When we spoke to Lizzie Armitstead at the Boels Dolmans team launch in January she told us she had two key goals for 2016: to win the Women's Tour of Flanders, and to win the Olympic road race in Rio.
After a series of incredible victories to kick off her year in the Rainbow jersey, Armitstead crossed off goal number one at the Belgium cobbled classic to take the win today, outsprinting Wiggle High5's Emma Johansson after a two-up combined effort.
The race ran ahead of the men’s on the same roads – the dual event providing thick crowds and boundless excitement, especially with many spectators having ridden the sportive the previous day. With them was TWC contributor Hannah Troop, who will be bringing us her record of the day early next week.
Over 114 miles and 10 treacherous climbs, there was plenty of opportunity for the peloton to split, which it duly did over the incline of the Kanarieberg. The lead group stayed together, with riders driving the pace, especially those from Armitstead’s team Boels Dolmans.
Ellen van Dijk put the pressure on over the Oude Kwaremont, whilst Armitstead remained in the pack, ready to attack over the infamous Paterberg as the team had planned. Perhaps anticipating the move, last year’s victor Elisa Longo Borghini of Wiggle High5 attacked, but she was quickly caught. Then Johansson made her own move, taking Armitstead with her – but no one else.
The two riders managed to create a gap, despite the chasing peloton behind. By the time the pair reached the top of the Paterberg they had almost 20 seconds on the pack. The gap did dip, right down to 10 seconds by the time the escapees got to the final kilometre, but they’d done enough.
The race came down to a sprint between the two, with Armitstead throwing her bike over the line ahead of her Swedish accomplice. Behind them, last weekend's Gent Wevelgem winner Chantal Blaak made it to third place, further cementing the position of Boels Dolmans as leaders of the peloton so far this year.
Speaking after the race, Armitstead said: “It’s really special to win, and to win in the rainbow jersey is even more special. It was the perfect day."
Wiggle High5's Johannson did an impressive job flying the flag for the team who have struggled a little in the early spring races. She said: "When you’ve done everything you can, and you know you’ve done everything right - and when someone is that much better than you - of course you’re disappointed, but I think we did a really nice race. The whole team was really good; we did what we were supposed to do, we took it in our own hands, and I just loved the racing today... It’s just a pity we couldn’t be there on the top step today. We would have deserved it; we really did everything we could to be there. It was close, but I’m sure it will come soon."
The race was the fifth event in the UCI Women’s World Tour, the next edition will be La Flèche Wallonne Féminine on April 20 - see the full calendar here.