Boels Dolmans showed great strength in depth as they placed four riders in the top 10 at Sunday's Ronde van Drenthe, with Chantal Blaak finishing as runner-up, and defending champion Amy Pieters winning the group sprint for fourth place, with Amalie Dideriksen in sixth and Jip van den Bos taking 10th.
However, between 2014 and 2018, the Dutch team won the race four times, including three wins in a row from Blaak, Dideriksen, and Pieters. The decision, therefore, to have Blaak drive a two-rider chase with renowned sprinter Marta Bastianelli (Team Virtu Cycling) in the finale of the race to catch lone leader Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) appeared peculiar.
As expected, Bastianelli won the sprint, leaving Blaak and her teammates with four good placings, but no winner's bouquet.
Blaak was arguably the strongest rider in the race as she led an echelon-diminished front group onto the final cobblestone section of the race. The Dutch champion never left the front on the entire 2.8km section of pavé, which looked more like a mud road after days of rainfall.
The attack by Van Dijk right after that cobbled section fractured the group, and Blaak took up the chase with only Bastianelli on her wheel, with the other riders, including Blaak's three Boels teammates, in another group a few seconds further back. The 2017 world champion did the lioness' share of the work in the pursuit of Van Dijk, with Bastianelli only contributing to the chase shortly before Van Dijk was reeled in.
Several times during the chase, Blaak could be seen talking on her team radio, apparently discussing race tactics with her teammates behind and the sports director in the team car. It is possible that the presence of strong sprinter Kirsten Wild (WNT-Rotor) in the group behind persuaded the team to put their faith in Blaak, who was certain of at least a podium place if her group made it to the finish, instead of risking things in a small-group sprint in which Pieters or Dideriksen might not have won anyway.
In the three-rider sprint up front, Van Dijk settled for third place while Blaak and Bastianelli sprinted for the win. Blaak opened up first from the back of the trio, but Bastianelli saw her go and immediately reacted. Blaak was closing in on the Italian again in the final few metres, but the Italian had just enough to hold the Dutchwoman off.
There followed some intense discussions between the pair after the finish line after Bastianelli swerved into the path of Blaak as they approached the line, but the result stood, and the 31-year-old took her second victory of the season, having also won the Omloop van het Hageland in Belgium two weeks ago.
"I'm sorry, but this is cycling, and that's how it was," race winner Bastianelli said of the finish.
"I was very cold in the first part of the race, while n the second part there was a lot of wind," she said of the conditions she'd faced en route to victory. "I didn't have much energy, but our sports director asked me to try for the sprint. So I'm very happy to have won this incredible race."