It should come as little surprise that Anna van der Breggen won Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen. She’s the best rider in the women’s peloton, versatile enough to win cobbled classics and stage races alike. She also happens to ride for the peloton’s most dominant team.
When van der Breggen attacked her rivals roughly 26 kilometers from the finish, she immediately opened a sizable gap, as the strongest rider in the pack should do when on the attack. But any effort to chase her down came up against the brick wall of van der Breggen’s Boels-Dolmans teammates. Those who tried to bridge immediately found orange jerseys glued to their wheels.
Van der Breggen’s move left her solo for quite a while, but she jumped away knowing how hard it would be for the chasers to organize.
“It was still far from the finish line, but if you feel you’ve got the legs for it, it’s doable with the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg shortly after,” she said. “Also, I knew that I had strong teammates behind me. If I didn’t succeed, I knew they would have been able to save themselves and have something left for the finish.”
Amy Pieters proved that point by claiming runner-up honors for Boels as well. She is now the overall leader of the Women’s WorldTour.
“We took to the start with any option still open, which makes us very strong,” Pieters said.
Behind van der Breggen and Pieters, reigning world champ Chantal Blaak took fifth and Megan Guarnier nabbed 10th.
Any fans of women’s racing who stuck around to watch the men’s race had already seen the perfect preview for Niki Terpstra’s win: a big engine jumping clear from a ways out with dominant teammates marking everything behind.
Make no mistake: tactics and teammates alone don’t propel van der Breggen to these wins. She is in a league of her own right now. Holding the title of defending champ at the Giro Rosa and the Tour of Flanders simultaneously is a huge achievement last pulled off by Marianne Vos, one of the all-time greats.
Van der Breggen would probably still rack up WorldTour wins bringing a local club team to these races. Or maybe even as a privateer. But it sure doesn’t hurt to have the last two world road champions backing you up when you make your big attacks.
It’s not as if the strength of van der Breggen and those dominant teammates comes as a surprise to the rest of the women’s peloton. They’re all prepared for the team’s tactics. That doesn’t mean they can do much about it.
Sunweb’s Ellen van Dijk, the 2014 Flanders champ, tried to join van der Breggen when her compatriot made the decisive move. She told VeloNews after the race that she knew that was her one chance on the day, but she couldn’t quite link up with van der Breggen, and then it was over.
“I thought, ‘Maybe I can go,’ but the others closed the gap to me. I was too late,” she said. “I knew that was the moment I had to be there, and that afterwards it would be really difficult to get her back because we also had three or four of Boels.”
The collective dominance is a storyline sure to repeat itself again soon as van der Breggen leads Boels into the next events on the WorldTour calendar.
Mercifully, van der Breggen pointed out on Sunday that she is especially motivated to target races she has yet to win. With that in mind, she focused on Strade Bianche and Flanders this year. That could offer a glimmer of hope to her rivals headed into the Ardennes classics. Van der Breggen won all three last year, so perhaps she won’t be quite as sharp for that part of the season this time around.
Should that be the case, maybe the women’s peloton will only have to worry about the rest of the Boels-Dolmans lineup next week. A glimmer of hope — but not exactly a beacon.