With uncertainty surrounding the first Women's Paris-Roubaix, the possible grand finale of the women's cobbled Classics - Tour of Flanders - is just days away and Annemiek van Vleuten has shown that she is ready to contest the victory in Oudenaarde.
The European Champion netted the first win of the season for herself and her new team Movistar after a long-range sprint saw her beat breakaway companion Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) at Dwars door Vlaanderen, often known as the dress rehearsal for the Tour of Flanders.
“I’m so happy with this first victory and being able to pay the team back after the great job they’ve been doing since the start of the season," van Vleuten said after the race in Waregem on Wednesday.
"Races like this one and everything we’ve done this month make me feel really confident about the strength we can display together."
Van Vleuten joined Movistar on a two-year deal through 2022 after five seasons with the Mitchelton-Scott outfit.
She was eager to get the racing season underway at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, looking to open her season with a victory to impress her new squad, but a misstep during the race saw her out of position and she missed the winning move.
She then finished fourth at Strade Bianche. The team has also seen sprinter Emma Norsgaard step up with second places at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Le Samyn, and Brugge-De Panne.
Between Strade Bianche and Dwars door Vlaanderen, Van Vleuten spent time at altitude training on the island of Tenerife, to prepare for the Tour of Flanders.
"At Omloop, I still felt like I had to get into how the team worked, then at Strade everything went really well and today we went a step even further. The whole team has followed the plan 100 per cent and did their fullest," she said of the team's performance at Dwars door Vlaanderen.
“After we did a recon of the course yesterday I was so motivated, and the test we carried out during the last two months at my Tenerife camps showed that the condition was good, yet it’s true that such a long-range attack, more than 30km from the finish, was a risky gamble, but it was at climbs like the Knokteberg where I felt I could make the difference."
Van Vleuten attacked off the back of her teammate Leah Thomas, and the only one who could follow was Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM). The pair built out a 30-second gap with 30km to go, and despite a chase from Trek-Segafredo, they managed to succeed to the finish. Van Vleuten started her sprint early, with 300 metres to go and held off Niewiadoma to take the win.
"When I attacked and saw that only Kasia could follow me, I knew it was the time to keep pushing. Some strong riders were missing at today’s field, but I’ve seen that I’ve got the strength to go on the attack, and feeling well gives me confidence for what’s to come.”
Van Vleuten is a former winner of the Tour of Flanders back in 2011. She knows the course and has made this race one of her primary targets of the season. A few of the main contenders for the Tour of Flanders opted to skip Dwars door Vlaanderen namely Gent-Wevelgem winner Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ), double world champion Anna van der Breggen and Tour of Flanders defending champion Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx).
Van Vleuten, on the other hand, used the race as a final tune-up and she showed that she is in top form to contest the win at Tour of Flanders on Sunday.
“People talk a lot about Sunday, but it was actually a big goal to be up there here for the team, to keep paying them back for the support. This will really help the whole squad ride with more confidence," Van Vleuten said.
"Seeing how we’re racing, everyone in this team, I’m more and more proud to be a member of the Movistar Team. For the time being, let’s enjoy this win, take some rest and get my body back to ‘normal’ after altitude training, then we’ll start thinking about Sunday.”
Watch Van Vleuten's long-range sprint at Dwars door Vlaanderen – Video
Last time a sprint felt this long to us, no masks had to be worn and a whole country cried with joy. You remember when 😏😬You certainly made us suffer a bit with that one, @AvVleuten! It was worth it 👏🤗 #RodamosJuntos #DDVwomen🎥 @DwarsdrVlaander pic.twitter.com/zv70WPTBghMarch 31, 2021
Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.
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