-Kuota) were the first to try, but it was a short-lived attack.

Marta Tagliaferro (Alé Cipollini) and Sara Mustonen (VéloConcept) were the next to try, but they didn’t get any leeway from the peloton either. The stakes were too high and as everyone wanted to stay at the front, the peloton was ‘grupo compacto’ as they flew up the first five climbs of the day.

There was nervousness in the pack, however, causing a big crash in the descent of the Eyserbosweg, which led to Bryony van Velzen (Lares-Waowdeals) and Ying Ting Huang (Servetto-Giusfredi) having to leave the race.

The Fromberg was the first point in the race where serious splits emerged, with two 20-rider groups reaching the top one after the other, followed by lots of smaller groups behind. The two front groups merged shortly after as there was still over 70 kilometers to go, with lots of wind.

Boels in control

Boels-Dolmans took control of the race heading toward the first passage of the finish line, pulling at the front. With their two title sponsors both based in Limburg, the area in the Netherlands where the race is held, the Amstel Gold Race had become a big goal as soon as the women’s race was announced.

During the first of the three local laps, eight leaders escaped on the Cauberg, including big names like Anna van der Breggen, Chantal Blaak and Lizzie Deignan, Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5), Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3 Pro Cycling), Women’s WorldTour leader Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) and Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon-SRAM).

As another 10 riders joined them — among them Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) — Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) put in an attack and got a few seconds on the field quickly. She got joined by the French individual time trial champion Audrey Cordon (Wiggle-High5), Tetyana Riabchenko (Lensworld-Kuota) and Roxane Knetemann (FDJ-Futuroscope-Nouvelle Acquitaine), and together the trio gained a 35″ advantage on the group behind.

But after another shuffle of the dice, a new group of three passed the finish line for the bell lap first. They were the same three women we saw at the front in Strade Bianche, the very first Women’s WorldTour race of the season: Deignan, Longo Borghini and Niewiadoma.

Van der Breggen attacks.
Van der Breggen attacks.

The winning move

In the chase behind, everyone looked to Team Sunweb to close the gap, as Van Dijk and Rivera, with the Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey within the team, had the most interest in getting the lead group back. The initial lack of action from the chase group resulted in a substantial gap for the trio, and it looked like the podium was set.

Eventually Van Dijk accepted her role and got herself to the front. As the European individual time trial champion, it was no problem for her to reduce the gap quickly. However, knowing not to close the gap completely as there were another four Boels-Dolmans riders in that group waiting for the merge to launch a new attack, she kept the leaders at a considerable gap.

On the penultimate climb of the race, the Bemelerberg, Van Vleuten accelerated and got Van der Breggen and Rivera on her wheel. They joined the three leaders and with the advantage in numbers for Boels-Dolmans, Van der Breggen put in the first attack from this group.

The five behind her never saw her back.

Van der Breggen went solo from before the Cauberg and arrived at the finish line almost a minute ahead of second place finisher, teammate Deignan.

Women's Amstel Gold Race 2017 sprint for second
The sprint for second…and third.

An unprecedented two third-place finishers

A first in Women’s WorldTour history, two riders were awarded third place. Niewiadoma, despite having some technical issues with her new green Ridley bike which she and Marianne Vos had received this morning, crossed the finish line in the exact same time as Van Vleuten, so both were awarded podium places. Longo Borghini rounded out the top 5.

“I gave it everything I had,” Van Vleuten said of her attack on the Bemelerberg. “There were some strong climbers there and I knew I couldn’t beat them on the climb so I tried to go before and then Anna jumped from my wheel. Then it was a sprint for second and it’s really special for me to come third at my first Amstel Gold Race in my home country.”

“It was a bit confusing at the finish,” Van Vleuten added. “The positioning of the line was strange, there was another line before the actual finish line and I thought I was already there and I suddenly thought no, I’m fourth! But in the end it was joint third, so that’s ok.”

“We wanted to make this a very hard race, which we did,” Pieters said, celebrating her team win. “Today was just perfect, we dominated the race from the beginning and managed to take the win ánd second place.”

“We knew we had to make this a hard race,” Van der Breggen said confirming the tactics. “When we joined the leaders, I immediately attacked. It was tail-wind there. Going up the Cauberg solo is always a gamble, but I had the legs to finish it. The crowds really made it special.”

“As a country, we’re doing pretty well in women’s cycling,” Van der Breggen added. “But we only had one Women’s WorldTour race in the Netherlands, with the Ronde van Drenthe. It’s very important that we now have this climber’s race too. Winning it means a lot to me.”

Women’s WorldTour standing after Amstel Gold Race

General classification
1. Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) – 375
2. Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) – 339
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) – 305

Young rider classification
1. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Cervélo-Bigla) – 16
2. Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal) – 10
3. Alice Barnes (Drops Cycling) – 10

Team classification
1. Boels-Dolmans – 781
2. Team Sunweb – 585
3. Orica-Scott – 554

Who are your favourites for the Flèche Wallonne Femmes and Liège-Bastogne-Liège?

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