World champion Lizzie Armitstead won a three-up sprint in Berg en Terblijt to snag her fifth victory of the season at the Boels Rental Hills Classic on Friday. The 27-year-old returned to racing following a mid-season break to defend her title in what she considers a ‘home race’ for team title sponsor Boels Rental.
“It’s nice to pay Boels back on what is an important day for them,” said Armitstead. “They’ve committed to the team for another two years. This is my fourth year with the team, and I really value the investment they’ve made in our team and in the sport. I always like to do this race, and to do well at this race, to show my appreciation.”
“It was a really strong team performance today that allowed me to come away with the win,” Armitstead added.
“Everyone was suffering. It was hot and uncomfortable out there today, but my teammates did a really good job. It’s a team win.”
Team manager Danny Stam has likened the Boels Rental Hills Classic to an Amstel Gold Race for women. The one-day race covers 15 “Dutch mountains” over 131-kilometres.
The race was animated from the gun with a combination of hills and attacks doing damage. The pelotn repeatedly split and regrouped over the first seven climbs. A reduced bunch of 48 riders hit the eighth climb, the Julianstraat, together.
Thalita de Jong (Rabo-Liv) launched herself up the road over the Julianstraat and quickly opened up an advantage.
“The moment that we had to chase Thalia was the only time we were really under pressure,” noted Armitstead. “It was a good attack. Chantal, Demi, Amalie and Romy did a great job bringing her back and keeping the race together until the first time up the Cauberg.”
Armitstead always knew she would attack when the race reached Valkenburg’s infamous climb. She put Kasper on the front leading into the 11th climb of the day.
“Romy led me into the bottom of the climb,” explained Armitstead. “The race was high, and I attacked off her wheel. It created a group of five – me, Ellen [van Dijk], Ashleigh Moolman (Cervélo-Bigla), Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv) and Annemiek van Vleuten [ORICA-AIS].”
The group included three former Boels Rental Hills Classic winners in Armitstead, Van Vleuten and Vos. Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team was the only team with two riders in what would prove to be the race winning move. With 20 kilometres still to race, the leaders had a 25-second advantage when they crested the first passage of the final climb.
“We were all working together except for Annemiek,” noted Armitstead. “She was just sitting on. That was a bit a frustrating.”
Six kilometres from the finish, the leaders began to climb the Cauberg for the second time. Moolman jumped from the base of the climb and opened up a gap.
“I couldn’t follow her, and she got a bit of distance on me,” said Armitstead. “I didn’t want to blow myself up, so I took it at my own pace. I knew I would get up to her eventually.”
Armitstead and Van Vleuten rejoined Moolman over the top of the Cauberg. Five had become three with the finish line looming.
Armitstead found herself under attack up the Geuhlemmerweg.
“Ashley and Annemiek both attacked me on the the final climb,” said Armitstead. “I followed wheels. I knew I could get back.”
And she did. The trio came over the top of the final climb together.
Armitstead unleashed her powerful sprint in the flat 250-metre run-in to the line to win her second straight Boels Rental Hills Classic.
“I was expecting to feel strong today but not race ready, which is exactly how I felt as the race unfolded,” said Armitstead. “I was strong, but I didn’t have good sensations or good speed in my legs. I’m happy that I was able to win not having freshened up or done any specific training for this race.”
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team is back in action on Sunday at Gooik-Geraardsbergen-Gooik