Lizzie Armitstead started the season where she left off the last – with a win. The world champion won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, riding the final 10 kiloemtres of the European season opener alone. The Briton’s win marks the first time a world champion has graced the top step of the podium at the Belgian Classic.
Chantal Blaak gave Boels-Dolmans a second rider on the podium. Coming to the finish with a 22-rider chase group, Blaak edged out Tiffany Cromwell (CANYON//SRAM) for second-place in the reduced bunch sprint.
“That wasn’t the plan,” Armitstead said of solo effort. “That wasn’t the plan at all. When I was away I was almost hoping they would catch me. I was out there way too long.”
The plan was, as it often is, to race aggressively to force a selection. Armitstead lifted the pace just beyond the Lange Munted – the fifth and final cobbled sector – and found herself in what she called “an accidental breakaway”.
“It wasn’t an attack,” Armitstead insisted. “It was people messing around and watching each other and not watching me, which never happens, so that was really cool. I went to the front of the group and accelerated and somehow ended up on my own.”
Armitstead was joined up the road by Australian Gracie Elvin (ORICA-AIS).The duo stretched out their advantage to 45-seconds but Elvin wasn’t sharing in the work.
“It was really frustrating to me,” said Armitstead. “I thought, well, we still have the numbers to play behind, so I’m not working if you’re not working. We stopped completely in the road and looked really stupid. But there was a slight drag in the road. I attacked Gracie, and I never looked back.”
Behind Armitstead, Rabo-Liv and Wiggle High5 led a disorganised chase group. “People hesitated a bit,” noted Blaak, who was in the chase group when Armitstead went away. “Wiggle and Rabo started riding. They kept Lizzie at a certain distance but they couldn’t close it completely. We were waiting because we know when it comes back, we might need to attack again.”
Boels-Dolmans never needed to attack again as Armitstead’s solo bid for the line proved successful. Frequently asked about the curse of the rainbow jersey over the winter, Armitstead’s decisive victory proved a powerful response.
“I was number 13 today as well,” Armitstead said. “That shows how much I believe in those things. Yeah. I think World Champions aren’t lucky. You work hard and you don’t suddenly stop working next winter because you’re world champion. It gives me extra motivation more than anything.”
It was a true team effort on Saturday, and Boels-Dolmans was always in control. In an early ten-rider breakaway, the Dutch team had three riders with Armitstead, Blaak and Megan Guarnier. Over the Molenberg, Ellen van Dijk slipped away, giving Boels-Dolmans an upper-hand heading into the Paddestraat. Romy Kasper led a fragmented bunch just beyond the Paddestraat. Nikki Harris, who made her road racing debut with Boels-Dolmans on Saturday, made every selection and showed that she will prove useful to the team this sprint.
“I’m really happy,” said Armitstead. “It’s always nice to start a season with a win. It makes the rest of the wins easier. The morale in the team is high right now. We’re in a really good place. I’m really proud of how the team road today. I think this is only the start.”