Chantal Blaak won the sprint for second place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday. Fifteen seconds after Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) soloed across the finish line, Blaak outsprinted a five-women chase group for best of the rest. It was a familiar scenario for the Dutchwoman, who won the race for second in 2016 with teammate Lizzie Deignan up the road.
“If you’re second behind your teammate, you win, and that’s the only thing that’s important,” said Blaak. “We didn’t win today, but I’m happy with my second place. I feel good. I think I’m in good shape, and I look forward to the other races.”
Blaak used good legs to overcome bad luck en route to her second straight podium.
“I crashed in the Côte de Trieu, which was really not a good moment,” said Blaak. “It was on the bottom and by the top, I was already back in the group of 30.”
The Côte de Trieu, coming at the mid-point of the 122-kilometre race, typically serves as the launching pad of the first selection. A group of 40, including all six Boels-Dolmans riders, came over the top of the fourth climb together.
“Then the Patersberg came, but I actually had bike problems from the crash,” said Blaak. “My chain had come off, and I didn’t have a brake – but you don’t have to brake so much, so that was ok. It was not a good moment to change the bike, especially with car 22, so I had to stop and see what I could do myself. It was another big effort to come back after that.”
By the time Blaak had regained contact with the reduced peloton, Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) had managed to slip away from the peloton. The duo took advantage of a crash over the top of the Paterberg involving Amy Pieters and Christine Majerus to gain a gap.
“It was Ellen first, then Amy, then Elisa and then me,” Majerus explained. “When we crashed, that’s when the other two went.”
Majerus immediately jumped up and began running up the Paterberg. Pieters, with mechanical issues post-crash, was forced to wait for the team car.
The quick reaction by the Luxembourgish champion allowed her to jump into a chase group of four alongside Gracie Elvin (ORICA-SCOTT), Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal) and Elena Cecchini (CANYON//SRAM).
“I stopped working in the chase when I knew I had teammates coming from behind,” said Majerus.
With collaboration waning in the first chase group, the main bunch made contact with the quartet before the Korteeker. Boels-Dolmans put Majerus, Karol-Ann Canuel and Megan Guarnier on the front heading into Ladeuze, which Longo Borghini and Van Dijk began slightly more than a minute ahead of their chasers.
“I worked until Molenberg and then finito,” said Majerus.
“Annemiek [van Vleuten] (ORICA-SCOTT) went on the Molenberg,” added Blaak. “The selection was smaller. I think it was 15-20 at that point. I was thinking: ‘ok, I need to go as fast as I can on the Paaastraat and see in the end who is there.’ ”
Blaak’s strategy proved effective. Her pace shelled all but five riders. Van Vleuten, Brand, Kopecky and Amanda Spratt (ORICA-SCOTT) had made the selection.
“It wasn’t a perfect group but it a good group,” said Blaak. “Annemiek and Spratt helped with the chase. Lotte could only hang on, and Lucinda got a free ride, of course, because she had Ellen in front.”
The gap to the leaders began to tumble and just beyond LangeMunte, the final cobble section, Blaak and Brand made contact with Longo Borghini and Van Dijk. Several kilometres later, Van Vleuten and Spratt bridged the distance to the leaders. With 10 kilometres remaining a group of six looked set to contest the finish.
“It was a difficult situation with two from ORICA and two from Sunweb,” noted Blaak. “I already spent a lot of energy earlier in the race, and I didn’t have extra for the finish.”
Brand played the main aggressor on the run-in to the line – attacking once, then twice and then finally gaining a gap with her third acceleration.
“When Lucinda attacked for the last time, I couldn’t pedal at all,” said Blaak. “I had good legs but not good enough legs for that.”
Brand’s third attack netted her the victory. Blaak gapped Van Vleuten to take second.
“I thought it was best to go a bit early,” said Blaak. “With 300 metres to go, I went full, and I got a gap on the line.”
Blaak admitted she had mixed feelings following the race.
“We did our best,” she said. “We did everything we could. We had such bad luck today, and I think second was the maximum. I’m happy with how I raced and with the team. I know it’s not possible to have another season like last year where we win everything, but here I’ve finished always fourth and third and second. It would have been nice to win.”