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Road Racing

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Annemiek van Vleuten outkicks Demi Vollering in two-up sprint

Dutch riders sweep the podium as Lorena Wiebes takes third in cobblestone opener.

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Annemiek van Vluten (Movistar Team) showed her power to storm a two-up sprint against Demi Vollering (Team SD Worx) and win the women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

The 39-year-old former world champion made the race her own, attacking on the Muur-Kapelmuur before riding across to the fractured breakaway.

Vollering was the only rider able to respond to van Vleuten’s attack and was the only rider able to hold her up the final Bosberg climb as they caught the remains of the breakaway.

In the flat 13 kilometers to the finish, van Vleuten drove the duo to build an unassailable lead of over a minute.

The Dutchwoman then led out the sprint into the final 250 meters and held off the challenge of her breakaway companion for victory.

“It’s a really nice one especially as it was a team effort after the girls did the lead-out into the Muur-Kapelmuur,” van Vleuten said.

“That makes it even more beautiful and to beat somebody who is on paper faster than me on my wheel [Vollering] and then still beat her … It’s nice to start the season like this,” she added.

The opening women’s spring classic saw a full field of 140 riders compete over 128 kilometers between Ghent and Ninove.

Five cobbled sections early in the race were combined with nine climbs to wear down riders before the final run-in to Ninove.

The short distance between the climbs would be key with the Marlboroughstraat, Biesestraat, Leberg, Berendries, Elverenberg-Vossenhol, Muur-Kapelmuur, and Bosberg all coming within 27 tough kilometers.

However, the Bosberg concludes with 13 kilometers remaining giving sprinters an opportunity to claw back any breakaway riders.

Last year, the now-retired Anna van der Breggen rode clear to win by 23 seconds with classics specialist Emma Norsgaard (Movistar Team) winning a group sprint behind.

Norsgaard was looking to go one better this season in her opening race of the season. However, she faced tough competition from a stacked field including world champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo), Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky (Team SD Worx), and van Vleuten.

An early move of six riders had a gap of three minutes as they hit the first climbs including Emily Newsom (EF Education-Tibco-SVB), Svenja Betz (IBCT), Kylie Waterreus (Lotto Soudal Ladies), Fien Delbaere ( Multum Accountants Ladies Cycling Team), Anastasia Carbonari (Valcar-Travel & Service) and Laura Tomasi (UAE Team ADQ).

They were caught and replaced by four riders consisting of Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma) joined at the front by Marlen Reusser (Team SD Worx), Liane Lippert (Team DSM), and European champion Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo).

With van Dijk part of the four-rider move with 30 seconds advantage, Trek-Segafredo was happy to block the bunch and allow the move to progress which was aided by crashes in the bunch behind.

Hitting the decisive Mur-Kapelmuur the breakaway had a gap of 45 seconds on the peloton with 22 kilometers remaining.

Heading towards the climb with gradients of 19 percent it was Movistar Team and FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope who took control of the bunch to reduce the gap.

The race exploded on the Muur-Kapelmuur with the breakaway reduced to three riders.

Vollering and van Vluten attacked catching a dropped Henderson and going in pursuit of the remaining leaders.

Fellow Team SD Worx rider Kopecky tried to follow the move but was slightly distanced over the top of the climb.

Van Vluten caught the breakaway before the Bosberg and then launched a stinging attack which only Vollering was able to follow as they went over the top with a flat 13 kilometers to home.

The duo was 20 seconds clear with 10 kilometers remaining as they attempted to fend off the chasing group behind. Van Vluten was using her power to put pressure on Vollering inside the final eight kilometers with the leading duo having a 46-second gap on the chasing group behind.

Inside the final five kilometers, the leading duo had a gap of more than a minute over a growing group of chasers that included Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope).

Coming out of the final corner, Van Vluten attacked and led into the final 250 meters, and despite Vollering coming alongside her, rival the Dutch rider hung on for the victory.

Behind the chasers had been caught by the bunch with Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) beating world champ Balsamo in the sprint for third, some 25 seconds behind.

Results will be available once stage has completed.

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