Chantal Blaak (Boels Dolmans) crossing the line in Limburg, arms aloft, clad in the rainbow jersey. There was more than a hint of Amstel Gold Race déja-vu over Saturday's Boels Ladies Tour stage. But while both wins followed a similar script, Blaak's win in Sittard-Geleen was arguably an even bigger success.
In the Amstel Gold Race, Blaak's teammate Anna van der Breggen was the overwhelming favourite, and Blaak had been sent up the road as a decoy. When the race did not come back together, Blaak rose to the occasion and won herself.
The Boels Ladies Tour was significantly longer than the spring classic, 154.8 vs. 116.9 kilometres, Blaak had been on the attack for almost the entire race, and she went solo with 10 km to go instead of waiting for the sprint to beat her rivals. But the tactics had been similar, she explains.
"I was actually out there to put some pressure on Mitchelton-Scott," Blaak said. "My job was just to be up front and keep the pressure on so that Anna, Megan [Guarnier], and Amy [Pieters] could attack from behind."
But the breakaway kept a big gap for a long time, and no opportunities to break up the peloton presented themselves for the team's GC riders. Only Amalie Dideriksen succeeded in getting away and bridging to the break.
"I was told: 'Chantal, just go and try one more time,'" Blaak said. "That last climb was a perfect moment. Amalie had joined just before, and everyone started to look at each other. So I attacked. And being able to finish off my year in the rainbow jersey like this is just cool."
Contrary to expectations of a big GC battle on Limburg's hills, Overall leader Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) had a relatively quiet day.
"We raced well with the team to keep the race under control, and we were happy with the group that went away up the road," Van Vleuten said. "Chantal Blaak was around two minutes down overall, that was fine for us. With Amanda Spratt still fresh going into the final, I felt very comfortable. We were never in trouble and just had to follow the wheels."
But van Vleuten did more than that. On the third and final time up the Snijdersberg, she took to the front of the peloton and drilled the pace, catching a chase group of six single-handedly.
"Sometimes attack is the best defense," Van Vleuten said. "I went up at full speed and got a couple of good riders with me, but they did not really want to work with me, and we were caught again."
The final test of the Boels Ladies Tour is a time trial in Roosendaal, 18.6 km against the clock. As race leader and world time trial champion, van Vleuten is the overwhelming favourite for the stage and overall win. "Going into tomorrow with 18 seconds over Brand, I hope I still have the legs of the first two days. I just want to go for the perfect time trial and give everything I have and then we will be okay. I look forward to suffering tomorrow."