Chantal Blaak sprinted to fourth place in Doha on Tuesday on the opening stage of the Ladies Tour of Qatar. The Dutchwoman was the Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team’s main option for the sprint and proved able to contend along with the best. Kirsten Wild (Hitec Products) beat out Annalisa Cucinotta (Alé Cipollini) for top honours while Lizzie Williams (ORICA-AIS) rounded out the podium. Blaak slotted into fourth ahead of Shelley Olds (Cylance).
“I didn’t start the race as the team leader, but it was very clear to ride for me in the sprint today,” said Blaak. “It was very hard in this field with so many strong sprinters, but the team believed in me. It worked out well for us.”
The Ladies Tour of Qatar marks the season-opener for the Dutch-registered squad that opts out of early season Southern Hemisphere racing. There’s always a bit of ‘back to school’ nerves in the bunch and a question mark around form and fitness.
“Our main goal today was to ride as a team,” explained Blaak. “The first race of 2016 felt like the first race of any year. It was no problem to find each other and work as a team.”
“I really liked what I saw today,” added team manager Danny Stam. “I liked how the team worked well together.”
The Boels-Dolmans Qatar squad hoped to use the weather conditions to split the bunch before the finish.
“There wasn’t enough wind to break the peloton,” noted Blaak. “It split once, but everyone came back together.”
“My teammates and I would like to have some action in the race,” Blaak added. “Hopefully that happens in the next few days.”
Although several teams attempted to send a rider up the road during the second half of the race, none of the moves had staying power. The field was back together for a fast finish.
“It was a hard final sprint,” said Blaak. “It’s a bit uphill and with a headwind. I had a great lead-out from Ellen [van Dijk]. She is so strong. The rest of the girls helped perfectly to put me in the right position. I find that is always hard.”
Christine Majerus was one of a handful of riders that touched the ground in the build-up to the sprint.
“She has lots of wounds,” said Stam. “But she’s ok.”
Fourth in the finale, Blaak sits in fifth overall, ten seconds off the race lead. She’s three seconds ahead of bunch time because of seconds she secured out on the road by winning the second intermediate sprint.
“We went for the intermediate sprints because if you don’t try, you for sure have nothing,” said Blaak.
Racing in Qatar continues tomorrow with a 120-kilometre stage between Sheikh Faisal Museum and Al Khor Corniche.