Van Vleuten surprises herself to take fourth in her the first race back, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Sat 2 Mar 2019

World time trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten had an incredibly strong ride today in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, attacking throughout the day and eventually finished in fourth place, in her first race of the 2019 season.

Originally starting the race with no expectations, having made an early return to racing after injury, Van Vleuten began the day with the mindset of a worker. Attacking and making various sections and after some back luck for the team, with Gracie Elvin puncturing out of front group, it was only Van Vleuten left over the top of the Muur in the winning move.

Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) attacked away solo with 15km to go to take the victory with Van Vleuten still strong enough to sprint to fourth place despite a big workload.

A breakaway and a break

From the start of the 123km race the action was on with one rider, Nicole Hanselman (Bigla), jumping away from the bunch and leading solo, hovering around one minute 30ahead. Three riders tried to bridge across but were unsuccessful.

The women’s race was eventually forced to neutralise as the solo leader was catching up to the men’s steady riding peloton. Shortly after the restart, Hanselmann and the trio were reeled back just in time for the first cobble section, the Haaghoek.

Cold, Crashes, Cobbles and Climbs

The action really started again after 50km of racing with cobbles and climbs coming in close succession of each other. A large crash saw some splits in the peloton before the first big effort up the famous Molenberg climb.

In her usual fiery fashion, Van Vleuten battled hard up and over the climb and exited in a group with four others, but with no real cohesion at the front, the group was also reeled back in. The determined Dutch rider continued to push the pace, leading the peloton over the Paddestraat, which forced the bunch to split again, leaving just 15 riders at the head of the race.

Battle to break the bunch

Eventually the race came together again, swelling to around 40-50 riders before a continuous stream of attacks came. Jess Allen did a good job of leading leading the team into Rekkelberg and Berendries, before Van Vleuten tried attacks of her own, but she was heavily marked and Elvin suffered a puncture at a crucial moment.

The attacks continued and the leading group continued to split and as predicted it was the Muur which forced the race winning move. Van Vleuten was the only Mitchelton-SCOTT rider to make the selection over the top with seven other riders.

With many different teams in the selection, Van Vleuten was a little isolated and Blaak used that to her advantage, attacking from the group and staying away for the victory. Van Vleuten tried to chase with her ´all or nothing´ winning mentality, but Blaak was too strong and held off the chase for a win. 

Annemiek van Vleuten

“I felt good, I said in the radio I had good legs, I had really good legs today. We had a bit of bad luck with the team with Gracie Elvin, one of the leaders, having a bike change, that was bit sad and left me a bit isolated otherwise it would have been a really good race for us.

“Personally for me, I wanted to test my legs. I made a mistake, there was a lot of single riders apart from Boels-Dolmans in the group over the top of the Muur. I should have been on their wheels because Blaak went just after the Muur. That was a big mistake I should have really been looking at Boels.

“I started to work a lot in the front, I knew Chantal could stay away. I started to chase and then a lot of other girls started to work so it was actually good cooperation in the end. 

“I did so much work before in the race, the goal for us was to have a podium but for me I like to race just for the victory, so I gave everything to chase her back in the final because for me the victory was more important.”

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Women’s Results:

1. Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans)
2. Marta Bastianelli (Ale-Cipollini)
3. Jip van den Bos (Boels-Dolmans)
4. Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-SCOTT)

Photos courtesy of Getty Images