If there’s one thing we all love about the classics, it’s that they’re unpredictable. It takes a special kind of rider to win the same one multiple times.
Not only did Annemiek van Vleuten’s victory at the Tour of Flanders make her one of three women to win in it twice in 18 editions, but it marked her second win for her new team Movistar - both of them from Belgian classics this week.
And as if that wasn’t enough, it came right on time to mark 10 years since her first victory on Flemish cobbles. What seems more remarkable is in the men’s World Tour you don’t have to look very far to see a race winner under the age of 25. Van Vleuten is 38, which - putting aside normal age stereotypes for a second - is getting on a bit in cycling. For example, the oldest winner of the Tour de France was 36, and that was 100 years ago - Chris Froome at 35 is struggling to keep up with the youth of today.
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Even the legendary classics specialist Philippe Gilbert, who is 38 (but feels like he’s been around since cycling began), hasn’t won Flanders twice.
Following Marianne Vos’ Gent-Wevelgem victory last week, I wrote how she looks to be targeting the races she’s not yet done after nearly 20 years racing bikes. This week, Van Vleuten is further proving the Dutch riders are the gift that keeps on giving. The chase-down by world champion Anna van der Breggen, 32, in the closing stages of Sunday’s Flanders, was equally as impressive.
Highlights: Van Vleuten lights up race on Paterberg to win Tour of Flanders
Which brings us onto Trek-Segafredo, who were dominant across a large part of last season’s condensed calendar. Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini and Lizzie Deignan were, for a long time, the star duo in the women’s world tour last year, and Deignan collected more silverware than ever before.
Albeit, at present it is only classics season which are suited to different kinds of riders. Nonetheless, last week Longo Borghini took off on an almighty solo attack into the headwind, but this week she clung on to the back of Flanders’ lead group, and wasn’t too happy about it at the end of the race.
“It was really close on the Paterberg. I had an order not to chase because I had Lizzie [Deignan] and Ellen [Van Dijk] in the group behind and I was waiting for the group to come back and in the end they didn’t,” she said.
“I had to try for the sprint. I know I’m not very fast but I still had to do. Fourth was quite ok, it’s a pity that Lizzie and Ellen couldn’t come back because we could’ve had a nice chance to win. Normally Lizzie is fast and we have a chance to win.
“Personally, I’m happy about my performance but I would like to give something more to the team. Team-wise we could’ve maybe do a better race, if instead of me it would’ve been Lizzie there but in the end. Unlucky for us, I was the one there and I’m not really fast..”
Perhaps it was a bad day for Trek-Segafredo. At 29, Longo Borghini has a lot of racing years left in her, and is talented enough to win a lot more jerseys and silverware. Meanwhile, Deignan, 32, last year said she has postponed her retirement to aim for the 2021 Flanders world championships and Olympic Games in Tokyo which means she’s also got a lot more to give.
Although in men’s racing the winners are getting younger, in women’s racing age is not a barrier - in fact it’s not even a factor.
As the sport continues to grow, perhaps it’s the change in teams for Van Vleuten at Movistar, and Vos at Jumbo-Visma, which mark a new chapter in long careers, and serve as opportunities to work smarter, change strategies and hunt for new records.
In women’s racing, it seems riders mature like a fine wine, or a classic Flemish ale.
Meet Johan Museeuw: The Lion Of Flanders
Museeuw was a rider who dominated the one day classics. Ex-pro Bernie Eisel joins Johan on some of his favourite cobbled climbs from the Tour of Flanders to find out what set him aside at these prestigious races. You can stream this and more of the best cycling stories in the world exclusively on GCN+.
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