The season has barely begun and Annemiek van Vleuten is already unstoppable

Van Vleuten took her second win of 2022 at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad when she beat Demi Vollering in a sprint.

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One week after winning the Queen stage and the overall at the four-day Setmana Valenciana-Volta Comunitat Fémines Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad for the second time in her career. A much different race from the mountain top on which she won solo in Spain, Van Vleuten sprinted to victory in Ninove against arguably one of the best sprinters in the peloton, Demi Vollering.

With Vollering (SD Worx), the winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège and La Course by the Tour de France, safe in her draft for the final 12 km of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad the odds were stacked against Van Vleuten in the two-person sprint that would decide the race. The dynamic was clearly getting on Van Vleuten’s nerves with 1.7 km to go when she asked Vollering to take a turn in the wind and Vollering refused.

To be fair, there was no need for Vollering to work. Lotte Kopecky, Vollering’s very fast teammate, was just under a minute behind and if Van Vleuten and Vollering were to get caught by the chasing group containing the Belgian national champion odds were in Kopecky’s favour.

Based on their sprinting performances in 2021 any sane person would put their money on Vollering to win in a two-up sprint against Van Vleuten. Sure, Van Vleuten used to be a pretty quick sprinter before 2016 when she moulded herself into the best climber in the world. But when Van Vleuten dived in front on the final corners to the finish and led the sprint to the line Vollering had no hope of coming around her. The overhead camera showed Vollering’s shoulders sag as she realized in the final meters that her race was over, she couldn’t beat the former world champion.

Perhaps it was the corner Van Vleuten took at speed that left Vollering on the back foot. Perhaps the frustration of having done all the work to stay in front of the race added a little extra power to Van Vleuten’s sprint in the end. “To beat someone that’s actually on paper faster and was all the time on your wheel and still beat her is a nice way to start the season,” Van Vleuten said at the finish.

Van Vleuten’s victory on Saturday continues what has already been a fantastic start to the 2022 season for the Dutchwoman, especially after she broke her pubic bone at Paris-Roubaix in October of 2021. No stranger to ending a season with broken bones and coming back stronger, Van Vleuten will head into Strade Bianche, the first WorldTour race of the women’s season, with an all too familiar target on her back. Already she has won in the high mountains, she has won in a sprint. What could possibly stop Van Vleuten in 2022?

One potential answer is SD Worx. Although Vollering will walk away from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad scratching her head the Dutch team was still the strongest team in the race, with Vollering and Kopecky making the crucial split over the Muur-Kapelmuur and Marlen Reusser present in a strong mid-race breakaway. When Van Vleuten executed her race-winning attack on the Bosberg there were three SD Worx riders in the group with her, the most of any other team. Trek-Segafredo were a close second with Ellen van Dijk and Elisa Longo Borghini.

It played into Van Vleuten and Vollering’s hands that the chasing group stacked with capable riders couldn’t organize to chase. Reusser was on the front a lot, seemingly keeping the speed up to make sure Van Vleuten tired herself out trying to stay away. The other chasers who didn’t have teammates in the group; Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma), Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Lianne Lippert (Team DSM) weren’t riding with Trek-Segafredo either. Because of this disorganization, their group was caught before the finish and Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) was able to sprint for the final podium spot.

Still, Van Vleuten will fly to Italy for Strade Bianche the rider to watch. She already won in the Piazza del Campo twice. In 2020 she put in an unreal performance to win solo by 22 seconds and in 2019 she won after only 10 weeks of training, having broken her knee at the World Championships the year before.

There have only been six days of racing in Europe for the women, and only five for Van Vleuten, but we could be looking at another year dominated by the former world champion.

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