Illness meant that Anna van der Breggen’s 2017 season got off to a faltering start but the Dutch rider bounced back with a commanding solo victory at the women’s Amstel Gold Race, marking her out as the rider to beat in the remaining Ardennes races.
"I've ridden very few races this spring, partly because I was really looking forward to this week," Van der Breggen told De Telegraaf after her victory. "Now, I'm in the right form at the right time."
Van der Breggen has previous on the Amstel Gold Race parcours, having finished fifth at the World Championships in Valkenburg back in 2012, and a regular race on the route has been a long time coming for the women’s peloton, according to Van der Breggen.
"This is really super,” she told Dutch broadcaster NOS. “It was a perfect scenario for me, this is really nice. Moreover, it was time the Amstel Gold Race returned for women. I have been hoping for it for a long time,” she said. "I come here often and this is such a nice round. When you ride up the Cauberg with so many people, you hear nothing. This is a very nice podium for me."
With just under 10 kilometres to go, Van der Breggen latched onto a chase by Annemiek van Vleuten to bridge up to a group of three leaders that contained her teammate Lizzie Deignan. After a short break to catch her breath, Van der Breggen launched a fierce attack from the back of the group as Deignan kept watch at the front.
Elisa Longo Borghini tried to follow, but Van der Breggen was too strong and, helped by the home crowd cheering her on, she drove a huge wedge between herself and the chasers. The Olympic and European road race champion had almost a minute on her chasers when she crossed the line. A strong sprint from Deignan ensured Boels Dolmans locked out the top two positions and demonstrated the team tactics that saw them dominate the start of last season.
“Of course, when I bridged there wasn’t much time to talk to Lizzie but Lizzie looked at me and I saw her and I saw that she was attacking so that was perfect,” said Van der Breggen. “I think that makes the race nice, that you have the instinct that you want to go and you grab the moment. We try to race like that, to make it an exciting race, and luckily today it worked out.”
After winning almost anything going last year, Boels Dolmans has faced much stiffer competition this time around. Illness and injury has also plagued the team and they had been a tad quieter in comparison. For most teams, their results so far in 2017 would have been great but after setting the benchmark so high last season, there were different, perhaps unrealistic, expectations set on the Boels Dolmans team. Deignan said after the race that it was tough to ignore some of the criticism, but the performance was proof that they had got it right.
“As a cyclist, you become accustomed to pressure and expectations and difficult questions being pointed at you if the performances aren't reflective of the work you have put in,” said Deignan. “It's frustrating but with experience you learn not to let it bother you. You keep your head down and you work hard and the results will follow. Today was a result of not giving up or giving too much energy to media or fan expectation.”
The peloton will head to Fleche Wallonne on Wednesday, where Van der Breggen is two-time defending champion.
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