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By Ryan Newill, Special to VeloNews.com
Zulfia Zabirova took a page from the men’s playbook to win the women’s Tour of Flanders. Like many past Flanders champions, she used the cobbled slopes of the day’s penultimate climb, the infamous Muur de Geraardsbergen, to catapult to a solo victory in the first World Cup edition of the race.
After starting in Oudenaarde and scaling the Kruisberg, the 96km Ronde Van Vlaanderen Vrouwen merged with the men’s course just before the Boigneberg, the first of the final eight climbs the two races shared on the day. Despite Farm Frites-Hartol’s concerted efforts to control the race for Leontien Van Moorsel-Ziljaard, who was targeting the race in her final year of competition, the early racing was nervous and littered with crashes. Along with the climbs, the women’s Tour of Flanders also shares much of its Belgian “road furniture” with the men’s edition.
“It was just insane out there all day,” said Dede Demet-Barry, T-Mobile’s top finisher on the day in 18th. “You had to be concentrating all day because there were just so many obstacles, and it was just really important to be in good position.”
Once the race hit the Kruisberg at 29km, things began to calm down as the 186-rider peloton thinned with each successive berg. Approaching the Muur, a group of some 50 survivors remained together, still under the careful watch of Farm Frites. But just before the sharp right-hand corner leading into the 20 percent section of the climb, Zabirova sprinted away alone. By the top of the Bosberg, 3km later, Zabirova’s lead had stretched to 15 seconds ahead of a three-woman chase group comprising the Farm Frites twosome of Van Moorsel and Mirjam Melchers along with German national champion Trixie Worrack.
With the powerful Nürnburger and Farm Frites squads represented in the chase group, the chase from the peloton fell to the Australian National squad, riding to preserve Oenone Wood’s World Cup lead. Though much of the peloton regrouped on the descent of the Muur, Wood was left with only Olivia Gollan left at the front to help chase. The Australians and the peloton finally acquiesced with 5km left.
At the line, Zabirova proved she had timed her move perfectly, crossing just four seconds ahead of Worrack, who took the sprint ahead of Van Moorsel and Melchers. Nobili-Rubinetterie’s Olga Syusareva took the field sprint for fifth.
After five weeks overseas and a tough day in the saddle, Demet-Barry was optimistic for the next leg of the World Cup, the Fleche Wallonne on April 21.
“I was psyched just to start to feel good again,” said Demet-Barry. “I got hit by a car 10 days ago at Castilla, then I got a cold. I went into this race really open-minded. I felt really good in training the last couple days and was just psyched to be a part of the race. You always want to be up there in the final selection and racing for the win, but on the other hand, I had fun out there and enjoyed the race.”
Ronde Van Vlaanderen Vrouwen, April 4. Meerbeke
1. Zoulfia Zabirova (Rus), Let’s Go Finland
2. Trixi Worrack (G), Nürnburger, at :04
3. Leontien Van Moorsel-Zijlaard (Nl), Farm Frites-Hartol, at :07
4. Marjam Melchers (Nl), Farm Frites-Hartol, at :07
5. Olga Slyusareva (Rus), Nobili-Rubinetterie, at 1:20
6. Alison Wright (Aus), Nobili-Rubinetterie
7. Loes Gunnewijk (Nl)
8. Oenone Wood (Aus), Australian National
9. Joanne Kiesanowski (NZ), New Zealand National
10. Annette Beutzer (Swi), Lietzsport, all same time.