Mitchelton-SCOTT women raring to start the Classics season with rainbow jersey for added motivationWed 26 Feb 2020
Mitchelton-SCOTT women’s team are ready to start racing on European soil this weekend with two Belgium Classics, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Omloop van het Hageland. World champion Annemiek van Vleuten will add a hint of extra motivation to the team as she makes her rainbow jersey debut in what will be her 11th appearance at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
The Dutch star will have a strong support squad around which includes new 2020 signing, fellow compatriot Janneke Ensing, who makes her debut in Mitchelton-SCOTT colours.
Van Vleuten will then sit out Sunday’s race as the team switches around slightly, with the Australian outfit lining-up with strength in numbers, with a seven-rider squad and muliple cards to play at Omloop van het Hageland.
Mitchelton-SCOTT at Omloop van het Hageland (1st Mar):
Jessica Allen – (AUS 26)
Grace Brown - (27)
Gracie Elvin - (AUS 31
Lucy Kennedy - (AUS 31)
Jessica Roberts - (GBR 20)
Sarah Roy - (AUS 33)
Georgia Williams - (NZL 26)
The first race, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, is much the same as previous editions with a challenge route that takes in 10 climbs, many of them iconic, such as the cobbled Molenberg, Berendries, Tenbosse, Kappelmuur and finishing with the Bosberg, just 13kilometres from the finish in Ninove.
The second race of the weekend, Omloop van het Hageland, has a slightly modified parcours for 2020 with a new run-in to the finish laps, which leaves the race more open to breakaway groups forming early on. The race is made up of one long opening loop of 54kilometres, followed by five finishing circuits of 15kilometres, with the Roesberg to tackle climb each lap.
The team has tasted success previously in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, with two consecutive wins in 2012 and 2013 from former riders Loes Gunnewijk and Tiffany Cromwell respectively. Last year Van Vleuten raced to fourth place, but the Dutch rider is hoping for more in 2020.
In Omloop van het Hageland, Gracie Elvin was the team’s highest place finisher in 2019 with a strong fifth place. The team has never quite been able to clinch the victory in the one-day event with their previous best result a close second place in 2014 with Emma Johansson.
Annemiek van Vleuten - Leader for OHN
“I am so keen to race, I have been training so much, my training period has been long enough, so I am really looking forward to Saturday. I think my preparation has been the best, the most enjoyable preparation from the last ten-years. I had an amazing winter with hard training but I enjoyed it a lot, especially training in the rainbow jersey, it gives that extra motivation.
“I think my base training has been really good, maybe not my high-end just yet but that is something we will see. Maybe I need a bit more racing to get that, to have that last percentage, but especially when the racing is hard for a long time, I think I will profit from all the work I have done through the winter.
“I know the course really well for Nieuwsblad. It will be my 11th time at the race and there’s some similar climbs and cobbles to Ronde van Vlaanderen. It will be my first race in the rainbow jersey and I just enjoy it so much everyday riding in the rainbow jersey.
"I don’t feel more pressure to be racing in the rainbow jersey just more motivated. It is nice that my family are able to come to watch, it is not my home country but almost like my home country being in Belgium.”
"I think the opening weekend always brings a mix of excitement and nerves for the whole peloton. Last year these races were my very first taste of the Spring Classics, so I’m returning this year with some learnings under my belt and higher expectations for my own performance.
"I felt good in the Australian races and I’ve built on that form over the last few weeks. This upcoming month of racing is one of my main targets for the year and I’m really hoping to start it off well with both races this weekend.
"Without Annemiek at Hageland I’m looking forward to having the freedom to race aggressively in the final there. The finishing circuit can be pretty tough and should either finish with a small group or solo win. I think our team is strong enough to get a result in either scenario."
Martin Vestby - Sport Director
“You can see a little bit how people have been going in the winter and with the racing in Australia and in Spain, but it is totally different racing in Belgium and Het Nieuwsblad is the real big, first test of the Classics season.
"There’s always a lot of questions around everyone, we know Annemiek has been training really well and had a good winter and I expect her to come in and be in good form. She is really motivated for the race and it is nice when Annemiek comes into races this motivated, it brings everybody up and we know we have a strong leader to support.
“We also have other riders like Ensing and Brown, who can handle this race and we know they are in good form, so we do have more riders to play with and hopefully be there in the final. I hope it is going to be a really interesting and hard race.
“For Hageland on Sunday we change the team up and it will be a little more open. The course has changed a little this year, so on paper it looks like it can be a bit harder and looks like there are more opportunities to create something before you arrive to the local laps. So on Sunday we have to play with our different opportunities and options.
“I think this weekend with the weather, there will be a lot of wind and rain and that can effect both races and makes them harder.”
2020 Opening Weekend Race Details:
Saturday, 29th February: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, 126.5km
Sunday, 1st March: Omloop van het Hageland, 130km
Photos courtesy of Getty Images