Belgian champion Jolien D'hoore was sanguine after finishing 12th at last Sunday's Tour of Flanders. Having watched the race as a child, the Mitchelton-Scott rider has coveted victory at her home event for some years, but could not hold on to the front group when the race hit the final testing climbs.
"I did a perfect race, I felt good, but I came up too short on the Kwaremont," the 28-year-old told Cyclingnews. "The is nothing I could do about it, I couldn't go any faster, so I can't blame myself."
Wearing the distinctive purple jersey of the Women's WorldTour individual leader, D'hoore was visible near the front throughout the opening 120km and crested the Muur van Geraardsbergen in a small leading group.
However, coming in the chaotic aftermath of a huge crash, those leaders were disorganised, and the race came back together. Though D'hoore started the Kruisberg with the leaders, when the Boels-Dolmans team of eventual winner Anna van der Breggen put pressure on the front, she slipped inexorably backwards and was unable to get back on terms over the remaining 27km.
She eventually finished behind fellow sprinter Kirsten Wild (Wiggle-High5) in the bunch sprint for 11th place, 1.48 behind the winner, but enjoyed her day nonetheless.
"It was fun, Flanders with a bit of rain is always a good race, and I just love it," she smiled. "Unfortunately there were a lot of crashes in the beginning, so it was a bit nervous and hectic, but I just tried to stay in front of the race the whole time, I was feeling great, and I had good legs. It's not a shame; I did a perfect race and cycling is pretty honest in the end."
The race was not a washout for her Australian team though. World time trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten was one of those who maintained contact with the Boels-Dolmans led winning break, eventually finishing third, despite injuries sustained in an earlier crash.
"The plan was that Annemiek should be with the climbers in the first group," explained D'hoore. "I was just behind so we could play the game a little bit. We just trusted Annemiek that she could go for her result, and we have a podium, so we are pleased."
After seven Women's WorldTour wins in 2017, D'hoore has had a similar start to this season, bagging five top-ten placings in eight starts to date from a range of UCI-registered elite women's events. Those include a win at Driedaagse De Panne, her first top-level victory in a Belgian race.
However, the Tour of Flanders is still the one she covets most.
Second place behind then-teammate Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) in 2015 is the closest she has come, but it was with characteristic humour that she speculated how the race would need to be for her to go one step higher.
"No hills! Just a flat race with cobbles, maybe Paris-Roubaix!"
Watch the highlights video from the UCI Women's WorldTour.
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