Dwars door Vlaanderen saw some flameouts, a few surprises, and confirmation that this spring classics season is wide open.
Long-distance attacks worked in both races, hinting that despite the calculus that a team is stronger than the individual, aggressive racing still sets the tone in any race. Annemiek van Vleuten and Kasia Niewiadoma pulled clear with about 35km, and Dylan Van Baarle even longer at about 50km to go.
Though there were a few marquee names missing in both races, the moves fended off determined chases to come up winners. Here’s what the day’s main protagonists had to say:
Annemiek van Vleuten delivers first victory for Movistar
Annemiek van Vleuten is hitting her numbers just in time for the season’s first major races.
Though she might not have come into 2021 with all cylinders firing, she made up for it Wednesday with a sublime victory that counts as her 75th in her career, and her first since moving to Movistar.
Van Vleuten’s emphatic victory silences any doubters about her or her team’s ability to stay with the favorites. Now it’s all-in for Tour of Flanders.
“Races like this and everything we’ve done this month make me feel really confident about the strength we can display together. At Omloop, I still felt like I had to get into how the team worked, then at Strade everything went really well, and today we went a step even further. When I attacked and saw that only Kasia could follow me, I knew it was the time to keep pushing. People talk a lot about Sunday, but it was actually a big goal to be up there here for the team, to keep paying them back for the support. This will really help the whole squad ride with more confidence.”
Dylan van Baarle proves Ineos Grenadiers isn’t just about stage racing
Dylan van Baarle made a long-distance solo attack, and it stuck for an overdue victory on the cobbles for the Dutch classics rider.
Stage race powerhouse Ineos Grenadiers doesn’t win many one-day races – last year it won the Giro del Appennino as its lone one-day win in 2020 — but it’s proven over the years it can be a factor. Van Baarle has stepped up nicely this year, and after seventh at E3 Saxo Bank Classic and eighth at Gent-Wevelgem, van Baarle’s stock will rise ahead of Flanders.
“We’ve approached the classics a little bit differently this year. We’re attacking them much more and it’s nice to race like this. I’m happy that I could finish this off. To win a semi-classic is super special. It’s high on my list, up there with the stage I won in the Dauphiné. I attacked and I was alone. I was actually hoping some guys would come along. That didn’t happen and then I kept driving until a group would join. It never came. Then I could only think the last 30 km, just go for a ride, go for a ride, go for a ride. I am glad I made it.”
Two podium spots for Canyon SRAM
Kasia Niewiadoma and American rider Alexis Ryan hit the podium at Dwars in dramatic effect. Niewiadoma had the legs to match van Vleuten in the toughest sectors of the race, while Ryan led home the chasing bunch for third.
“The race was grueling mentally and physically. I knew from the beginning of our breakaway, that we were going to stay away. I just had this feeling we were going to make it. I really wanted to race to the finish line and give my best, but I think during the final I got stuck in a mindset that I have to defend instead of fight for the victory. Maybe I got a little bit intimidated. It’s a good lesson before Flanders because I think I could have raced differently to get that top step today.” — Kasia Niewiadoma
“I’m very happy with the race today, it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium and I’m excited to be on it. It’s a relief to finally be able to open up my sprint and feel like ‘I have it’. We nailed it today. Every single section where we needed to be in the front, we were. It gives the team a lot of confidence. A win is always great but any podium spot is good for the team and to have two of them, that shows other teams that we’re ready to fight in the next races.” — Alexis Ryan
‘Golden’ Greg Van Avermaet stymied again
With his golden helmet, it’s easy to spot Greg Van Avermaet in the bunch.
And try as he might, he couldn’t muster the strength to reel in Dylan van Baarle in a chase group. The Belgian veteran posted another solid result with seventh in the bunch kick. Now it’s all in for Sunday and the elusive Ronde van Vlaanderen, the race he wants most to win and the one that’s eluded him so far.
“It was a good day, we had a good race. Stan [Dewulf] was with me after the Taaienberg, and it was good to be two. We tried to be aggressive behind Van Baarle, but without success. We couldn’t pull him back and when the peloton caught up to us, we couldn’t hope for more. I’m pretty happy with my day, and hope to keep this form until Sunday which is my big goal.”
Mathieu van der Poel in rare misfire
Even Mathieu van der Poel can have a bad day at the office. The Alpecin-Fenix star started as the five-star favorite, but couldn’t slip into overdrive. The Dutch national champion missed the key accelerations, and once the selection was made, helped pace teammate Tim Merlier into the front group. Saving his chips for Sunday, van der Poel crossed the line anonymously in 58th at 1:41 back.
“I wasn’t playing any games. It just wasn’t my day. I didn’t feel good already early in the race. I wasn’t the only one. Julian Alaphilippe also told me he wasn’t feeling good. Maybe it was the heat. I don’t like it. I had enough to eat and drink, so that wasn’t it. I couldn’t suffer, and I already knew it at the Hotond. After that, I had to go at my own pace. Better now than Sunday. I’ll talk to my trainers, but I hope to be better for Flanders.”
Yves Lampaert over-cooked in Flemish heatwave
Deceuninck-Quick-Step could only muster fourth with Yves Lampaert, a former two-time winner at Dwars. Unseasonably warm temperatures, with highs into the 70s, seem to melt the Belgians’ batteries. Julian Alaphilippe also struggled in his first race since Milano-Sanremo, and the team missed some key moves.
“It was only during the last 35km, with the ascent of the Knokteberg, that I got up to speed. That heat hit it particularly hard. My body turned out to be totally unprepared for this kind of weather. The temperature difference with Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday was large. I think that a lot of riders did not compete at the best level because of this. On Sunday we will have a completely different race. Be sure of that.”
Bora-Hansgrohe out of frying pan and into the fire
Bora-Hansgrohe riders sat in a hotel room for nearly a week after one of its riders tested positive for COVID-19. After missing both E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Gent-Wevelgem, a final-hour reprieve allowed the team to race Wednesday. And though it wasn’t easy, it helped blow out the cobwebs for Sunday’s big goal at Flanders and the imminent arrival of Peter Sagan.
“It was a stressful week and we only got the green light to start at the last moment. Today we rode almost 100km full throttle and we were at a bit of a disadvantage because our guys were sitting in the hotel for six days and could only train on the rollers. We were also a bit unlucky, because Pascal [Ackermann] had a mechanical and tried to catch up again, but that ended up costing him a lot of energy. We then had Nils, Daniel, and Marcus in front and we were trying to fight for a top-10 finish, but in the end, it didn’t quite work out. Now we’re looking ahead to Sunday and will see what we can achieve there.” — Jean-Pierre Heynderickx, sports director