Classics

Inside Anna van der Breggen’s strategy at the Tour of Flanders

Anna van der Breggen bridged to Annemiek van Vleuten, setting up a dramatic showdown at the Tour of Flanders. Instead, van der Breggen chose a different strategy that was ultimately successful.

At Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, world champion Anna van der Breggen had a plan, and she was sticking to it.

Although the decorated Dutch rider could have attempted to add Flanders to her already-impressive 2020 palmares, she chose instead to manage the race for her Boels-Dolmans teammates.

“They already did a lot the whole season to help me,” van der Breggen told VeloNews. “For me it was really nice to race like that and do something for them.”

As its years of Women’s WorldTour domination show, the Dutch squad has riders for every type of race, and it often brings more than one card to the table. This year’s Flanders was no different: with van der Breggen, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Amy Pieters, and Jolien D’Hoore, there were four potential champions at the line.

Former world champion van den Broek-Blaak said the team had accepted Anna’s offer to race for the others, yet there wasn’t much of a plan beyond that.

“We had a meeting, and Anna said directly, ‘girls I race for you today,’ which is super nice because of course she can also win it,” she said. “But Amy is also in a very good shape, and Jolien, she showed last week that she also can win, and I also said, ‘yea this is a race I dreamed of.’ But then it’s actually easy, it’s just play the game together and try to make it work.”

Van den Broek-Blaak would ultimately solo to victory on Sunday, but only after van der Breggen reiterated the squad’s plan to Mitchelton-Scott rider Annemiek van Vleuten.

With 25km to go, van Vlueten attacked solo and appeared destined to hit the base of the Oude Kwaremont by herself when van der Breggen surged out of the group and bridged the gap 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. Although the tactical decision seemed to catch van Vleuten off guard, van der Breggen said that her compatriot’s reaction was disappointment, not surprise.

“I think she already knew this, it was not a secret,” van der Breggen said. “I was not starting to win for myself. We had a good chance to win if I didn’t continue with her. It was not my goal, I wanted to bring the three girls in.”

Eventually, the chasing group caught up to the two Dutchwomen, and van den Broek-Blaak was able to get clear on the long cobbled Kwaremont climb. She then held her gap onto and over the ultra-steep cobbled Paterberg with 11 riders chasing behind.

Given van der Breggen’s illustrious record-setting season, it would seem like her work for the team at Flanders was a one-off. However, as she heads toward retirement at the end of 2021, we might be seeing more of the Dutchwoman in the bunch.

“It’a also motivating for me to race not just for myself but to make a win for the team,” she said. “I really like to do it, it’s a different kind of racing, also for myself. Racing for me, yes, at one point I’m a bit tired of it. For me it’s nice to sometimes race for someone else.”