It is not even March (yet) but that hasn’t stopped the pressure forming on teams that haven’t secured a win this season. Wiggle High5 can breathe a sigh of relief, however, after Belgian sprinter Jolien D’hoore secured their first victory of the seaon at the Omloop van het Hageland on Sunday.
D’hoore beat former Wiggle teammate Chloe Hosking to the line, with Sarah Roy (Orica-Scott Women) rounding out the podium.
“I felt really good today, and the team was really strong,” D’hoore said after the race.
Wiggle had come up short in the previous day’s edition of the Women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, with D’hoore finishing seventh and her teammate, Elisa Longo Borghini, claiming fifth. The Italian was in the thick of the action on Sunday and attacked several times. Her final assault came in the final kilometres and despite holding an advantage over the peloton she was caught inside the final 500 meters. Wiggle were not to be denied, however, and D’hoore edged out the competition to take a deserved victory.
“I was a little bit surprised by it, because of the race yesterday, but we went into the race with a plan. Elisa was on the attack, and I was in a breakaway once, and the other girls helped us amazingly, and in the end it all worked out.
“Elisa was going for the win,” D’hoore added. “The plan was that she attacked on the last climb of the last lap. She would go for the win, definitely, and I had to be there just in case we caught her back before the finish.”
“Actually, I didn’t do a perfect sprint. If I could do it again I would come from a bit further away, just to get a bit of shelter, and then come out in the last few metres. But I was there in the front, so I had no option.”
Brand makes winning debut at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
The 27-year-old, who moved from Rabobank-Liv at the end of 2016 and finished fifth in the race last year, moved clear with a group that contained Chantal Blaak (Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam), Annemiek Van Vleuten (Orica Scott Women), Ellen Van Dijk (Team Sunweb Women) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) before going clear in the final kilometres. Sunweb’s Leah Kirchmann – Cyclingnews’ most recent diarist – finished a credible 39th after helping Brand in the early stages of the race.
"It was a really good day. The team were great and supporting me really well by keeping me out of the headwind,” Brand said at the finish.
“The girls kept me in a great position, and we were in a perfect situation with Ellen up the road and good support behind. They helped me to maintain a good position ahead of the cobbles and climbs, so I didn’t have to do anything which was great. "I started the Molenberg first and when the attacks went we got away in a small group. Ellen's gap held well in front which was good for me then I bridged across on the cobblestones when the gap came down. Then we were six with a few strong sprinters so we wanted to get away. With about 10km to go we started attacking. I had my final attack with about 5km to go - this was really hard but Ellen did a great job behind reacting to everything."
Blaak survives crash to take second in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
A crash on the Côte de Trieu almost scuppered Chantal Blaak’s chances at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday but the 27-year-old, who finished runner-up in the event 12 months ago behind her teammate Lizzie Diegnan, rallied to take second on Saturday, with Sunweb’s Lucinda Brand stealing the show.
“I crashed in the Côte de Trieu, which was really not a good moment. It was on the bottom and by the top, I was already back in the group of 30,” Blaak said.
After further problems with her bike, Blaak returned to the leaders and made it into the final selection that included Brand. The Sunweb rider attack several times, with the final acceleration proving too much for her companions, including Blaak.
“When Lucinda attacked for the last time, I couldn’t pedal at all. I had good legs but not good enough legs for that.”
“We did our best,” she said. “We did everything we could. We had such bad luck today, and I think second was the maximum. I’m happy with how I raced and with the team. I know it’s not possible to have another season like last year where we win everything, but here I’ve finished always fourth and third and second. It would have been nice to win.”
Lepisto finds form in Belgium
Lotta Lepisto, one of the breakthrough riders of 2016, opened up her 2017 account with fourth place in Sunday’s Omloop van het Hageland. The Finnish rider was unable to make the podium as Jolien D’hoore won her first race of the season, but the 27-year-old took a number of positives out of the race.
“I had a flat tyre in the middle of the race and it took super long to get back because we were car number 19,” Lepisto said.
“There was a breakaway at the same time and the peloton was going full gas trying to catch them. Lisa [Klein] did a super job to bring me back, Stephie [Pohl] gave me her wheel and Clara [Koppenburg] was also helping me. It was super nice to have Allie Dragoo so strong today, she followed the team orders to perfection, it was cool to see the team working together. I think I am a little disappointed because it would have been an amazing reward to be on the podium for them.”
Lepisto and her Cervelo Bigla team head to Italy at the weekend for the women’s opening round of the World Cup at Strade Bianche. The team failed to make the top twenty twelve months ago but will take confidence from their experience in Belgium as they continue to develop.
“For myself, I feel like I am finding my racing legs. It was great to see the girls working together. We are working on our communication, analysing the races and learning what we did well and what still needs work and we are definitely moving forward because of it,” Lepisto said.