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Road Racing

Tour of Flanders: Lotte Kopecky wins three-up sprint for huge home win

Belgian champion Kopecky beats veteran Dutchwomen van Vleuten and van den Broek-Blaak in front of massed home crowds.

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Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) won the Tour of Flanders to take her second Women’s WorldTour victory of the season.

Huge crowds lining the roadside lifted their arms to the sky, cheered, and threw beer into the air as Kopecky won Belgium’s most important cycling race wearing the Belgian national champion’s jersey.

She arrived at the finish line with Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) and her SD Worx teammate, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, after the trio had escaped on the descent of the Paterberg and opened up a one minute gap over the rest of the race.

Kopecky proved the strongest in the sprint for the line, with van Vleuten finishing second and van den Broek-Blaak rounding out the podium.

“It’s quite overwhelming,” Kopecky said after the race. “I’m very thankful to my teammates of team SD Worx and I think this victory is not only for me but for them.”

“Normally, I know that I am faster than Annemiek but after a hard race we also know that Annemiek is fast. We also saw that in [Omloop Het] Niewsblad that we cannot be too confident, still I really backed myself to do the best possible sprint. I was quite confident but you are never sure. I knew that when she couldn’t drop me on the climbs that I had to be confident in the sprint.

“I have no idea [how to celebrate this victory]! I hope that I can do something with my teammates.”

Snow had fallen on the course during the week and, though the sky was clear, it was a cold spring day that greeted the riders on the start line in Oudenaarde. Ahead of them lay a 158 kilometers route punctuated by six cobbled sections and 11 short steep climbs, including the Koppenberg featuring for the first time in the women’s race.

A small breakaway formed shortly after the flag drop composed of American star Clara Honsinger (EF Education-Tibco-SVB), Sofie van Rooijen (Parkhotel Valkenburg), Olivia Baril (Valcar-Travel & Service, Kristyna Burlová (Lotto Soudal) and Maria Martins (Le Col-Wahoo).

Once the breakaway had settled into a controllable configuration, the peloton relaxed, allowing the gap to balloon to two minutes after 40km had been raced. In between these two groups, four riders – Makayla MacPherson (Human Powered Health), Katrijn de Clercq (Lotto Soudal), Lotte Popelier (Bingoal Casino-Chevalmeire-Van Eyck Sport), and Naomi De Roeck (Bingoal Casino-Chevalmeire-Van Eyck Sport) – counterattacked, gained a maximum gap of about a minute and were later joined by Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM).

The breakaway split on the cobblestones of Kerkgate leaving just Honsinger and Baril out front, while the SD Worx-led peloton began mopping up some of the early attackers.

Twenty kilometers later, splits also began to appear in the peloton on the steepest sections of the Molenberg; a small group escaped but was promptly chased down by Jumbo-Visma and FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine who had missed the move.

On nearly every climb, counter-attacks emerged from the peloton as teams sought to make the race difficult for the sprinters. Amanda Spratt (BikeExchange-Jayco) attacked just before the Berendries and dangled off the front for a few kilometers while Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) accelerated on the Valkenberg.

With these injections of pace, the gap to the breakaway tumbled, allowing Camilla Alessio (Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling), Marit Raaijmakers (Human Powered Health), and Maike van der Duijn (Le Col Wahoo) to jump across before the gap increased again, reaching 1:45 at the bottom of the Koppenberg.

Such was the strength of van Vleuten on the 22 percent gradient slopes of the Koppenberg that a group of eight riders following her wheel-tracks pulled away on the descent, but was caught ahead of the next climb. The breakaway too was caught ten kilometers later.

Then, with 34km still to race, the peloton split once more and a group of eleven riders, including Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), escaped and built up a lead of 49 seconds ahead of the Kruisberg.

Van Vleuten accelerated on the climb, followed by Kopecky (SD Worx) and Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine), and, as they were caught, Marlen Reusser attacked to bridge across to the lead group.

On the rain-slicked cobbles of the Oude Kwaremont, Reusser and Brodie Chapman (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine) proved to be the strongest members of the breakaway while behind them, van Vleuten attacked from the peloton, distancing everyone except Kopecky and van den Broek-Blaak.

The gap was nearly closed by the bottom of the Paterberg and, on the climb, van Vleuten and Kopecky joined Reusser at the front of the race. Van den Broek-Blaak joined them on the descent and attacked almost immediately, ten kilometers from the finish.

Van Vleuten bridged across but she was still unable to drop Kopecky who stuck to her back wheel, as she had done every time the Dutchwoman had accelerated during the race. This trio initially built up a slender lead of 20 seconds over a small chase group but as the race crept closer to the finish line, it reached a minute and became insurmountable.

Van den Broek-Blaak sat at the front of the group, controlling the pace for her teammate Kopecky who repaid her by outsprinting van Vleuten for the win.

Results will be available once stage has completed.

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