Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) held off the peloton on Wednesday to win stage 1 of the Boels Ladies Tour solo, but this ended up being harder than first thought. A missing race marshal in a crucial descent and a split-second distrust in her own memory of the correct course combined to lead van Vleuten off the race course. This detour cost her about 30 seconds and put the stage in contention again, but the world time trial champion persevered to take a second consecutive stage win.
Van Vleuten was one of the riders who attacked on the final climb of the Oude Holleweg, 20km from the finish. At the top of the climb, a trio also including Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) opened up a gap, and van Vleuten then went solo when van der Breggen would not cooperate.
"I think we had a good group with Anna van der Breggen, Elisa Longo Borghini and myself. But Anna did not want to ride with us, I do not know why. So I started to attack, then Amanda Spratt came up from behind and surprised Anna. Now she had to chase, and then I took over with a good attack. Then Anna was exposed, with only Amanda in her wheel, so this victory is also a big team effort."
On her way to the finish in Nijmegen, one last difficulty lay ahead for van Vleuten. Unlike on the seven laps of the 15.5-kilometre circuit, the Oude Holleweg climb was left out this time, but she still had to ascend the Van Randwijckweg and then descend the Nieuwe Holleweg before turning right and heading towards Nijmegen instead of going left and up the Oude Holleweg. And this descent was where things went wrong.
"There was no motorbike in front to guide me, nor was there a marshal pointing where to go. I had done reconnaissance of the course, so I knew the route, but I thought I saw a big sign with a Boels logo and an arrow straight ahead. Apparently, the company is doing roadworks on that stretch of road."
Boels is the main sponsor of the Boels Ladies Tour (and the Boels Dolmans Cycling Team), but the company is also well-known around Northern Europe for renting out machines and equipment for construction works, events, and other occasions.
"I saw the sign and found it strange because I knew I should go left, but I thought that maybe they had changed the route at the last minute, that is why I went straight on. When the roadworks and the gravel started, I realised that I was wrong. I turned around and thought it was lost. I would definitely have liked to have a bigger advantage, but I am very glad I could still finish it off."
A study of race footage could neither confirm nor deny van Vleuten's explanation of a Boels-labelled roadworks sign pointing the wrong way, but did reveal that a sign marking 1000 metres to the mountain sprint atop the Oude Holleweg was not turned around after the last mountain sprint on lap seven, leaving it visible for van Vleuten on the eighth passage.
It also showed that while a race marshal had been posted at the bifurcation to guide riders in the right direction, this race marshal had left their post prematurely, probably thinking their job was done after the seventh passage of the race. This was true for most parts of the circuit – except the Van Randwijckweg and the Nieuwe Holleweg where the race came past eight times.
A spokesperson for the Boels Ladies Tour race organisation confirmed this human error to Cyclingnews and went on to say: "There was a sign on a lamp post that pointed left. But either van Vleuten could not see it well, or she was riding so fast that she did not see the sign. Luckily van Vleuten still won in the end, if this had lost her the race it would have been a disaster. Regardless, this was, of course, an unfortunate event. Mistakes can always happen, but in the final of the race, it is very unfortunate."
The Boels Ladies Tour continues with a flat stage around Gennep on Thursday, 30 August.