ZONHOVEN, Belgium (VN) – Belgian champion Sanne Cant (Enertherm-BKCP) used skillful handling in the sand to power herself to a decisive victory over Hanka Kupfernagel (Stevens) on a fast and technical course here in eastern Belgium.
From the first plunge down Zonhoven’s spectacular steep and sandy descent, which the pair took side by side, it was clear the race would be a two-way duel. Kupfernagel used the windswept climb on the backside of the course to earn a bit of a gap, but couldn’t shake the Belgian champion, who was looking for redemption following a disappointing fifth place finish in Saturday’s European Championship race in Ipswich, England.
“Lucky I didn’t suffer too much from the trip from the European Championships,” said Cant after the race. “I was motivated for the race here in Zonhoven today because sand is my specialty.”
Cant closed the gap to Kupfernagel at about the midpoint of the race and just kept going, pulling away from the fading German to take what would eventually be an easy victory.
Behind, the 19-year-old Dutch rider Sabrina Stultiens (Rabobank) took advantage of a rather depleted field — only two of the top 10 in Ipswich took the start — to land her first podium spot since last year’s race in Zonhoven, finishing a minute back from the leaders, but 45 seconds ahead of Belgian Joyce Vanderbeken (Decock-Sportivo Moorsele).
After the race, Kupfernagel — who skipped the Ipswich race in favor of a race closer to home today — told reporters she simply couldn’t match the young Belgian’s speed.
“What can I say?” she asked reporters after the race. “This was only my third race of the season. After the world championships on the road I took a week off, but then I got sick for two weeks. I couldn’t race in Tabor, so my first race was just a week ago in Plzen. I just don’t have the form to ride with Sanne now.”
American Amy Dombroski (Telenet-Fidea), meanwhile, finished eighth, fighting her way back into the top 10 after a hard fall on the first lap.
“That was not really what I was hoping for,” said Dombroski. “I think I just hit a hole on the descent on the first lap, I tried a different line and it was a mistake. The fall knocked the wind out of me, so for the next half lap I was just trying to get back in the race. I definitely think I could have done a lot better today.”