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Chantal Blaak wins women's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad after solo attack

Martin James
2 Mar 2019

Dutch champion uses the Muur as a springboard to victory after absorbing day of racing

Dutch champion Chantal Blaak produced a perfectly timed attack on the Muur van Geraardsbergen to ride away from her rivals to win the women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday.

Blaak’s powerful ride up the cobbled climb in the closing stages of the race left only a handful of riders clinging to her back wheel, then she simply rode away from them ahead of the final climb of the day, crossing the finish line a full minute clear.

Italy’s Marta Bastianelli (Team Virtu) won the sprint for second, ahead of a second Boels-Dolmans rider, Jip Van den Bos.

Another Boels-Dolmans rider, world champion Anna Van der Breggen also finished in the chase group, having disrupted efforts to go after teammate Blaak in the closing stages of the race.

Also present was defending champion Christina Siggaard (Team Vertu), who crossed the line 9th.

Classic cobbles classic

The route for the women’s Omloop may only have been 123km compared to the men’s race’s 200km, but gave nothing away in terms of difficulty.

Like the men’s race, the women would finish on the gruelling Muur/Bosberg double before a 12km dash to the finish in Ninove, with all the incessant changes of road surface, width, direction and gradient typical of racing in this part of the world.

Unlike the men’s version, though, the women’s Omloop isn’t part of the WorldTour, but the race’s heritage, along with the fact that it would be streamed live online (when other Classics in the region don’t even bother with a women’s race at all), ensured a strong entry.

The web feed was video only, with no commentary, but if anything that only made it more interesting, as it allowed the race itself to do the talking.

Or for the most part it did. A blunder by the organisers forced the racing to a standstill at a level crossing with barely 30km raced, robbing the riders – and especially the small break that had gone clear early on – of all momentum and leaving many faces in the peloton looking more than a little bemused.

Once the race resumed, it was clear that no one team was strong enough to dictate the pace on their own.

Canyon-SRAM, Mitchelton-Scott, CCC, Sunweb, Trek-Segafredo and – of course – Boels-Dolmans were all at the front at some point, and the fact that no one team was in control for long says a lot for how competitive women’s racing has become.

One of the main reasons they all wanted to be in front was to minimise the risk of getting caught up in or delayed by a crash, a particular concern given the cold and wet conditions.

But there’s not much you can do when the crash happens at the front, as it did with the peloton negotiating a downhill cobbled left-hander with some 70km to go.

More than a dozen riders came down, and while the pace eased off at the front to allow the peloton to reform, it was a significantly smaller group when it did.

It set the tone for much of the next hour or so of racing. The state of the race was in constant flux, responding to the road surface and changes in gradient. It was continually being broken apart and put back together, but the numbers involved were steadily dwindling.

There were plenty of attacks off the front too, but nothing managed to stick, and it became increasingly obvious that the race would be decided on the Kapelmuur and Bosberg, like we always suspected it would.

As a front group of no more than 40 riders hit the foot of the climb, Blaak immediately took to the front, and set a punishing tempo. By the top of the climb, only seven others were anywhere near her.

But Blaak wasn’t done – in fact, she was only getting started. Putting the power down over the top of the Kapelmuur, she simply rode away from her rivals, cresting the final climb of the day, the Bosberg, with a 30 second advantage.

With teammate Van der Breggen refusing to work, only Annemiek Van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) seemed to have the appetite to mount a pursuit, but nobody would work with her, and second by second Blaak continued to build her advantage.

In the end, she was left with plenty of time to soak up the applause as she rode solo up to the finish line.

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