Chantal Blaak sprinted to third place in Vårgårda Sweden on Sunday. The 26-year-old was part of a nine-rider escape group that broke away from the peloton in the final 50 kilometres of the one-day Women’s WorldTour race. Emilia Fahlin (Alé Cipollini) delivered a win on home soil ahead of Lotta Lepistö.
“It wasn’t the result we wanted, but it was a good weekend all around,” said Blaak. “The team time trial win was the highlight, of course.”
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team lined up for an early, damp start to the day with the usual intentions and objective.
“We wanted to be aggressive, as always, and we wanted win,” said Blaak. “We are strong because we race as a team, and we would back anyone who was in a winning position.”
The 141-kilometre race was divided into three distinct sections. The morning began with four laps around an 11-kilometre local circuit with one short but sharp climb. Following the four local laps, the peloton set off on a 53-kilometre loop that included four gravel sectors. Then it was back to the local laps for another four times around the smaller circuit.
“You don’t want to ride in the back on the local laps, so we rode on the front of the race from the beginning,” said Blaak. “There was one breakaway rider away, but she didn’t have a big gap and she wasn’t a problem for us.”
“The gravel sections broke up the race a little bit, but we wanted to break it up even more, so on the third section, we came to the front to do a kind of team time trial,” Blaak added. “We wanted to split up the race. It didn’t work.”
By the fourth gravel sector, Ellen van Dijk had forced her way clear with a strong escape group, but she and her breakmates was unable to gain a significant gap.
“Ellen came back in the last section, and the peloton was in one long line with splits between,” noted Blaak. “I was toward the front, and I reacted to attacks. When I saw the group was nine, I knew I really needed to work or the break would get too big.”
Blaak was joined up the road by Fahlin, Lepisto, Shara Gillow (Rabo-LIv), Amanda Spratt (ORICA-AIS), Julia Soek (Lotto Soudal Ladies), Hannah Barnes (CANYON//SRAM), Marta Confalonieri (Lensworld) and Amy Pieters (Wiggle High5). With all of the major teams represented, the nine-rider move had staying power.
The leaders hit the local circuit for the second set of four laps with a 20-second advantage.
“Gillow was not working, which I can understand,” said Blaak. “The rest were working but everyone was a bit unsure. They wanted to work, but they didn’t want to kill themselves with the work. The gap went out to 1:30 or something like this and then started to come back down.”
The gap crept down on lap two, but the breakaway riders recommitted to the move on lap three.
“It’s always hard in a group of nine,” noted Blaak. “You never know what will happen. You have to follow your instinct and hope for the best. I thought I had better chances from the breakaway then from the bunch and so did some of the others. We picked up the pace on the second to last lap. We went fast on the climb. It hurt.”
Blaak anticipated attacks in the final lap. Fahlin was amongst those that attempted a solo bid for glory. Despite the aggression at the front, Blaak was comfortable.
“I could handle the attacks pretty well,” said Blaak. “It was hard but not as hard as I thought.”
Behind, the gap to the peloton held steady, around 50-seconds, as Dani King (Wiggle-High5) and Roxanne Knetemann (Rabo-Liv) attempted to bridge across to the frontrunners.
Blaak entered the final corner in good position, but when she came out of the corner and onto the straight run-in to the line, she was boxed in.
“I was on the left side in second or third wheel,” explained Blaak. “I came out of the corner blocked. I blame myself that I couldn’t go full speed in the last 150 metres.”
“I was disappointed straight away but now I’m much happier,” said Blaak. “The girls are happy, too. For sure the team time trial win on Friday was great, and we came with a really good feeling today. You could see that in how we raced. It was a great weekend.”