HOOGEVEEN, Netherlands (VN) — Chantal Blaak won the Ronde van Drenthe Saturday in the north east of the Netherlands, making Boels – Dolmans’ two for two in the new Women’s WorldTour series after Elizabeth Armitstead’s Strade Bianche victory last week.
The 26-year-old Blaak, riding in her home country, won the sprint from a group of four riders who had escaped the peloton with 60 kilometers left to race.
The win is Blaak’s second of the year, after she won Le Samyn des Dames earlier this month, and is also and her team’s fifth victory in 2016.
The 138km Ronde van Drenthe is characterized by three stretches of cobbles, whose round stones differ somewhat form normal pavé, and the climb of the VAMberg, a short but steep ascent. The area is typically flat — the climb, which has an average grade of 17% over its 300 meters is constructed over a waste disposal site and named after the company that built it.
Though the riders tackle the hill three times, after the final ascent there are still over 28km to ride, making it less likely for the climb to be decisive. Instead, it was the third set of cobbles where the selection was made Saturday.
The peloton entered the third and final set of cobbles together after 79km. By the time they emerged, however, four riders were clear of the bunch. Despite hard work behind in pursuit, the quartet of Blaak, Gracie Elvin (Orica – AIS), Trixi Worrak (Canyon – SRAM), and Anna van der Breggen (Rabo – Liv) was able to open a gap.
Wiggle – High5, making the start with several options capable of winning the race, missed the move. The team’s work on the front of the peloton kept the break under control, with the gap hovering at around 20 seconds for a time, but they were never able to close down the advantage completely. By the second ascent of the VAMberg, the four leaders had 50 seconds on the peloton.
Only 7km later, as they passed over the climb for the third and final time, the gap had grown to a minute and a half. Wiggle gave up the chase, leaving the break to battle for the win.
“We knew it would split up over the cobbles,” said Blaak’s teammate, Nikki Harris. “There wasn’t much wind, so then it was a case of staying at the front and following attacks. Luckily Chantal got in the right group and we knew she had a good sprint, so when she was there we were quite confident she could go for it.”
On the final bend, 400 meters before the line, Elvin launched her move, but she was unable to hold off Blaak, who won only the fourth individual race of her career.
This was not Blaak’s first appearance at Drenthe, and the Dutch woman was understandably pleased with the performance. “My legs were good and I focused on the sprint, but you still have to finish it,” she said in a team press releasee.
“I’ve been doing this race since 2008 and finally I got the victory.”
Elvin settled for second, while Worrack took the final spot on the podium. Van der Breggen’s fourth place was enough to give her the lead in the WorldTour standings after Elizabeth Armitstead abandoned the race due to illness.