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There will be no rainbow curse for Annemiek van Vleuten.
Van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), the reigning UCI world road champion, won Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in stunning fashion in Belgium. The Dutch rider attacked over the Muur van Geraardsbergen solo and then held off a strong chase group containing Marta Bastianelli (Alé-BTC Ljubljana) and defending champion Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) to win her first race of the 2020 season.
The victory came amid cold and rainy conditions across the Flemish Ardennes region.
“Hard. Cold. Epic— really Flanders weather with a really nice attack on the Muur is also special,” van Vleuten said at the finish.
Van Vleuten’s dominating win was even more impressive considering her luck on the day. She suffered a jammed chain midway through the 122.9-kilometer race, and had to stop and attend to her bicycle as the peloton powered away. TV cameras caught images of van Vleuten chasing solo for several kilometers as she burned valuable energy to try and regain the peloton.
Ahead, the peloton shattered into several groups until a front group containing the pre-race favorites separated itself inside 40 kilometers to go. The group was patrolled by Christine Majerus (Boels-Dolmans), who brought back several attacks as the group approached Geraardsbergen.
It was all van Vleuten on the famed climb. She rolled to the front of the peloton and tapped out a punishing tempo at the base, drawing out Floortje Mackaij (Team Sunweb), Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo), and Blaak.
As the hill tipped upward van Vleuten accelerated over the bumpy cobblestones as the other riders fell away. She crested the hill at the base of the famed Oudenberg Chapel with a 10-second advantage on Mackaij, with van Dijk, Bastianelli, and Blaak further down still.
“I can’t believe this has happened because I am always such a slow starter and I know I usually grow into the season. So to start like this, I really didn’t expect to be solo over the Muur, I thought more girls would follow me,” van Vleuten said.
“If you win solo you can really enjoy the last kilometres and I really enjoyed those moments today, it is my first win here and in the rainbow jersey is an incredible feeling.”
The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad route follows the old course of the Tour of Flanders, and the chase group tried to pull back van Vleuten as they hit the Bosberg and the flat run-in to Ninove. But ahead, van Vleuten crouched into time trial position and simply powered away. By the time she hit the finishing straight, she owned a 35-second advantage on the group.
Van Vleuten slowed to unzip her black rain vest, exposing the rainbow striped jersey underneath, as she rolled across the line.
The victory is a sign that van Vleuten has hit top form for the early classics, which in past years she has used to build fitness for her goals later in the season. This year van Vleuten said she hopes to hit the early season races in Belgium and Italy on top form.
“I didn’t have any expectations, but my goal was to go hard from the bottom of the climb then check to see who was following me,” she said. “Only then could I make a decision on what to do, just see what the situation was and then deal with it.”
It’s a safe bet that van Vleuten’s rainbow jersey will be first across the line at more races in the coming weeks.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Gent-Ninove 122.9 kilometers
- Annemiek van Vleuten, Mitchelton-Scott, 3:34:55
- Marta Bastianelli, Alé-BTC Ljubljana, at 0:42
- Floortje Mackaij, Team Sunweb
- Chantal Blaak, Boels-Dolmans, both at s.t.
- Ellen van Dijk, Trek-Segafredo, at 0:44
- Elizabeth Banks, Bigla-Katusha, at 1:13
- Eugenia Bujak, Alé-BTC Ljubljana, at s.t.
- Chloe Hosking, Rally Pro Cycling, at 1:30
- Jip van de Bos, Boels-Dolmans
- Aude Biannic, Movistar, all at s.t