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At the end of the first cobbled Classic of the season, Jolien D’Hoore (Boels-Dolmans) sprinted to her first victory of 2020.
D’Hoore was one of a breakaway of 11 riders who separated themselves from the peloton on the legendary Kemmelberg climb and barely stayed away to battle for the win in the sprint.
D’Hoore took a clear win in the final kick ahead of her newly crowned Belgian national champion Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal), with Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT) taking third on the day.
How it happened
Riders tried to establish breakaway moves for much of the stage but nothing stuck in the first hour of racing. The maximum advantage that any escapees got was still under 30 seconds, but they were not able to get away before the Scherpenburg, the first of seven climbs, brought the peloton together once again.
Over the next few climbs, the Vidaigneberg and the Baneberg, riders were spat out the back of the peloton but there was still no attempts of riders to get off the front. The Kemmelberg, one of the decisive climbs of the race, broke the peloton apart, but when the climb was over the peloton all came together again. Even over the Plugstreets, with 47km to go, when the peloton fractured, it did not last long. The pace eased over the top and some of the dropped riders were able to regain contact with the peloton.
With the final climbs of the day in sight, Trek-Segafredo converged at the front of the peloton to increase the pace. At the base of the penultimate climb of the day, the Monteberg, Trek-Segafredo started to lose momentum Sunweb took over the pacemaking. With the Monteberg and the Kemmelberg so close together the riders distanced on the Monteberg were not able to regain contact before the front of the race hit the cobbled ascent. Gaps formed on the climb as Elisa Longo Borghini of Trek-Segafredo set the pace over the top of the Kemmelberg.
With the climbs behind them and only 35km to go, the race was on in full. Gaps that had looked promising on the climb became more established on the descent, as a few riders, including Liane Lippert of Sunweb, crashed on one of the technical corners.
When the dust of the Kemmelberg settled it was a group of 11 riders that found themselves at the front of the race. Trek-Segafredo had the numbers, with Women’s World Tour leader Lizzie Deignan, Ellen van Dijk, and Elisa Longo Borghini. Two Boels-Dolmans riders also made the selection, D’Hoore, and Amy Pieters. The majority of the lead group consisted of solo riders, including Kopecky, Sarah Roy (Mitchelton Scott), Lisa Brennauer, Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg), Marta Cavalli (Valcar-Travel & Service), and Lauren Stephens (Tibco SVB).
Behind the 11 leaders Team Sunweb, CCC-Liv, Canyon-SRAM, and Paule Ka had joined forces to bring back the leaders. Into the final 20 km of the race the gap from the chasing, much reduced, peloton to the leaders was hovering around 34 seconds and the cooperation of the breakaway was starting to fall apart.
Into the final 10km of the race, the dance began: Who would work, and who would try to just sit on? The advantage for the front group was only 20 seconds, and the group behind had more legs than those in front. As more riders stopped pulling in the front, the gap came down to under 20 seconds in the final 5km.
Attacks started to fly off the front nearing the final 3km. Vollering was the first to try, followed by Van Dijk. Amy Pieters tried her luck, chased down by Longo Borghini. The chasing peloton was tantalizingly close to the catching the front of the race, only 7 seconds in the final 2km, but the catch was never made.
At the end of an incredibly exciting 5km of attacking, it came down to a sprint between the breakaway riders, with D’Hoore taking the victory. The win marks the first of the 2020 season for D’Hoore, who, like many others, has barely had any race days this year.
D’Hoore’s Boels-Dolmans team wins the savviest teamwork award. Although Amy Pieters wasn’t on the front to lead out D’Hoore, she initiated the sprint from the back of the group, forcing Kopecky, who looked to be the strongest sprinter in the finale, to start her sprint too early.
Kopecky still took second place, followed by Brennauer to round out the podium.
1 D’HOORE Jolien (Boels – Dolmans Cycling Team) 3:33:15
2 KOPECKY Lotte (Lotto Soudal Ladies)
3 BRENNAUER Lisa (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling)
4 ROY Sarah (Mitchelton-Scott)
5 CAVALLI Marta (Valcar – Travel & Service)
6 STEPHENS Lauren (Team TIBCO – SVB)
7 VOLLERING Demi (Parkhotel Valkenburg)
8 DEIGNAN Elizabeth (Trek-Segafredo Women)
9 PIETERS Amy (Boels – Dolmans Cycling Team) 0:05
10 LONGO BORGHINI Elisa (Trek-Segafredo Women) 0:08