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Australian Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) outfoxed the sprinters to win Thursday’s Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne.
Brown, a talented time trialist, attacked from the lead group of 12 riders with 10km remaining in the 158.8km race, and then held off the chasers to win the third round of the 2021 UCI Women’s WorldTour.
The chase group included a smattering of top sprinters, including Kirsten Wild (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling), Jolien D’Hoore (SD Worx), Emma Norsgaard (Movistar), Amy Pieters (SD Worx), Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing), and Chloe Hosking (Trek-Segafredo), among others.
“I’m in shock a little bit because on paper this isn’t really a race that suits me — it’s very flat and often for the sprinters,” Brown said. “I knew that my only chance here was to do an attack. I can’t believe I’ve pulled it off. It’s pretty incredible.”
Behind, Norsgaard won the sprint for second, with D’Hoore rounding out the podium.
Brown’s victory is her first at the women’s WorldTour level. In 2020 she was second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and she won De Brabantse Pijl.
The dramatic finish came after a day of hard racing in gusting winds that proved to be the decisive factor in several occasions. The peloton rumbled into the final 35 kilometers relatively intact. Then, with 33km to go, the front group or riders drove the pace into a section of crosswinds, and the peloton splintered, with 13 riders riding off the front.
The acceleration proved to be the move of the day, and the front group sped toward the finale together.
German ace Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling) suffered a flat tire and lost contact with the group.
Brown’s move appeared to catch the group off guard, and the group struggled to close the gap, even though multiple teams had more than one rider in the bunch.
Brown said she decided to go solo after the front group was split in crosswinds. She looked around and saw the top sprinters in the group and decided that her best opportunity was to try a solo move.
“I knew there was a small technical section that would be a good point for me to try,” Brown said. “I went there and it worked.”
Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne
- Grace Brown, Bike Exchange, 4:03:17
- Emma Norsgaard, Movistar, at 0:07
- Jolien D’Hoore, SD Worx
- Lotte Kopecky, Liv Racing
- Elisa Balsamo, Valcar-Travel & Science
- Kirsten Wild, Ceratizit-WNT
- Chloe Hosking, Trek-Segafredo
- Alice Barnes, Canyon-SRAM all at s.t.
- Amy Pieters, SD Worx, at 0:12
- Julie Leth, Ceratizit-WNT, at s.t.