How the Race Finished
It was a Belgian victory in the Tour of Flanders. Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) beat Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) in a sprint from a group of three, with van Vleuten, despite her efforts, outnumbered by two riders from SD Worx. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx) led them out for the final kilometres, van Vleuten on her wheel, and Kopecky on van Vleuten’s. Van Vleuten tried to drop everyone on the climbs, but in scenes familiar from this year’s Strade Bianche, Lotte Kopecky kept clinging to her wheel, and her teammates were constantly attacking. With a powerful sprint, Kopecky gave her country at least one victory in a Belgian national champion’s jersey today.
The Main Action
The early breakaway was established by Clara Honsinger (EF Education-Tibco-SVB) , Sofie Van Rooijen (Parkhotel Valkenburg), Olivia Baril (Valcar Travel & Service), Maria Martins (Le Col – Wahoo) and Kristyna Burlova (Lotto Soudal Ladies), though Burlova dropped relatively soon. It took them a little while to establish a decent gap, but eventually they got as far as four minutes out. As they went over the first cobblestones at Kerkgate, Van Rooijen and Martins were dropped from the breakaway, leaving the two Americans, Honsinger and Baril, out on their own.
Marlen Reusser took up the position of leading the peloton over the Kerkgate, catching some of the straggling chasers to Honsinger and Baril. As they went over the next cobbled section at Jagerij, damage started to show in the peloton, as it steadily shrunk.
Now, the attacks started coming thick and fast. On the Molenberg, Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo) attacked, but couldn’t quite get free; a moment later, however, Valerie Demey (Liv Racing Xstra) attacked, and Brand latched on, along with a group of five. They caught Tiffany Cromwell, who had been chasing across to the break, but were reeled back in by the peloton. Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange – Jayco) attacked past the dropped members of the breakaway, and made it a while alone, but was caught after the Berendries climb. Liv Racing Xstra gave it another go, this time with Marta Jaskulska. Over the top of the Valkenburg, a hard pull from Ellen van Dijk set up an attack from Lucinda Brand, but Anna Henderson (Jumbo Visma) closed the gap.
At this point, Honsinger and Baril were on the verge of being caught. However, an attack finally managed more than momentary success, with Marit Raaijmakers (Human Powered Health), Camilla Alessio (Ceratizit – WNT) and Maike van der Duijn (Le Col Wahoo) bridging across to join Honsinger and Baril. The now-expanded group re-established a gap. Liv Racing had missed this group, despite their prior aggressiveness, and so Valerie Demey went to try and join them, but ended up stuck in purgatory, fifty seconds behind the leaders and thirty seconds ahead of the peloton. She gave up after a few more kilometres.
Finally, they approached the decisive climbs, starting with the Koppenburg. At the front of the race, Maike van der Duijin pushed forward, but couldn’t split the leading group. Behind, Annemiek van Vleuten put a characteristic attack on the climb, with Marlen Reusser (SD Worx) joining her to set the pace; the main group was steadily being winnowed down. On the next climb, the Taaienberg, it was a second time lucky for van der Duijin, as she managed to drop the rest of her group. They were absorbed back into the main bunch, but it was only a few kilometres of freedom for van der Duijin, who was soon swept up by Marlen Reusser, leading the peloton.
Among the sea of attacks, it was Arenis Sierra (Movistar) who made the decisive move. A group of eleven followed her attack, with all the major teams represented, though not by their major contenders. Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) was particularly visible on the front of this group. Behind them, Annemiek van Vleuten attacked brutally on the Kruisberg, but Lotte Kopecky always clung close, with Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine) also staying in contact behind. Van Vleuten attacked again as they came off the cobbles, but yet again, couldn’t shake Kopecky.
The front group, by now also containing Marlen Reusser, came to the Oude Kwaremont, and with the work of Brodie Chapman (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine) and Marlen Reusser on the front, it began to shatter. Reusser and Chapman made it out as a group of two, with the rest of the group collapsing behind them. As the main group hit the Oude Kwaremont, Annemiek van Vleuten found her familiar place at the front, but Lotte Kopecky also found her familiar place on van Vleuten’s wheel, with the back-up of Chantal van den Broek-Blaak just behind.
As they came into the Paterberg, Reusser and Chapman were out in front together, with Niewiadoma and Sierra chasing, and van Vleuten, Kopecky, and van den Broek-Blaak just behind. The group swelled a little just before the climb. Sierra led van Vleuten into the Paterberg, where, unsurprisingly, she attacked. Van Vleuten closed the gap to Reusser and Chapman up the climb, but Kopecky, as ever, was still present.
A front three made up of van Vleuten, Reusser and Kopecky emerged: van Vleuten isolated, with two riders from SD Worx. Van den Broek-Blaak joined, only to immediately attack, and it was left to van Vleuten to chase them down. The group reformed as van den Broek Blaak, van Vleuten and Kopecky: again, van Vleuten surrounded by SD Worx. Behind them, Reusser idled on the back of a group with Chapman and Niewiadoma. It was clear, now, that the winner would come from these front three, and as van den Broek-Blaak took to the front, it was also clear that SD Worx were putting their money behind Lotte Kopecky.
After kilometres of leading out Kopecky, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak took it agonisingly slowly in the final kilometre, looking back to Kopecky, who had her eyes on van Vleuten. It was van Vleuten who cracked first, but Kopecky, just behind, roared ahead, and crossed the line to the sound of the Belgian crowd screaming.
In addition to winning, SD Worx took up three of the top five spots, with Chantal van den Broek-Blaak in third and Marlen Reusser in fifth. Arlenis Sierra took fourth for Movistar from the chasing group, and FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine had three riders in the top ten after racing aggressively all day, with Cecile Uttrup Ludwig, Grace Brown and Brodie Chapman. A notable absence from the top ten was any Trek-Segafredo rider, who, despite early attacks, weren’t particularly present in the later stages of the race. Elisa Balsamo, however, still remains WWT leader.