Chantal Blaak outsprinted a nine-rider escape group to win the fourth stage of the Healthy Ageing Tour on Saturday. The victory is Finsterwolde is Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team’s fifth win of the season.
“It’s always nice to win,” said Blaak. “I’m really happy with how it goes here for the team. Three stage wins in four days. Not bad, right?”
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team played the aggressor in a very animated afternoon of racing. Attacks began from kilometre zero of the 126-kilometre day and lasted all the way until the finish.
“I wish I had done a warm-up today because it started full, full, full gas,” said Blaak. “We like that of course. We’re all in good shape. We’re all really motivated. We were all happy to attack. We have nothing to lose, and we’ll take every opportunity we can to put pressure on for the overall and try to win stages.”
Numerous early attacks where neutralised until two riders were granted a bit of space after around 30 minutes of racing. Anna Trevisi (Alé Cipollini) and Eva Buurman (Parkhotel Valkenburg – Destil) gained a 30-second advantage.
Vita Heine (Hitec Products) was the first to give chase. She was eventually joined by ten others, including Amy Pieters. The Dutchwoman was the highest-placed on the overall in sixth, 1:09 behind race leader Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb).
Both the size and the composition of the breakaway troubled Sunweb. In defence of the race lead, Sunweb kept the breakaway on a short leash. Because Sunweb didn’t allow the group ahead more than a 45-second advantage, calm never truly descended upon the stage as the bunch continued to attack.
“The problem when you have four riders that are up on the overall is that anytime they attack there is directly a lot of pressure and a lot of stress,” noted Blaak. “When Amy attacks or Christine [Majerus] or Amalie [Dideriksen] or Anna [van der Breggen], no one wants to give them space. Kasia [Pawlowska] and I are less threatening, and Kasia was in the front the whole day yesterday, so of course, it was going to come to me.
“I was motivated for the breakaway but on the other side, I was also thinking it was nice for Amy to go away like she did because Sunweb had to kill themselves to keep it close or bring her back,” Blaak added. “We kept attacking. Amy’s group came back to us, and I went away with a group that had no one else on the general classification.”
This time it was Blaak who was best-placed from the seven-rider escape in 13th place at 2:17. She was joined by Alexis Ryan and Mieke Kroger (CANYON//SRAM), Allie Dragoo (Cérvelo-Bigla), Daiva Tuslaite (Alé Cipollini), Susanne Andersen (Hitec Products) and Christina Siggard (VeloCONCEPT).
“We made the decision to race aggressively until 25 kilometres,” said Blaak. “I only rolled through because I had hoped there would be more attacks behind me. If no one else came across, I also knew I could win out of this group, so it was good for us – better than a bunch sprint.”
Twenty kilometres from the finish, Danique Braam (GRC Jan van Arckel) and Liena de Jong (Team Drenthe) successfully bridged across to the leaders. Now nine riders had a 45-second advantage.
“I could feel that the break was going to stay away when the two girls came across,” said Blaak. “I had looked at the final on the last lap, and I knew there was a headwind. My tactic was not to ride too full because I was going to gamble on the sprint.”
Blaak was forced to work in the final kilometres when cooperation in the breakaway waned. Kroeger was the first to attack. Dragoo countered. Braam went at the three kilometre mark.
“You always have to gamble even when you know you’re the one the others think should work,” said Blaak. “I knew I was going to have to do it, but sometimes if you wait, the others will do your work for you and you can save and follow wheels. That’s not what happened here. Everyone decided I should do the work, and I can understand that.”
Braam went again in the final kilometre. The build-up to the sprint neutralised her attack. A lone rider crash disrupted the run-in to the line.
“The last stretch of road was just straight,” said Blaak. “There was nothing technical at all. It was a straight road into a headwind. There was a crash right in front of me, and I was really lucky I didn’t go down. I had to come out of my pedal to stay up.
“There was only one good line,” Blaak added. “I came out of third wheel, but I had enough speed to take the win.”
Enough speed to take the win and ease up slightly to celebrate across the line.
“There’s still one more day, and we think there will be wind tomorrow,” said Blaak, talking about the final stage of the Healthy Ageing Tour. “A lot of people will be tired. We are strong, and we are motivated.”
Boels-Dolmans heads into Sunday’s stage with four riders in the top nine. Van der Breggen is best-placed in second, only 27-seconds behind Van Dijk.
“Everyone can expect some action from us,” said Blaak. “Even when we go for the stage win, when there are four of the six that are good on the overall, it automatically puts pressure on the others.”