Chantal Blaak added her name to the list of great Dutch women racers currently in the peloton, stealing the spotlight from Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen, Ellen van Dijk and Annemiek van Vleuten in Bergen and taking the rainbow jersey with a perfectly judged solo attack at the UCI Road World Championships. With Blaak's victory in the elite women's road race, the Netherlands has become the first nation to win three elite titles in one world championships after Van Vleuten and Dumoulin won the individual time trial titles early in the week.
Blaak was the road captain for the Netherlands but made sure she had a licence to attack and used it. When her initial attempt with Hannah Barnes (Great Britain) and Audrey Cordon Ragot (France) was caught after the final climb, Van der Breggen and Van Vleuten were also there, and Blaak attacked again with eight kilometres to go. It was perhaps an attempt to shake up the move but her teammates were exemplary and called the bluff of Katrin Garfoot (Australia) and Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland). They refused to lead the chase and so Blaak was able to time trial to victory.
"When I woke up this morning, I was motivated to make it a hard race but I didn't expect I'd be the one to cross the finish line first," Blaak admitted in the post-race press conference.
"This is my biggest victory that's for sure. I dreamed about it happening but it's hard to do it. But you know it's possible, I know I can win big races, everything just needs to be perfect and today it was."
Blaak woke up on a good day but thought her race was over mid-way when she was caught in a crash.
"There's always a bit of drama when I crash and I thought my race was over," Blaak revealed.
"I was in pain and it took me a lot of time to get going again. But I told myself it was last race of the season and that the team needed me. I talked to the girls and we decided to continue the original plan. I’m glad I did."
Proud to be Dutch
Blaak missed out on selection for the Rio Olympic road race due to the strength in depth of the Netherlands squad but she was never discouraged and never wished she had a different passport.
"I should maybe have been at the Olympics but I'm proud to be a Dutch rider. I don't want to change," she said.
"When your country is so strong it makes it difficult to be in the selection. It's never easy but it also gives you opportunities. That's what's nice about it."
"We just have a really strong generation. We're professional and we have training camps together to get to know each other. We have a lot of respect for each other. That's perhaps the secret to our success."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.