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The 2018 European season officially kicked off at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on February 24, where the women’s peloton battled cold temperatures, the famous Muur van Geraardsbergen and plenty of cobblestones.
Yet despite the challenging terrain and competitive field, the 122-kilometre ended in a double surprise. First, it was an uncommonly large group that entered the final kilometre, with around 30 riders contesting the win. And then, as some of the top calibre sprinters like Chloe Hosking (Alé Cipollini), Jolien d’Hoore (Mitchelton-SCOTT) and Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) barrelled toward the white line, it was young Danish rider Christina Siggaard (Team Virtu) who came out ahead. By coming across the line in Meerbeke first, the 23-year-old surprised herself as much as her competition and kicks off the new season with a career-best result.
“Unreal,” exclaimed Siggaard in the post-race interview. “This is a dream come true and you work so hard for it but that it’s actually happened now, it’s unreal right now.”
Canyon-SRAM’s Alexis Ryan finished in second place and Italy’s Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Valcar-PBM) rounded out the podium.
The season opener
For those who hadn’t made the trek to the Land Down Under for the Australian Summer of Racing events, the Belgian classic marked the first big race of the new season, although some teams opted for warmer weather at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana stage race in Spain instead.
As Canyon-SRAM’s Hannah Barnes, Pauline Ferrand Prevot and Kasia Niewiadoma were busy defending Barnes’ lead in the Spanish stage race, an equally strong squad of Alexis Ryan, Elena Cecchini, Tiffany Cromwell, Lisa Klein and Trixi Worrack showed up for the team presentation in Gent.
Alé Cipollini was also splitting their roster between the two races, but decided to bring two strong sprinters, Chloe Hosking and Janneke Ensing to mix things up at the Belgian classic.
Boels-Dolmans meanwhile made their season debut in Gent with a mixed squad, balancing young talents Jip van den Bus and new American recruit Skylar Schneider with veteran support of Karol-Ann Canuel, Christine Majerus and new world champion, Chantal Blaak.
Already a three-time podium finisher at this event, Blaak would surely be looking for a good result in her first race in the rainbow jersey.
As the defending team, Team Sunweb showed up in full force with last year’s winner Lucinda Brand, breakout sprinter Coryn Rivera and super domestique Ellen van Dijk among them.
Lots of eyes were on the black-and-white team yet competition would surely come from hometown favourite, Belgian sprinter Jolien d’Hoore who made her debut for the Australian-registered Mitchelton-Scott team.
All in all, it was a highly competitive peloton and the race would be an opener of the legs as well as a glimpse at new kit designs, who had a good winter of training and what may be in store for us this 2018.
The first half of the race was an active one as the peloton neutralised one attack after the other. It wasn’t until the pack hit the first cobbled climb, the Molenberg that a diminished peloton of 70 riders formed. Still too big a peloton, riders continued trying to form a break and with 35 kilometres to go, something promising formed.
Nine riders representing all the big teams got away and quickly earned a 50 second advantage. With riders like Rivera (Sunweb), Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-SCOTT), Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM), Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5), Chloe Hosking (Alé Cippolini), Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans) and Dani Rowe (Waoweals) in the lead bunch, the winner would likely come from within them.
But in the run in to the infamous Muur van Geraardsbergen, the breakaway rode too timidly and was reeled in.
After the Geraardsbergen and Kapelmuur climbs, only 25 to 30 riders remained in the lead group who, facing a headwind, approached the final kilometres together.
An unlikely podium formed perhaps leaving some of the race favourites miffed, but for the fans it’s an exciting development as we enter a brand new season.
Christine Siggaard first, Alexis Ryan finished second place and Italy’s Maria Giulia Confalonieri in third — each of them netting a career-best result.
1. Christina Siggaard (Team Virtu)
2. Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM)
3. Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Valcar-PBM)
4. Chloe Hosking (Alé Cipollini)
5. Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb)
6. Nina Kessler (Hitec Products)
7. Jeanne Korrevaar (Waowdeals)
8. Jolien d’Hoore (Mitchelton-SCOTT)
9. Marta Cavalli (Valcar-PBM)
10. Audrey Cordon (Wiggle-High5)