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A victory at the iconic Tour of Flanders was one of the few items still missing from Anna van der Breggen’s incredible palmares, but she chose to rectify that today with pure dominance.
Proving once again that she is the absolute best soloist in women’s cycling, Van der Breggen attacked with a little over 20 kilometres to go, and conquered the remaining two climbs, sidewinds and long straight-aways by her lonesome.
As she reached the finish, the Strada Bianche winner even put in a little sprint. The golden stripe on her helmet — the one that identifies her as the reigning Olympic champion — glistened and a smile crept up from underneath it. She crossed the line with a solid 1’20” gap over the peloton and plenty of time to celebrate.
Behind her, the sprint for second place was won by teammate Amy Pieters. Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitcheton-SCOTT) came in third, rounding out the all-Dutch podium.
“Winning de Ronde here in this way. I did not expect that. It’s pretty high on my list of victories,” Van der Breggen commented after the race. “De Ronde is a great race. It’s tough but really fun.”
1. Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans)
2. Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans)
3. Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchel-SCOTT)
4. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cerveo-Bigla)
5. Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans)
Van der Breggen and Boels unmatchable again
After a slight delay, the 15th edition of the women’s Tour of Flanders started in a rain-soaked Oudenaarde. As one of the hardest and most prestigious one-day races on the calendar, the star-studded peloton was tense and riders were keen to show off. And so it wasn’t long after the completion of the neutral roll-out that individual riders started taking flyers off the front.
None offered much of a threat, however, and it wasn’t until the third cobbled sector that the peloton started splintering.
As the pace ramped up, the wet roads and rough cobbles claimed several casualties and mechanicals.
Dutch rider Natalie Van Gogh (PushingDreams) took the first big initiative of the day with a long solo breakaway and the pack seemed quite content to let her dangle in front as the early kilometres ticked on.
But once the climbs came in shorter succession, Van Gogh was swallowed up.
The peloton continued on “gruppe compatto” until a big crash tore the field apart. Riding in the top front of the pack, Australian sprinter Chloe Hosking (Ale Cippolini) slipped and hit the asphalt hard, causing a chain reaction of crashes. Several riders were forced to abandon and Hosking and Roxane Fournier (FDJ-Nouvelle) were carted off to the hospital.
A now severely diminished peloton headed into the famous Muur, where a small group of riders took advantage of the chaos to try and get away. Boels-Dolmans’ Christine Majerus led up the steep climb with Ellen van Dijk (Sunweb), Jolien d’Hoore (Mitchelton-SCOTT) and Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) on her wheel.
A breakaway of six riders reached the top of the Muur first, but in the long descend and flats leading into the next climbs, the peloton regrouped and took the opportunity to refuel, lose their jackets and touch base with teammates.
A couple accelerations and breakaway attempts followed, but they were fruitless. It was clear that the field was preparing themselves for whatever action would come on the challenging Kanarieberg, Kruisberg and Paterberg that were yet to follow.
While the pace up the one-kilometre Kanarieberg was high, it was free of any fireworks. Still, the damage had been done and tired legs were starting to show. Riders, including last year’s second place finisher Gracie Elvin (Mitchelton-SCOTT), were getting shelled off the back and had little chance of making contact again once this week’s Dwars door Vlaanderen winner Ellen van Dijk took the lead. The Sunweb rider continued to set the pace up the next cobbled climb, the Kruisberg, causing the peloton to split even further.
Just as a strong 10-rider breakaway was trying to organise itself, Van der Breggen leapt off the front. There were more than 20 kilometres to go yet, but Van der Breggen has a knack for picking just the right time to attack, which earned her many victories including an historic Ardennes Triple in 2017.
“I had it in my head beforehand to attack there. Yes it’s far but if you feel good, it’s doable. And if it doesn’t work out, I had strong [teammates] behind me,” Van der Breggen commented after the race.
It’s the “strength in numbers” Boels-Dolmans tactic we’ve seen play out so many times before, but despite Van Dijk’s best efforts to not let Van der Breggen slip away, she failed to match the acceleration.
Looking behind her for help, Van Dijk found little support. The chase failed to organise while Van der Breggen increased her lead. Ten seconds became 30. And before long, the Olympic champion had a comfortable one-minute advantage.
Van der Breggen was gone, and not even the windy straight-aways diminished her lead.
The race was now for second place.
A small group including Niewadoma, Pieters, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo-Bigla), and Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-SCOTT) emerged over the final climb, the Paterberg together, and the runner-up would surely come from among them.
With a strong lead-out by Megan Guarnier, Pieters easily handed Boels-Dolmans the one-two, while Van Vleuten rounded out the all-Dutch podium.
The Women’s WorldTour continues on April 15 with the first of the Ardennes Classics, the Amstel Gold Race, in The Netherlands.
3 March – Strade Bianche, Italy
11 March – Ronde Van Drenthe, The Netherlands
18 March – Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Italy
22 March – Driedaagse De Panne, Belgium
25 March – Ghent-Wevelgem, Belgium
1 April – Tour of Flanders, Belgium
15 April – Amstel Gold Race, The Netherlands
18 April – Flèche Wallonne, Belgium
22 April- Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Belgium
26-28 April – Tour of Chongming Island, China
17-19 May – Tour of California, USA
19-22 May – Emakumeen XXXI. Bira, Spain
13-17 June – Women’s Tour, Great Britain
6-15 July – Giro Rosa, Italy
17 July – La Course by Le Tour de France, France
28 July – RideLondon Classique, Great Britain
10 August – Vargarda team time trial, Sweden
12 August – Vargarda road race, Sweden
16-19 August – Ladies Tour of Norway, Norway
25 August – GP de Plouay – Lorient Agglomération, France
28 August – 2 September – Boels Ladies Tour, Netherlands
16 September – Madrid Challenge by la Vuelta, Spain
21 October – Tour of Guangxi, China