Defending champion Chantal Blaak sprinted to ninth place at Gent Wevelgem on Sunday. The fourth edition of the one-day Belgian classic ended in a 40+ rider bunch sprint won by Lotta Lepistö (Cervelo Bigla). It is the first time in the race’s four-year history that more than three riders hit the finishing straight together.
“The sprint was into a headwind,” said Blaak. “I had to start when I did, but it was too early. I’m happy with the form and the team effort, but I’m personally disappointed with the result.”
The opening hour of the race was inactive with the peloton staying together around the four local laps. Early attrition had eliminated only a handful of riders, and a largely in-tact bunch headed for the hills.
Two times up the Kemmelberg, two times up the Monteberg and one time over the Baneberg caused several splits in the peloton. World champion Amalie Dideriksen lost contact with the front of the race over the first Kemmelberg-Monteberg combination but chased hard to make it back in contention before falling off the pace on the second ascent of the painful pairing.
Fifty riders survived the hills in the main bunch. Amy Pieters, Anna van der Breggen and Christine Majerus attacked this group relentlessly.
Van der Breggen gained a gap with Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle High5). Majerus escaped with Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High 5), Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb) and Katrin Garfoot (ORICA-SCOTT). The moves didn’t have staying power or the right combination of riders, and in the end, Boels-Dolmans readied for a sprint finale.
“With all the hills in the middle, the splits that came over them had time to come back,” noted Christine Majerus. “The wind wasn’t in a good direction, so that didn’t help. We wanted to make the race hard before going back to the finish because it was all head wind after that. It didn’t work, but not because we didn’t try.”
The finale was hectic, and Boels-Dolmans was unable to provide a lead-out train for Blaak.
“She was a bit alone and a bit too early in the wind,” said Majerus.
“I went early because I had to go early,” added Blaak. “I wanted to give the girls, who worked really hard, better than this, but it is what is, and I’ll take the positive things out of the day.”