Anna van der Breggen has won the 2018 Women’s WorldTour opener, Strade Bianche on Saturday. The Olympic champion went solo in the final 15 kilometres of the race known for its gravel sectors and steep climbs, and was able to celebrate her victory well before reaching the finish line. World champion Chantal Blaak added a fourth place to the celebrations, while 2015 Strade Bianche winner Megan Guarnier crossed the line in twelfth place.
“It was so hard today!,” Van der Breggen exclaimed. “We knew it was going to be hard, so we tried to stay as warm as possible. We kept on our jackets as long as we could and tried to eat and drink enough. That’s so much harder in circumstances like these, when you have so much clothes on and your hands are frozen.”
Van der Breggen’s win is a true team effort, with Boels-Dolmans dominating the race from the start. “Christine [Majerus] offered me a drink bottle with hot tea inside exactly at the right moment, just before halfway in the race, when I was having difficulties with the cold,” Van der Breggen said. “Those little things were essential today. It was also great that Chantal was in the break, so that the pace was high all the time. It kept us warm. But you could tell it took a lot of energy to do anything.”
The world champ was part of a lead group of three that formed on one of the gravel sectors and held until live coverage of the women’s race started. “Alena [Amialiusik, Canyon-SRAM] attacked at the end of the longest gravel sector, which was slightly uphill,” said Blaak. “I let her go, but then Ellen [van Dijk, Team Sunweb] counterattacked and we all know you shouldn’t give her any space. So I jumped on her wheel and then we were off the front with the three of us.”
“We cooperated very well, but you could tell that we all were saving a bit for the final,” Blaak explained. “You just know they’re pushing behind us and that they accelerate on every uphill section. So we knew we were going to be caught in the end, but it was a good situation for me to survive the first attacks in the final.”
A very reduced peloton reeled the trio back in with 20 kilometres to go. It was the sign for Van der Breggen and Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) to attack. Within no time, they built a substantial lead. Van der Breggen continued to push the pedals and left Longo Borghini behind. At the 15 kilometres to go mark, Van der Breggen knew she had to take it to the finish line.
“The climbs in the final were all very steep and the gravel had turned into clay, which made the ascends so hard,” said Van der Breggen. “I wish Elisa and me would have been together longer, so that you can recover a bt more, but that was not the case. I had chosen to attack, so I knew I had to finish it off.”
A group of six was left to fight for third place, with Blaak still in there. However, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) attacked on a steep uphill section and bridged across to Longo Borghini. “I really couldn’t follow her wheel, but that’s no shame as she’s a real climber,” said Blaak. “We were with the five of us until Siena. It was everyone for themselves on the finish climb.”
Van der Breggen was the first to arrive on the Piazza del Campo and her victory comes off the back of winning the Cyprus Sunshine Cup, a mountainbike stage race. Those off road skills came in handy during the race today, with eight gravel sectors that had turned into mud baths after a week’s worth of snow melted in the rainy weather circumstances om March 3.
“Road cycling is different from mountainbiking or cyclocross, but I don’t fear mud or drifting anymore,” said Van der Breggen. “It was an epic race, I think it’s the hardest race I’ve ever done. I was completely empty at the finish line.”
Almost a minute behind Van der Breggen, Niewiadoma crossed the line to take second place ahead of last year’s winner Longo Borghini. Behind them, Blaak threw her bike across the line beating Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott) to take fourth place, an incredible result after being in the break for such a long time.
“I surprised myself today, I’m pretty proud of myself,” Blaak concluded. “This was my first ever Strade Bianche and what an edition it was! I really thought I’d come here to work. I was the first one to raise my hand and said: okay, whatever you want me to do, I will! But it went very well. I’m proud that I was part of such a great race. And I think the viewers saw a true spectacle.”
The Strade Bianche is the first race in the 2018 UCI Women’s WorldTour, so after taking the leader’s jersey home in 2017, Van der Breggen is the first wearer of the UCIWWT leader’s jersey this year. The Women’s WorldTour continues with the Ronde van Drenthe on Sunday, March 11.