The long anticipated race season has finally begun with a nail-biting weekend of action from the women's pro peloton in Belgium.
The Spring Classics launch the European leg of the cycling season, beginning with the Omloop het Nieuwsblad, in Belgium. Famed for steep climbs, cobble sections and narrow roads, this 2 day event was going to test the athletes on all abilities. Fresh from winter training, it was exciting to see the women battle it out on the roads.
Omloop het Nieuwsblad - Saturday February 25th
Saturday's race began in the north of Gent and headed towards Drongen. There were 9 gut busting climbs in total, of which 6 were cobbled, with the first climb ramping up after the 28 km mark: the Nokereberg climb.
The peloton held tight until individuals saw opportunity to make the attack. The first big break came from Demmy Druyts (Sport Vlaanderen-Etixx) who held a lead of 3:30, before the peloton swallowed her back in on the Kluisberg climb.
Ellen Van Dijk (Team Sunweb) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) made a break from the peloton, gaining a lead of over 1:00. Chantal Blaak (Boels Dolmans) and Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) chased the front riders with Annemiek Van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt (Orica-Scott) catching up also.
Brand made a bold break from the pack and opened up a gap of 10 seconds to the chasers, which increased as the kilometres ran down. Brand managed to hold out and crossed the line with plenty of time to celebrate her first victory of the season.
1 Lucinda Brand (Ned) Team Sunweb Women
2 Chantal Blaak (Ned) Boels Dolmans Cycling Team
3 Annemiek Van Vleuten (Ned) Orica Scott Women
4 Ellen Van Dijk (Ned) Team Sunweb Women
5 Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Wiggle High5
Despite crashing earlier on, Trixi Worrack (Canyon//SRAM) managed to get up and brush off the fall without any major injuries. She said: "I went down in a crash when the action really started... It took too long to get up and fix my chain and get going again. I think in some way it was good that I crashed. After my big crash last year this was my first crash. So in a way I feel it’s good that I’ve had one small one now."
Unfortunately there was no live coverage of the women's race on the Saturday, something many fans and athletes voiced on social media...
Omloop van het Hageland (Tielt-Winge) - Sunday February 26th
On the Sunday, the women's peloton took the long and relatively flat route of the Omloop van het Hageland. The route comprised of one loop of 53.1km, followed by 5 laps of 15.2km, totalling over 120km in distance.
The intense race saw several breakaway attempts made, most of which featured Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5). At the end of the long loop, the Italian rider was clear in a group of five, which included Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans), and Longo Borghini’s breakaway companion from the previous day’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Ellen van Dijk (Sunweb).
Once this break had been caught, Jolien D’hoore (Wiggle High5) escaped in an eight-rider break, which again included Pieters, as well as fellow sprinters Barbara Guarischi (Canyon//SRAM) and Leah Kirchmann (Sunweb).
D’hoore’s break was caught on the penultimate lap, only for Longo Borghini to get away again with van Dijk, Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) and van Dijk’s teammate, sprinter Coryn Rivera. This group was 20 seconds clear of the peloton as they took the bell with just one 17.5km lap to go.
Just as the break was caught with just over 5km to go, however, Longo Borghini attacked yet again, and was alone and clear as she crested the Roeselberg. Into the descent the Italian Time Trial Champion had a nine second advantage but, with so many sprinters in the bunch behind her, their teams gradually closed her down as the line approached.
In the closing 500 metres, Longo Borghini was caught, and Jolien D’hoore made her sprint move. The former Belgian Champion managed to hold out to take her second Omloop van het Hageland in three years.
1 Jolien D'hoore (Bel) Wiggle High5
2 Chloe Hosking (Aus) Alé Cipollini
3 Sarah Roy (Aus) Orica Scott Women
4 Lotta Lepistö (Fin) Cervelo Bigla Pro Cycling Team
5 Lotte Kopecky (Bel) Lotto Soudal Ladies
The women can get some well deserved rest and recovery before they head to Italy next weekend for the Strade Bianche.
You may also enjoy: