Grace Brown solos to victory at Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne

Just seven seconds after Brown, Emma Cecilie Norsgaard and Jolien d'Hoore crossed the line second and third.

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Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) attacked with exactly 10 km to go, soloing to a narrow victory in De Panne. A group of strong sprinters finished just seven seconds after Brown, with Emma Cecilie Norsgaard of Movistar and Jolien d’Hoore of SD Worx finished second and third, respectively.

This is Brown’s first WorldTour victory after an impressive tail-end to the 2020 season.

“I am in shock a little bit,” Brown said at the finish. “On paper, this isn’t really a race that suits me, it’s very flat and often for the sprinters, so I knew my only chance here was to do an attack and I can’t believe that I pulled it off.”

How it happened

Attacks flew for the first 30 km and eventually Lizzy Bennett (Drops-Le Col p/b Tempur) found herself solo off the front. The young British rider got up to a minute of advantage on the peloton but once the race reached where the finishing circuit met the lead-in Bennet was brought back to the peloton.

The race remained compact and relatively calm until finally, with roughly 77 km to go, the race hit some crosswinds and SD Worx hit the front of the peloton. The strong Dutch team split the peloton into multiple echelons, with a few key riders getting caught out.

The road once again changed directions with 70 km to go and two of the chasing echelons rejoined the reduced front group, but the feel in the peloton shifted and the speeds increased.

With 45 km remaining the peloton passed the finish in De Panne for the second time and headed out on their final circuit around the Belgian countryside.

Amy Pieters (SD Worx) took to the front of the peloton with 36.4 km to go, at the same point on course where the race had split before. The peloton was squeezed to the lefthand side of the road with crosswinds coming from the righthand side to the left. SD Worx, Ceratizit-WNT, and Movistar took advantage of the winds to split riders out the back of the race.

With 33.9 km to go the peloton was completely strung out, with splits appearing all over the place. As the peloton took their first left turn in 2 km a small group was all that was left at the front. Crucially, Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing) was trapped between the first and second groups and forced to chase the leaders. She quickly regained contact, but the effort was not one the Belgian national champion would have wanted to spend.

Ceratizit-WNT had numbers in the lead group with Kirsten Wild and Lisa Brennauer, alongside race favourites Alice Barnes (Canyon-SRAM), Brown, Jolien d’Hoore, Pieters, Emma Cecilie Norsgaard, Chloe Hosking (Trek-Segafredo), and Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Travel & Service).

Behind the leaders, Alé BTC Ljubljana and Team DSM tried to close the gap. As the race approached 25 km to go the gap for the front group was 30 seconds. The number of sprinters in the group did not discourage the leaders from organizing to put more time between themselves and the chasers.

A few of the sprinters in the lead were lucky enough to have a teammate with them. Hosking had Lauretta Hansen, Norsgaard had one teammate while Wild and Brennaur were supported by Julie Leth. Unfortunately, with 17 km to go Brennauer suffered from a flat and over a minute long wheel change removed her from contention.

Even with the front group working together, the chasing group led by Team DSM closed down the gap to the front of the race second by second. With 12 km to go the time difference between the two groups was only 25 seconds, leaving no breathing room for the leaders.

Brown made her move with 10 km to go. Pieters was the one to respond, but not fast enough. Brown’s gap grew immediately, with so many sprinters behind no one was willing to chase. Into the final 5 km, Brown’s gap had increased to 20 seconds and an additional 40 seconds to the next chasing group. Still, the group of sprinters didn’t give up the chase, and with 2 km to go the gap had dropped to 13 seconds.

The sprinters and their teammates left their chase too late and Grace Brown crossed the line only 7 seconds ahead of Norsgaard and D’Hoore to take her first WorldTour victory.

Results, Top 10

1 BROWN Grace (Team BikeExchange)
2 NORSGAARD Emma Cecilie (Movistar) +0:07
3 D’HOORE Jolien (SD Worx) st
4 KOPECKY Lotte (Liv Racing) st
5 BALSAMO Elisa (Valcar-Travel & Service) st
6 WILD Kirsten (Ceratizit-WNT) st
7 HOSKING Chloe (Trek-Segafredo) st
8 BARNES Alice (Canyon-SRAM) st
9 PIETERS Amy (SD Worx) +0:12
10 LETH Julie (Ceratizit-WNT) st

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