Boels-Dolman also captured second with sprinter Amy Pieters, who won the bunch sprint ahead of Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal).
As van den Broek-Blaak rode solo for the victory, Mitchelon-Scott tried in vain to reel her in, attacking and counterattacking to get clear in the final 25 kilometers. The effort was for naught, as Boels-Dolmans used its team strength to stymie the chase.
In the end, it was a victorious day for Boels-Dolman, who had reigning world champion Anna van der Breggen doing a huge amount of work on the front at various points in the race.
“I feel very happy,” van den Broek-Blaak said. “I have waited the whole season for this moment. I have dreamed about this race for a long time. Now I finally have it.”
How it played out
Only 20 teams took the start in Oudenaarde after three pulled out for COVID-19 reasons, and a fourth withdrew due to financial reasons.
Defending race champion Marta Bastianelli was forced to miss Flanders after her Alé BTC Ljubljana team was sidelined with a COVID-19 positive. The Astana and Chevalmeire squads withdrew with concerns over COVID-19 spiking in Europe. And Equipe Paulé Ka, with its title sponsor failing to pay its sponsorship fee, ceased existence altogether in an unfortunate situation that left riders unable to race.
Another pre-race favorite, Marianna Vos of CCC-Liv, opted not to race.
The 136-kilometer race took place with few fans along the road, as Flanders Classics, the event’s owner, told fans to stay away due to the global pandemic.
Still, the race unfolded like a typical edition of the cobbled monument. After a flurry of early attacks, one move stuck with 120km to go, containing Teuntje Beekhuis (Lotto), Gloria Rodriguez Sanchez (Movistar), Alice Sharpe (Ciclotell), Mieke Kröger (Hitec Products), Heidi Franz (Rally), Ariadna Trias Jordan (Massi Tactic) and Emily Newsom (Tibco).
Sharpe punctured out, but the other five soldiered on until the Taaienberg, where they were caught with about 40km to go. Over the top, U.S. national champion Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) took a short dig, but was brought back by world champion Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolman), who had been doing a huge amount of chasing of the original break.
Riding in the rainbow jersey, van der Breggen spent a lot of time in the wind — not just rotating through, but locking in for a minutes at a time.
A seemingly decisive move came with 25km to go, when Annemiek van Vlueten attacked solo and appeared destined to hit the base of the Oude Kwaremont by herself. It was van der Breggen who surged out of the group and bridged to her compatriot on a paved descent, setting up a potential two-woman battle for the finish.
Rather than rotate through, van der Breggen simply stayed on van Vleuten’s wheel, opting not to ride. The tactical decision seemed to catch van Vleuten off guard, and she stopped pedaling entirely. Eventually, the chasing group caught up to the two Dutchwomen.
The 136km race finished with the Oude Kwaremont/Paterberg duo, as the men’s race did earlier that day.
With the long Oude Kwaremont softening up what was left of the front group, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Boels-Dolman) was able to get clear on the long cobbled climb. Blaak held her gap onto and over the ultra-steep cobbled Paterberg with 11 riders chasing behind.
On the mostly flat run-in to the finish, it was van Vleuten who took up the chase, with van der Breggen happy to sit behind with her teammate up the road.
With 10km to go, van den Broek-Blaak’s gap held steady at 17 seconds, as none of the other riders showed any interest in helping van Vleuten in the chase. Van Vleuten grew frustrated, dropped to the back of the group, and then attacked futilely.
While van Vleuten got nowhere, her Mitchelton-Scott teammate Grace Brown was able to get clear — but Amy Pieters jumped on for the ride, with her Boels-Dolman teammate up the road. At about 6km to go, they were caught.
While the chase group accordion’ed with the attacks and counters, van den Broek-Blaak just stayed head down and time trialed away, her gap ever growing. At 5km to go, she had more than 40 seconds, and the realization that her dream of winning the Tour of Flanders was about to come true.
Tour of Flanders
- Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Boels-Dolmans
- Amy Pieters, Boels-Dolmans
- Lotte Kopecky, Lotto-Soudal
- Lisa Brennauer, Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling
- Sarah Roy, Mitchelton-Scott
- Alena Amialiusik, Canyon-SRAM
- Dmi Vollering, Parkhotel Valkenberg
- Elisa Longo Borghini, Trek-Segafredo
- Lauren Stephens, Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank
- Marta Cavalli, Valcar-Travel Service