Chantal Blaak

Last weekend there were two important road cycling races to be held in Belgium, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Omloop van het Hageland. Both are classified as category 1.1 races, which is the third highest category of races behind the World Cup races, as well as the World Championships.

The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad happened on Saturday. The start was in Gent, whereas the finish was to be crossed in Merelbeke. The first rider to leave the peloton was Nicole Hanselmann who went on a solo attack, which turned out to be successful, as she took a lead of more than a minute on the pack. By the time Hanselmann had a lead of one-and-a-half minute something unique happened. The ladies, who started about ten minutes later than the men's race, started faster than the men, and the ladies were catching up on them. The jury then decided to stop the race temporarily, so that the men could take some distance again. When the race continued, Hanselmann left 1.30 minutes earlier than the pack, but the vibe was gone, and soon she fell back into the peloton.

Nicole Hanselmann being stopped

The peloton stayed compact until the bunch reached the Molenberg. Five riders went into the attack at this moment of the race. Three of the riders were part of the Canyon SRAM Racing Team (Katarzyna Niewiadoma, Alexis Ryan and Hannah Barnes). The other two escapees were Annemiek van Vleuten and Marta Bastianelli. The group was existing of very strong riders and it seemed like this was going to be the decisive attack of the race. Two important teams were left out and didn't have any rider in the group, the dominant team of the last couple of years Boels-Dolmans, as well as the newly formed team Trek-Segafredo, which exists of a lot of good riders.

Due to these teams not part of the leading group, the gap to the lead remained small, and eventually the peloton came back, closing the gap completely. The previous attack and the return of the peloton was however the sign of many riders to give it a go. Lots of attacks followed, which was very exciting to watch, but which resulted in the fact that no one was litterally allowed to leave the pack. It took until the Muur van Geraardsbergen, one of the most famous hills in the Belgian classic races, when a group of eight riders managed to get away.

Anna van der Breggen and Katarzyna Niewiadoma

The group stayed together until approximately fifteen kilometers before the finish in Merelbeke. Chantal Blaak escaped from the group and was ready for a solo until the finish. The other seven riders were all without any team mates, and had to work on their own. Only world champion Anna van der Breggen had to do no effort, as she's Chantal Blaak's team mate. Blaak seemed in full control, as the lead extended to over 40 seconds to the frustration of the others. Ellen van Dijk decided to give it a go, by attacking from the chasing group to see if her time-trial abilities could help her getting closer to Blaak.

Van Dijk did not succeed, and Blaak's lead remained in tact, crossing the finish line solo, with one minute and nine seconds ahead of the chasers, who in the meantime were caught by the peloton. Marta Bastianelli sprinted to the second place, and Jip van den Bos finished third.

Jip van den Bos, Chantal Blaak and Marta Bastianelli

On Sunday Chantal Blaak and Jip van den Bos did not start in the Omloop van het Hageland, whereas Marta Bastianelli did start.

Early in that race, there was a group of three riders that managed to get away from the rest. Natalie Van Gogh, Barbara Guarischi and Grace Brown started to gain some distance, after which they remained and extended their lead. The last 75 kilometers of the race were five laps of 15 kilometers each. By the time the first of these laps started the group was already caught by the peloton.

Strong winds caused the peloton to break into two parts during the second lap. One group of riders that could manage to stay in front, whereas the others simply had to let the front of the race go. With about 40 kilometers to go the next serious attack came from Franziska Koch who quickly took a lead of more than a minute. This attack lasted for about 20 kilometers in total, meaning the group was all together again as soon as there were only 20 more kilometers to cycle.

With just 10 kilometers to go the chaos really started. From all sides riders started to attack the bunch, after which the bunch responded and ruled the escapees in shortly after. The teams with fast sprinters in their teams really wanted to keep the group together, whereas the teams without such riders, tried to get away from the group. One o these attacks resulted in a split off, as seventeen riders broke loose to form a leading group with less than 5 kilometers to go. Finnish rider Lotta Lepistö, who already won several races in 2019 was the favorite to win the sprint, however it was Marta Bastianelli who sprinted the smartest, and was able to overtake Lepistö, who finished second. The third place was for Leah Kirchmann.

Marta Bastianelli
Lotta Lepistö, Marta Bastianelli and Leah Kirchmann