Van Dijk wins Healthy Ageing Tour Merckx-style

NINOVE BELGIUM FEBRUARY 29 Arrival Ellen Van Dijk of The Netherlands and Team Trek Segafredo during the 75th Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2020 Women Race a 1229km race from Ghent to Ninove OmloopHNB OHN20 OHNwomen on February 29 2020 in Ninove Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images
Ellen van Dijk at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2020 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Former time trial world champion Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) made the most out of a tricky situation to take a commanding victory in the Healthy Ageing Tour time trial in Lauwersoog on Thursday after organisers delayed the start of the stage because of high winds. After the stage finally got underway five hours behind schedule, the race jury opted to disallow riders using time trial bikes for safety reasons.

When Van Dijk started her time trial in the first half of the 94-rider start list, the winds still high with a block headwind for 7km and then a fast trip home with the wind. Even though later starters had less severe conditions, Van Dijk showed her class by taking the stage by 26 seconds over SD Worx' Amy Pieters, with Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT) third at 30 seconds.

Even without her full aero setup, Van Dijk still averaged 41.3 kph, Merckx-style.

"I am just happy that I could win this time trial. I was looking forward to this day, especially after I put a lot of work on my TT bike last winter. I may not have gotten the result of that today, but I made good power, and I am happy with the performance," said Van Dijk.

The stage was due to start at 11:00am but with winds blowing at a steady 60kph and gusting to over 80kph, the UCI's Extreme Weather Protocol kicked in with officials and representatives from the race, teams and riders agreed to postpone the start until 4:00pm when the winds began to die down.

"There was a lot of discussion about whether the race had to go on, and then if we could race our TT bikes, all these kinds of questions. There were lots of different opinions, but in the end, it was good that the decision was made," Van Dijk said. "Of course, I was disappointed that I could not ride my TT bike, and we had to change around to the road bike, but the team did really well with last-minute changes with the gearing and my position a bit on the road bike. We only had an hour to do all this."

Van Dijk made the most of the breeze to sail through a tailwind that was stronger than what later starters enjoyed.

"I was a bit worried because when I was riding the winds were like 55km/h and in the end with the last riders it was 40km/h. I saw they were much faster at the turnaround point because they didn't have a much headwind as I had, but then they also had less tailwind. So the difference was made on the way back," she said.

The 34-year-old now leads the race by 23 seconds heading into the final stage, a near repeat of the 2020 Dutch national championships - a 115km long stage made up of 17 laps including the dual-pitched VAM-berg, where huge time gaps can be forged.

"For tomorrow, we have quite a good gap – over 20 seconds – but tomorrow everything can happen. It's a very open race, a different race again with a lot of climbing and it will be a lot of interval efforts. We are going to give all we have to keep this jersey of course. It will be exciting; I am in good shape and I am looking forward to it. We will see what we can do tomorrow."

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