Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) has again demonstrated just how well-equipped she is for the transformation from worker to leader, grasping a podium at the Tour of Flanders to add to her first Women’s WorldTour victory at Brugge-De Panne and consolidating her place as a key rider to watch in those tough one-day races.
The 28 year old came third at the cobbled Classic, beaten by Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT) in the small group that sprinted for the lower steps of the podium behind solo winner Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team).
Six months ago when Brown was racing in her first Tour of Flanders she was working with Sunday’s winner, Van Vleuten, who switched to Movistar this year. In 2021, however, Team BikeExchange was lined up behind the Australian rider and when Brown delivered a powerful attack from a formidable lead group it was former teammate Van Vleuten who followed and drew her back in before the Dutch-rider launched her own winning foray on the Paterburg.
“I had an awesome lead-out into the bottom of the Kwaremont from [Sarah] Roy and [Amanda] Spratt and then I attacked at the top as we had planned,” said Brown in a team statement. “I got a bit of a gap but unfortunately the girls behind me closed that down pretty soon."
“Annemiek then got away on the Paterberg, it was a small gap and it felt like we should have been able to bring it back but unfortunately it just wasn’t co-ordinated enough in the chase.”
The 152.4-kilometre race which started and finished in Oudenaarde included 13 hellingen, seven of which were cobbled, plus five flatter cobblestone sections. The peloton continued to shrink and split as the race went on and when world champion Anna van der Breggen (Team SD Worx) pushed the pace on the long, cobbled climb Oude Kwaremont – starting at 18km to go – the lead group of eight formed with Brown perfectly positioned to follow Van der Breggen’s wheel after the work of Roy and Spratt.
After Van Vleuten’s rode off the front at 13 kilometres to go the lead group held her within sight for kilometres, but without cooperation in the chase from the remaining seven there was no catching the 2018 and 2019 world time trial champion.
“It is as bit frustrating that the group didn’t work together more committed but at the end of the day for us it was an amazing day, the way the girls rode and how they committed,” said Team BikeExchange sport director Alejando Gonzales-Tablas.
Brown, who is in her third year in the professional peloton, last year staked her claim as a rider that had the capability to step up once Van Vleuten moved on, delivering her first European victory last year at Brabantse Pijl and second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Clearly revelling in the opportunity-laden 2021, Brown has only once fallen out of the top ten, taking second at Nokere Koerse and building to her first Women’s WorldTour victory at Brugge-De Panne before stepping onto the Tour of Flanders podium.
“You can’t be disappointed with a podium at Flanders,” said Brown. “Of course I came here wanting to win it, but I am really happy with third and I can have bigger goals for next year I think.”
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