About 7 kilometers into Saturday’s Elite Women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Switzerland’s Nicole Hanselmann (Bigla) launched an attack and went off the front of the peloton during the 123km Flanders Classic.
Hanselmann extended her early solo break to about a minute and a half on the peloton and 45 seconds on a small chase group before she was slowed up by a course marshall about 30km into the race when she neared the back of the Elite Men’s peloton.
A few minutes later, the entire Elite Women’s peloton was neutralized in the town of Sint-Denijs-Boekel, stopping for nearly 10 minutes to wait for the slow-moving Elite Men’s peloton to continue up the road.
After the long pause the race was re-started, with Hanselmann and the break of three given their respective time gaps on the rest of the peloton. Hanselmann was eventually caught by the field and went on to finish 74th in the race eventually won by Chantal Blaak (Boels – Dolmans).
The Elite Men’s race left Ghent eight minutes before the Elite Women’s. Although the Elite Men’s course is longer at 200km to the 123km for the Elite Women, the two routes follow the same roads for the first approximately 50km.
The event published detailed timetables for the two races [Elite Women, Elite Men], with slow, average and fast speeds given for the respective pelotons. The conflict occurred because the Elite Men’s peloton went much slower than the 39 km/hour minimum assumed speed, and Hanselmann’s break went faster than 38 km/hr maximum speed assumed for the Elite Women.
According to the race’s published timetables, there was supposed to be a 10-minute gap between the 2 pelotons at Sint-Denijs-Boekel. However, the Elite Men’s peloton was traveling at speeds below 30 km/hr at times.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad organizers issued a statement about the Elite Women’s neutralization.
For many years now Flanders Classics has strived for equality for all participants. As we do since 2017, we presented all men’s and women’s teams jointly in the iconic ‘t Kuipke during an amazing show. Right after, we lined up the men’s and women’s race alongside each other at the Emile Clauslaan for their respective starts. The Elite Men took off just eight minutes before the Elite Women in order to keep the numerous fans and the nice atmosphere at the start site for the women’s start as well.
In normal conditions, the men ride faster than the women and the gap gradually increases. This year, however, the men were slower than usual in the beginning of the race, with a speed below 30km/h at times. This circumstance caused a decreasing gap between the women’s and the men’s convoy. After 30 km, and for safety reasons, the organization had to intervene because the leader of the women’s race was getting too close to the convoy of the men’s race. At that point, the elite women’s race was neutralized for about 5 minutes time. As soon as the safety was restored the women were able to continue, with respect for the previous time differences obtained during the race.
In the future, the organization, in consultation with all authorities, will consider letting the women’s race start a few minutes later than this year’s, to avoid any conflict between the men’s and women’s race.
The neutralization of the Elite Women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is not the first time a top-level Women’s race has been neutralized in recent years. In 2017, the Elite Women’s peloton at the Irish Road Nationals was stopped inside the last lap to let the faster-moving Elite Men’s peloton to pass.