In the U.S., powerhouse sports teams often get dubbed “the New York Yankees of X.” With Opening Day held on Thursday, it’s only fitting that Sunday’s Tour of Flanders belonged to the New York Yankees of Women’s cycling in Boels-Dolmans and a Men’s team in Quick-Step Floors that is on a roll this season with its loaded roster.
Sunday was the 15th running of the Women’s race and 102nd edition of the Men’s race that tackles the cobbled climbs of Flanders and is one of the five monuments of the cycling calendar. As I wrote on Friday, the Tour of Flanders always catches our attention thanks to the healthy dose of cobbled climbing, and this year, there were a number of household cyclocross names making the start.
Van der Breggen Leads Boels-Dolmans Charge
One of the most rewarding aspects of this job is getting feedback from our readers who, to put it simply, are much smarter than us. On Friday, I took a stab at calling attention to cyclocross familiar faces, but overlooked one of the race favorites.
And so does Anna van der Breggen. She was 6th at this year's Dutch CX nationals When you dig a bit deeper you'll notice lot's more cobbled classic riders with a CX background, although on average 'trackies' having better results on the cobbles.
— Cies (@CiesDeTheije) March 30, 2018
Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans) traded her road bike for a cyclocross bike and took sixth at the Dutch Cyclocross National Championships in January. Her crossresults.com page shows she has dabbled in ’cross for the past half-decade, so Dutch Nationals was not a one-time thing for her. Van der Breggen is on a roll on the road in recent years, winning the 2016 Rio Olympics road race and taking first overall for the 2017 UCI Women’s WorldTour.
Van der Breggen’s top finish at the Tour of Flanders was third in 2015, but on Sunday, she changed that with an impressive solo effort. With 27km to go, Van der Breggen attacked out of the lead group of 11 riders. Former Boels-Dolmans rider and race winner Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb)—who shares the nickname “The Animal” with Caroline Mani—tried to follow her move, but could not match Van der Breggen’s aggression. With two other Boels-Dolmans riders in the chase of 10, Van der Breggen had clear sailing to the finish.
The Dutch woman soloed the last 27km to take the impressive win.
Defending road race world champion Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) gave teammate Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) an effective lead-out in the group sprint to allow Pieters to take second and cement the team’s dominance of the race. Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott Women) rounded out the podium in third. If you’re wondering, yep, Van Vleuten finished 29th at the 2017 Superprestige Gieten.
#WoutWatch and Niki Terpstra’s Quick Moves
Contrary to what you might have read on the pages of Cyclocross Magazine, Wout van Aert is not leaving cycling behind to pursue a career in American football. On Sunday, he joined the Tour of Flanders peloton looking for a top ten finish before next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix. Why, he even has his own Twitter hashtag in #WoutWatch, although it may take a Monument win before it hits trending status.
— Tim Johnson (@timjohnsoncx) April 1, 2018
Quick-Step Floors has had a strong start to the season and came into the race as the team others were concerned about. Phillipe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) used an impressive solo effort to take the win in 2017, and the loaded roster that includes former Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) and noted Paris-Roubaix runner-up Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors) looked to make it two straight on the cobbled Flanders climbs.
The #WoutWatch was warming up when the peloton hit the Koppenberg climb 45km from the finish. A group of six riders hit the climb ahead of the large chase group that included Van Aert and many of the other race favorites. Three riders—Sebastian Langeveld (EF Education First – Drapac p/b Cannondale), Mads Pederson (Trek-Segafredo) and Dylan van Baarle (Team Sky)—broke away on the climb while some of the others had their share of troubles on the steep, narrow Koppenburg climb.
Perhaps most importantly, Van Aert did not get lost at the top of the Koppenburg.
I’m seriously impressed with Wout’s ride in RVV. I mean, he totally resisted the desire to turn right at the top of the Koppenberg straight into the field!!!😂😂😂😂😂🤦🏽♀️
— Helen Wyman (@CXHelen) April 1, 2018
The race’s winning move got put into motion 27km from the finish when Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) attacked and Quick-Step’s Terpstra followed. Nibali’s move quickly petered out, but Terpstra continued solo to try to bridge to the lead trio. Terpstra caught Langeveld, Pederson and Van Baarle on the third and final climb of the Oude Kwaremont, and after making contact, just kept riding off the front. Pederson tried to follow, and when the riders cleared the climb, Terpstra and Pederson had separation for first and second, respectively.
Once clear of the last climb of the Paterberg, about 13km of solo time trialing stood between Terpstra and a Tour of Flanders win. Likewise, the 22-year old Pederson had sole grasp of at least second if he could stay clear of the impressive chase group.
Terpstra pulled in solo for the win, while Pederson held off the chase to take second.
So happy!!! Thank you Flanders🙌 pic.twitter.com/PyGkTsDcKf
— Niki Terpstra (@NikiTerpstra) April 1, 2018
#WoutWatch was on alert in the race’s closing kilometers, as Van Aert was in the impressive 11 rider chase group that included names such as Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Strade Bianche winner Thijs Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) and 2017 winner Gilbert. A frustrated Sagan tried to bridge solo in the race’s waning kilometers, but his effort was unsuccessful. Gilbert outkicked Michael Valgren (Astana) at the finish to put a second Quick-Step rider on the podium. Van Aert finished ninth to take home the top ten finish he was hoping for.
For a quick run-down of the race, see Cosmo Catalano’s always excellent How the Race Was Won. (Click on “No, please help” to play the video in the U.S.)
Next up is the Hell of the North this Sunday, where #WoutWatch will undoubtedly be engaged since it is the Classic Van Aert has been targeting all spring.