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Kopecky became only the second Belgian woman, after Grace Verbeke in 2010, to win the Flemish monument as she outkicked Annemiek van Vleuten by a huge margin in Oudenaarde. It was the completion of a dream of her own, which she had fostered for the past five years.
The huge crowds that lined the finishing stretch and packed the town square in Oudenaarde roared as the Belgian champion crossed the line. It was the biggest moment of the 26-year-old’s career, and she hopes that it will also prove to be a big moment for Belgian women’s cycling.
“For sure in Belgium, it’s the biggest race that there is so for a Belgian to win in this jersey is something really special,” Kopecky said. “As a small girl, I didn’t know what I was capable of. It was only in 2017 when I came fifth in the Tour of Flanders, it was only then that I felt like I could win this race. It has been quite a long time in my head already.
“Already after Strade Bianche, a lot of young girls contacted me or something. Maybe after this Tour of Flanders win I hope that young girls can dream of winning this race once or just riding it. I hope this will get a lot of young riders on the bike.”
It was the second time that Kopecky had beaten van Vleuten this season after she bested her at Strade Bianche at the start of March. On that occasion, it was the Dutch rider in the driving seat on the final climb, and being able to hang in there with her showed Kopecky what she was capable of this year.
“It’s really nice to beat Annemiek, she’s one of the best riders in the peloton. I also really have a lot of respect for her. On the climbs, she’s the better one, she’s the one to follow and if nobody else can follow her then it’s really good for me and for my confidence,” she said.
“This was a bit different because Strade was a finish for her and the pace, she made on the final climb was phenomenal, and for me to be able to follow it was great. She made a really high pace on the climbs and I was on the limit and that for sure gave me a lot of confidence.”
Kopecky’s victory once again came off the back of a strong tactical race from the SD Worx squad. Demi Vollering, Christine Majerus, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Marlen Reusser were present in several breakaway attempts inside the final 50 kilometers.
Van den Broek-Blaak made a key move with less than 10 kilometers to go with Kopecky following later on the wheel of van Vleuten. With two riders in the group, and one of the fastest finishers in the bunch, the pressure was on SD Worx to put the effort in to maintain the attack.
In her ear, Kopecky was being told to get van Vleuten to help out, but she believed it would be a fruitless battle and there was little time to waste with a stern chase still going on behind.
“Anna was telling us that we had to make Annemiek work but I was pretty sure that she was not going to do that. If I was Annemiek I would also not do it. Then we had 25 seconds and I thought that it was not a moment to gamble,” Kopecky said. “At this moment we were with two on the podium and I think I’m the faster one compared to Annemiek, and I just had to have the confidence.
“It was a slight headwind coming from the left side so if Chantal went to the right then Annemiek was already in the wind. Then I thought she was going to make a long sprint of it like she did with Demi Vollering at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. When she started sprinting, I knew I had to go immediately.”
Though van Vleuten did her best to hold on, spinning furiously, Kopecky put down the power and pulled out a healthy advantage by the line — much to the delight of the vociferous home crowd.