Tour of Flanders: Lotte Kopecky soloes home for title defense
SD Worx used its strength in numbers to dominate the race as Annemiek van Vleuten crashes in final edition.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Lotte Kopecky attacked on the Oude Kwaremont to ride home alone to win her second title in a row at Tour of Flanders.
SD Worx used its numerical advantage to good use in key moments of the race.
Kopecky soloed home and had plenty of space to celebrate her title defense in dramatic fashion. Demi Vollering sprinted to second to finish off the SD Worx dominance in the race, with Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek Segafredo) kicking to third.
“It’s very special to win again. Everyone was giving me five stars to win again, so there was pressure,” Kopecky said. “The Koppenberg was slippery, and I had to get off my bike and run. We were off the front with four of us. If you go to the finish line with [Persico], you never know after such a hard race.
“When the car came next to me to that it was 50 seconds with 3km to go, I knew I couldn’t lose anymore,” she said. “It’s amazing for the team to win Flanders again, and to also be second.”
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) was a non-factor after she was caught up in a crash before the Koppenberg, but it would have been difficult to match SD Worx for anyone.
The team covered the key moves and set the tone on the Koppenberg and Taaienberg to break up the race.
A committed Kopecky drove away to take an emotional victory, while teammates Vollering and Marlen Reusser marked her rivals to set up the repeat.
Results powered by FirstCycling.com
Crash neutralizes Van Vleuten
An early breakaway was forged by Ally Wollaston (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step) and was joined by Elise Chabbey (Canyon//SRAM Racing) and Elinor Barker (Uno-X Pro Cycling Team).
The trio carried a 30-second lead when bad luck struck with about 48km to go for Annemiek Van Vleuten. She crashed near the back of the bunch on the run into the Koppenberg. The two-time winner was on the back foot as the race later split up on the climbs, and would never recover.
Annemiek van Vleuten has been done in a crash, either slipping out or the chain coming off first
Either way, a bike chance before the bottom of the Koppenberg isn’t what you need, it’s like a repeat of Omloop het Nieuwsblad#RVV23 #RVVwomen pic.twitter.com/7QUzcnuyfX
— Mathew Mitchell (@MatMitchell30) April 2, 2023
As expected, SD Worx pressed its advantage, with Gent-Wevelgem winner Marlen Reusser and Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ) led up the steep cobbled sector at the Koppenberg.
Slick cobbles saw many in the bunch forced to get off their bikes and run up the steep climb.
Defending champion Lotte Kopecky and Lorena Wiebes from SD Worx also latched on. Wiebes couldn’t keep pace on the Taaienberg, and the race split up under the pressure.
Kopecky takes over
A lead chasing group included Wiebes and Demi Vollering (SD Worx), Arlenis Sierra (Movistar), Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram), Chabbey, Juliette Labous (DSM), Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma), and Lucinda Brand, Shirin Van Anrooij, and Elisa Longo Borghini all of Trek-Segafredo.
Kopecky set a brutal pace up the Taaienberg, but Persico stubbornly held the wheel.
SD Worx slotted two riders into a seven-rider chase group at 30 seconds back as the leading pair drove toward the finale Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg finale. Trek-Segafredo did what it could to trim the lead by a few seconds to give them hope.
Kopecky hit the afterburners on Oude Kwaremont while Persico struggled on the steep, damp cobbles. She topped out with a winning gap of about 30 seconds to Persico, and 50 seconds to the chasing group, and drove toward the Paterberg with another win waiting in Oudenaarde.
Longo-Borghini pounced out of the chase group after hitting the pavement after the Oude Kwaremont. The Italian was back in action after a racing break, and seemed to struggle early, but used her experience and depth to challenge SD Worx.
Her Trek-Segafredo teammate Van Anrooij had the legs to gap others in the chase group over the Paterberg to make it a drag race to Oudenaarde for the podium.
Vollering marked the wheels, as Van Anrooij, Persico, and Niewiadoma chased, and Reusser marked the other group that included Longo-Borghini, Labous, and Henderson.
With 9km to go, Kopecky was gone at 45 seconds alone off the front. With teammates marking her rivals as the two groups came together, the race was on for the podium.
Would SD Worx take all three spots? Almost, finishing 1-2 in another racing masterclass.