Chantal van den Broek-Blaak took an outstanding solo victory at the Tour of Flanders after attacking an elite group on the Oude Kwaremont. Despite the best efforts of many in the stacked chasing group, the former World Champion won with a minute to spare.
Team Sunweb had showed a strong hand earlier on in the race, sending two of their best riders into the gap in an attempt to chase down the breakaway, but Boels-Dolmans took control with 50km to go and a masterclass in team tactics commenced.
The five remaining riders from the breakaway – Teuntje Beekhuis (Lotto Soudal), Gloria Rodriguez Sanchez (Movistar), Mieke Kröger (Hitec Products), Heidi Franz (Rally Cycling) and Emily Newsom (Tibco-SVB) – were swept up on the Taaienberg and several favourites tried to push on, but World Champion Anna van der Breggen was soon back on the front again, leading a train of teammates.
The biggest threat to the dominance of Boels-Dolmans came from a two-rider attack initiated by Riejanne Markus (CCC-Liv) with 37km to go. She and Alena Amialiusuk (Canyon SRAM) had stretched their advantage to 42 seconds by the Oudestraat, but the fatal blow was about to fall.
With the attackers still holding a small gap, Anna van der Breggen led the reduced peloton off the cobbles of the Oudestraat, just as teammate Chantal van den Broek-Blaak accelerated hard. Annemiek van Vleuten was the next of the favourites to attack and it was the sort of move we’d expect to go all the way, but Boels-Dolmans had other ideas, sending the World Champion after her.
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The pairing of Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen was a tantalising prospect. A sparring match between these two world-class heavyweights would have been a fitting finale for the Ronde van Vlaanderen, but van der Breggen rode onto her compatriot’s wheel and stayed there, acting like a braking parachute on a fighter jet. With a shrug and a smile, van Vleuten sat up.
The decisive attack came on the Oude Kwaremont. Van den Broek-Blaak waited until the second half of the short climb to put her foot down, ensuring that the group was already splintered and suffering from the viciously steep lower sections.
Despite the best efforts of Mitchelton-Scott’s van Vleuten and Grace Brown, and the occasional punch from Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine), van den Broek-Blaak stayed away, in no small part thanks to the covering efforts of her teammates Amy Pieters and, again, Anna van der Breggen.
By the flamme rouge, the Boels-Dolmans rider had over a minute in hand – plenty of time to enjoy her first victory of 2020.
In the race for second, Amy Pieters confirmed her team’s formidable strength with a spectacular sprint, beating Belgian superstar Lotte Kopecky. A few wheels further back, Anna van der Breggen raised her hands aloft to celebrate a perfect day for the team.