Sophie De Boer (Kalas-NNOF) took the victory on Saturday in the GP Twenty20 Cycling race in Oudenaarde.
De Boer won by 18 seconds over runner-up Jolien Verschueren (Wielerteam Decock-Woningbouw Vandekerckhove), who bounced back from a poor start, with Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) third.
The Koppenberg race was the first in Belgium to feature equal prize money for men and women, thanks to a sponsorship from Baltimore-based Twenty20 Cycling.
Nikki Harris (Telenet-Fidea) led early, but at midrace De Boer made her move on the cobbles, catching Harris at the base of the climb and going clear on the way up. The rest of the race was pretty much a time trial for her.
“I surprised myself a bit today, but like I said on the podium, after the second lap I could already take the lead and I first thought, ‘It’s quite long now,’ because normally we do four laps and now we did five. But I felt strong and I thought, ‘Well, I’ll give it a go,’ and I saw I could make the gap,” said De Boer.
“You definitely have to ride your own race because if you spill energy on the climb … it is really important to ride your own race, and that’s exactly what I did. I tried to pedal on my own level up and keep focused on the downhill.”
De Boer said she had been a bit skeptical of her early results because “it’s the beginning of the season and you don’t know how everybody is.”
“So I’m so happy I could take the win again, and next week we have the European championship. With this ‘cross, it really gives me confidence.”
Likewise taking some good news away from Saturday’s race was Dutch rider and one-time overall World Cup winner Sanne Van Paassen (Boels Dolmans), who finished fourth, just off the podium, after missing all of last year due to injury. Van Paassen has contested other races, but this was her best result of her return to racing so far.
Helen Wyman (Kona Factory Racing), a perennial favorite on the Koppenberg, crashed on the second section of road and said she had to fight through some pain in her shoulder to finish, crossing in eighth place.
American Elle Anderson (Kalas-NNOF), who has been strong so far, was battling illness and finished a disappointing 21st.
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton contributed to this report.