How the Race Finished
Elisa Balsamo continues to win in the rainbow jersey, coming out on top today in the developing rivalry between her and Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM). Despite only hearing in the last moments that she would need to sprint for the victory, Balsamo edged out Wiebes, after a race marred by crashes in its final kilometres. The two of them were a bike-length ahead of Marta Bastanelli (UAE Team ADQ) in third place, whose last season of racing has had a glittering start.
The Main Action
The Exterioo Classic Brugge-De Panne ran 125.9 pan-flat kilometres between Deinze and Nokere in Flanders. Despite last year’s solo victory for Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), a bunch sprint seemed imminent.
The race opened with numerous attempts to establish the day’s break. Marith Vanhove and Kristie van Haaften, both from Parkhotel Valkenburg, briefly made it free together, but they were quickly pulled back in. Eventually, it was Nicole Steigenga (Coop – Hitec Products) who got free on her own, and in short order she was joined by April Tacey (Le-Col – Wahoo), Hannah Ludwig (Uno-X Pro Cycling), and Antonia Gröndahl (IBCT). Together, they gained about forty seconds on the peloton. Parkhotel Valkenburg were determined to make the break: van Haaften and Vanhove joined forces again to slowly close in on the leaders, eventually reaching them 50km into the race. At this point, the six leaders had about fifty seconds, and they were never allowed much more leeway than this. The gap hovered around a minute or less, until with 75km to go, as the race approached the exposed wetlands, the gap collapsed and the break was caught.
A new breakaway, however, formed almost immediately, composed of Sara van de Vel (IBCT), Senne Knaven (AG-NXTG, in the first outing of their new sponsor & jersey), Fien Delbaere (Multum) and Danique Braam (Bingoal). In the absence of any particular response from the peloton, they got free by fifty seconds, though they never threatened to push on further than this. There was a small incident in the main bunch with 62km to go; Katia Rungasa (Liv Racing Xstra) crashed, and brought down Lea Curinier (DSM), with Marjolein van’t Geloof (Le Col – Wahoo) and Georgia Williams (BikeExchange – Jayco) brought to a halt behind them. All the riders, however, were able to continue soon enough.
With sixty kilometres to go, Danique Braam won the day’s intermediate sprint, but this second breakaway’s days were numbered. The gap was already dropping rapidly, and with 55km to go, they were caught.
With around thirty kilometres to go, SD Worx started to stretch out the peloton. Without high winds in the exposed sections of the course, echelons hadn’t manifested to split the bunch, and everyone was still together. Although they whittled down the group to sixty or seventy riders, they failed to drop any of the main contenders, and as the group came out of the exposed sections and slowed down, the second group joined them.
There were a few attempts to replicate Grace Brown’s solo win from last year: with 28km to go, Alice Sharpe (IBCT) escaped on her own, getting twenty seconds on the peloton, but it only lasted ten kilometres. As Sharpe was caught, Mieke Kröger (Human Powered Health) was next to give a solo attack a shot. Just as she was settled into her attempt, there was a huge crash behind her as the road narrowed, bringing down most of the peloton as they got caught up in hedges in the middle of the road.
A reduced group, around thirty, who’d made it free of the crash continued to pursue Kröger, catching her with fifteen kilometres to go. With twelve kilometres to go, a second group was attempting to join back on, but the front group was driving forward hard. Team DSM, with Lorena Wiebes as a favourite, worked to close down attacks and keep up the pace; Human Powered Health and Valcar-Travel and Service were particularly aggressive.
With eight kilometres to go, the second group made contact. The sprint trains began to assemble, fighting for position in the corners. Balsamo kept close to Wiebes – at this point, under the presumption that she was working for her teammate, Chloe Hosking. Inside the last three kilometres, one of the corners was taken so tight that Anna Trevisi (UAE Team ADQ) crashed. As the pace rose, the group stretched to breaking point, gaps appearing on the road.
It was, apparently, only in the final two kilometres that Balsamo heard from Chloe Hosking that she ought to sprint. Hosking was the planned leader for the team, but after being caught up in a crash, she handed the responsibility over to Balsamo. Marjolein van’t Geloof of Le Col-Wahoo pulled on the front for those final kilometres. Barbara Guarischi was first to start the lead-out for Movistar, with Balsamo and Wiebes shoulder to shoulder behind. Lotte Kopecky closed it down, but looked around to the sight of Balsamo shooting out around and ahead of her, creating a sharp and sudden gap. Wiebes got as close as she could, the two of them leaving the rest of the field behind, but she couldn’t pull level. Instead, it was a second victory in a row for the world champion; she said after the race that she wants “to enjoy this jersey, from the first day to the last”.
SD Worx had two in the top ten, with Lonneke Uneken in fourth and Lotte Kopecky in ninth. A notable result was the Portuguese Maria Martins in fifth, from the continental team Le Col-Wahoo, after van’t Geloof’s work in the final kilometres. Clara Copponi (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) managed tenth, after getting caught up in the major crash, and being part of the group that had to chase back on.
With this win, Elisa Balsamo remains leader of the Women’s World Tour, with fellow Trek-Segafredo rider Shirin van Anrooij as the best young rider.