Chantal Blaak soloed to victory in Montferland, Holland on Saturday to win the Dutch National Road Championships. It’s the first national title for Blaak and the first Dutch national title for Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team.
“This is one of the biggest wins of my career,” said Blaak. “In Holland we have world class riders, and a national title really means something. I don’t know, because I’ve never experienced it before, but I think it’s really special to wear the jersey the whole year. I’m really proud of that.
“This whole spring, I was in good shape and I had good legs, but I never got the big wins like I did last year,” said Blaak. “This makes everything good.”
Blaak was part of a three-rider Boels-Dolmans team for Dutch nationals. With Jip van den Bos sidelined due to injury, Blaak, Amy Pieters and Anna van der Breggen were outnumbered against the likes of Sunweb, WM3 and Parkhotel.
“The plan was to win,” said Blaak. “We were only three, and we said: ‘Okay, it doesn’t matter who wins but we’re going to win today.’ We all know it’s really hard to win nationals, in any country. It’s a special race, and the tactics are different. It’s never easy, but we were really motivated to go for it.
“How to do it? We knew we couldn’t miss anything,” Blaak explained. “We said that someone needed to be in every break. We had to race aggressively, and we had to cover everything.”
It was that tactic that saw Blaak up the road mid-race.
“I would normally never go that early, but this was different, right? We had to go. We had to react,” said Blaak. “Floortje [Mackaij] (Sunweb) started attacking. I reacted and then we were gone.”
Mackaij and Blaak were joined by defending champion Anouska Koster (WM3), Aafke Soet (Parkhotel-Destil) and Minke Slingerland. They stretched out their gap beyond the two-minute mark with 40 kilometres still to race.
“We had a big gap and then the final started,” Blaak said. “We had one minute left with one lap, 15 kilometres, on the finish line. It was up and down and a bit windy. We were already a long time in the front. If they started racing behind, which we knew they would, it was going to be tight.
“I heard on the radio that a group of six with Anna and Amy was coming,” Blaak said. “Before I heard that, I was trying to save a bit of energy, but on the last lap, when the gap was closing, I started riding full.”
Race officials showed Blaak’s breakaway group that they had a 30-second advantage. Minutes later, Blaak heard over the radio that she had 15 seconds.
“That was the moment I realised, okay we have four or three kilometres left, and I have to attack now,” said Blaak. “I may never get this opportunity again in my career.”
She attacked. No one followed.
“I had wanted to wait for the sprint,” Blaak said. “That was my plan. The sprint would have been good for me – it was all power and a little bit up. I had confidence in my sprint.
“I can’t explain why I attacked,” she added. “I followed my heart. I knew I had to attack and that if I made it, I would win. If I didn’t make it, I had Anna and Amy behind. They had good legs today, too.”
She made it.
Blaak powered up the rise to the finish line alone, punched the air in celebration and broke out in an ear-to-ear smile. Koster edged out Mackaij in the sprint for second 11-seconds after Blaak had earned the title.
“Everything needs to come together to win a national championship,” noted Blaak. “Everything needs to go your way. You have to be strong and you have to be focused, but you also have to be lucky. This morning when I woke up, I just felt good. I was happy to race. I was looking forward to being aggressive. That’s why I won today, I think. It was my day today.”
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team has achieved nearly everything there is to achieve in women’s cycling. Last season was one of ticking boxes: Ronde van Vlaanderen, Giro Rosa, the UCI Women’s WorldTour overall, the team time trial world title. Yet the Dutch road title remained elusive. Not anymore.
“I’m really thankful for the team, for Anna and Amy and even Jip was not there,” said Blaak. “They believed in me, and it’s why I could take this opportunity. I can’t tell you how good this feels. We are a Dutch team with Dutch sponsors. We’re the best ranked team in the world. We deserve this title for once, and I’m really proud that I was the one that could do it today for the sponsors and the girls.”