Chantal Blaak sprinted to third on stage three of the Boels Rental Ladies Tour to jump to the top of the overall classification. A group of 14 riders – including three from Boels-Dolmans – contested the uphill sprint finish in Sittard.
“It didn’t feel like a sprint,” said Blaak. “It was go as fast as you can. They went from the bottom already full, so that’s not a sprint anymore. That’s who has the legs.”
“I was in the wheel of Alena Amialiusik (CANYON//SRAM), I think,” noted Blaak. “I was behind Kasia Niewiadoma (Rabo-Liv) and Amy Pieters (Wiggle-High5). Karol-Ann [Canuel] started, really fast, and Ellen [van Dijk] was also in that line. Everyone just went as fast as possible.”
Niewiadoma beat out Pieters for the stage.
“Our plan was that we all need to go to the top without gaps from the group,” Blaak added. “We didn’t care who of us took it.”
Two sets of two-rider breakaways dominated the early action. The gap to the second pair grew beyond the second minute mark but never proved a threat.
“We decided we wanted to split the bunch over one of the climbs – at the top of the climb,” said Blaak. “The break was coming back, and it was the perfect time. We started turning and putting on the pressure. That worked quite nicely.”
Boels-Dolmans had come to front at the 83-kilometre mark. Ten kilometres later, less than 30 riders remained in the front group.
“That’s when we said the gap was big enough that it was time to make the group even smaller,” said Blaak. “We started to send numbers to see what happens. We attacked and others started counter-attacking. We ended up with only the strongest.”
The strongest included Blaak, Canuel, Van Dijk, Niewiadoma, Pieters, Amialiusik, Amanda Spratt (ORICA-AIS), Gracie Elvin (ORICA-AIS), Audrey Cordon (Wiggle High5), Anna van der Breggen (Rabo Liv), Lisa Brennauer (CANYON//SRAM), Leah Kirchman (Liv Plantur), Hannah Solovei (Parkhotel Valkenburg), Alice Arzuffi (Lensworld Zannata) and Tatiana Guderzo (Hitec Products).
Blaak’s first instinct was to make the group even smaller.
“I attacked but then I saw Anna [van der Breggen] (Rabo-Liv) and Alena so I stopped,” said Blaak. “I didn’t work. That’s when it came back together.”
“We followed each other attacking,” added Van Dijk. “I attacked after Chantal was caught. Karol-Ann also attacked. We couldn’t get away.”
Eight kilometres from the final passage of the finish line, the attacks had stopped as the leaders geared up for the tough finale.
“Anna van der Breggen was riding on the front,” said Van Dijk. “I think everyone was saving it for the finish at that point.”
“I was cracked,” sadi Blaak. “That last lap was so, so hard.”
Cracked maybe but still able to factor to sprint onto the stage podium.
Blaak heads into stage four with an 11-second advantage over Van Dijk in second and 33 seconds over Canuel in third. Amialiusik is the best placed non-Boels-Dolmans rider in fourth place at 47 seconds.
“Stage four is two times a big lap and one time a small lap like today, but it’s all flat,” said Van Dijk. “It doesn’t look like we can really do anything with wind. It’s probably going to be a sprint, but maybe a little group can come in.”