Chantal Blaak soloed to her third victory of the season at Gent Wevelgem on Sunday. The 26-year-old attacked out of a group of around 20 riders inside the final ten kilometres. Blaak immediately gained a gap, and she never looked back. She reached the finish line 1:24 ahead of a seven-rider chase group that included Ellen van Dijk.
“It feels so good,” said Blaak. “I’m really happy to win this race. The plan was to have numbers in the front today, and we had numbers. Then you have to finish it together. It was cool that we did it.”
With the Gent Wevelgem win comes a change in the UCI Women’s WorldTour rankings as Blaak assumes the lead from world champion Lizzie Armitstead in inaugural series. It’s a continuation of a stellar spring for the Blaak who finished second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to Armistead and won Le Samyn and Ronde van Drenthe.
Blaak’s results are a key component of a dominant spring for Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team. The Dutch-registered squad, which recently announced title sponsors Boels Rental and Dolmans Landscaping had renewed through 2018, has won the first four rounds of the inaugural UCI Women’s WorldTour.
Armitstead opened the series with a win at Strade Bianche. Blaak won from a small group at Ronde van Drenthe. Armitstead snagged a second victory in Italy with a late race attack at Trofeo Binda. And today Blaak won Gent Wevelgem.
The cobbles and climbs of Gent Wevelgem serve as a fitting warm-up ahead of next weekend’s Ronde van Vlaanderen. The fifth edition of the women’s race covered 115 kilometres with the race’s five ‘hellingen’ grouped in the middle of the route.
When the race had reached the first ascent of the Kemmelberg at the 51-kilometre mark, the peloton had split into two distinct groups. Following the first passage of the Kemmelberg, an elite selection had been made. Twenty-seven riders formed the leading group. Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team had six riders in the selection.
“It was a really windy race,” said Blaak. “It split already early. The Kemmelberg was really hard, and after the Kemmelberg, we were still with the whole team, so that was impressive. The girls did such a good job.”
With the climbs completed and 30 kilometres still to race, world champion Lizzie Armistead attacked twice. A counter-attack by Blaak followed Armistead’s catch. The Dutchwoman immediately opened up a small gap on three chasers – Lisa Brennauer (CANYON//SRAM), Emma Johansson (Wiggle High 5) and Annemiek van Vleuten (ORICA-AIS).
“We started to play with numbers,” said Blaak. “In the end, I have an attack and the confidence that the girls were behind me. It was really good teamwork today.”
Boels-Dolmans put three riders in the top 10 and five in the top 20, including 2014 Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Ellen van Dijk, who returned to racing on Sunday following her recovery from a broken rib sustained at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last month.
“It was so nice to race again and especially with this team,” said Van Dijk. “It’s great fun to attack one by one, knowing you always have back-up. Danny [Stam] has smart tactic and when Chantal made a good attack, we closed the gap to the three chasers. They stopped work, and Chantal could complete a super strong solo.”
“Personally, I’m super happy to be back and to be in the front of the race again,” added Van Dijk, who finished in eighth place from the first chase group. “We made the race as a team, and it definitely was a tough one! Looking forward to more in the coming weeks.”
The UCI Women’s WorldTour continues next Sunday with the Tour of Flanders.
“Next week is Flanders,” said Blaak. “I’m really looking forward to starting in this [Women’s WorldTour] jersey at my favourite classic.”