Ellen van Dijk returns to racing at Gent Wevelgem this Sunday. The Dutchwoman has been sidelined since late February when she broke a rib at a crash sustained at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Although Van Dijk fell in the opening kilometres, she completed the European season opener, playing an integral part of the Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team one-two with Lizzie Armitstead and Chantal Blaak.
“I’m really happy to finally be back racing,” said Van Dijk ahead of her return. “I say finally because it took me way too long. When I first had my injury, I didn’t really accept what it meant. I just thought: ‘When can I race again?’ – and I was thinking maybe it would be in two days.”
“It’s caused some great disappointment over the last few weeks,” Van Dijk admitted. “I wasn’t expecting four weeks to come back. It’s longer than what I hoped for, but for a broken rib, it’s a normal amount of time.”
The fourth round of the UCI Women’s WorldTour takes the peloton to Belgium for a serving of cobbles, climbs and cycling-crazed Belgian fans. While terrorist attacks in Brussels have caused some talk of potential race cancellation, race organisers made the decision to carry on with the races, adding additional security measures.
“After what happened in Brussels, it’s a bit scary to think what is possible in this crazy world,” said sport director Danny Stam. “I think we must not let fear lead us. We must show that sport unites. We will start with condolences to everyone who is involved in this terrible tragedy.”
The men’s Gent Wevelgem is now in its 78th edition. A women’s race, run on the same day as the men’ race, was added only three years ago. Because Gent Wevelgem was previously run on the same day as Trofeo Binda and because the Italian race was higher-ranked, Boels-Dolmans sat out the Belgian race last year, and Ellen van Dijk never contested the classic.
“It’s exciting to race something new,” said Van Dijk. “I’m almost a veteran. I’ve done all the races a couple times. You know where the course is going, where the move is going, what the climbs will be like. It’s nice in a way because you know what to expect, but the surprise effect is good, too. New races are very welcome.”
While the race is new for most of the riders of Boels-Dolmans, the style of racing and some of the roads are very familiar. The 2016 edition of Gent Wevelgem covers 115 kilometres with five ‘hellingen’ or climbs – the Kemmelberg x 2, the Monteberg x 2 and the Baneberg. The climbs are grouped in the middle of the race with the first ascent of the Kemmelberg coming at the 51-kilometre mark and the final time up the Monteberg at the 81-kilometre mark.
“These are some nasty hills with cobbles, but it’s still far from the finish – more than 30 kilometres,” said Van Dijk. “It’s the same as Het Nieuwsblad and Flanders with the last hill far from the finish.”
“I think the race will probably split over the hills, but there’s a chance for the race to come back together or maybe an elite group will stay away,” Van Dijk added. “It all depends on the style of racing.”
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team have proven the strongest team at the UCI Women’s WorldTour races in March. Three rounds into the inaugural series, and riders from the Dutch-registered squad have climbed to the top step after each round. World champion Lizzie Armitstead, having won both Strade Bianche and Trofeo Binda, leads the series. Boels-Dolmans has three riders in the top six overall with Megan Guarnier in fourth and Ronde van Drenthe winner Chantal Blaak in sixth.
“Obviously the team is racing really well lately,” said Van Dijk. “I hope to fit in and contribute to our success. Personally, I need to see where I’m standing because I didn’t race for so long.”
“My fitness was good when I went into the races at the beginning of February,” she added. “Obviously I lost something, but I hope I can get it back soon. I will take it step-by-step. Sunday at Gent Wevelgem is my first step. I race again on Wednesday and the next Sunday, too. I’m happy to have quite some number of races right from the start.”
Follow Gent Wevelgem live on the team twitter account (@boelsdolmansct), head mechanic Richard Steege’s twitter feed (@richiesteege) and using the official hashtags #GW and #UCIWWT. For additional information on how to follow Sunday’s race, this guide by Sarah Connolly of Pro Women’s Cycling is a good resource. Not live updates but insight into the team will come from Megan Guarnier’s Voxwomen (@voxwomencycling) Instagram/Twitter Takeover running Saturday – Monday.
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team for Gent Wevelgem:
Ellen van Dijk