The rainbow shone on the Ronde with Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam) and Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) winners of the women’s and men’s final Monument Classic of the 2020 season. Both Dutch riders are former or current UCI World Champions: Van den Broek-Blaak in the road race in 2017 and Van der Poel in the cyclo-cross (2015, 2019 and 2020).
“I feel very happy, I was waiting the whole season for this moment and I have thought about this race for a long time and now I finally have it,” said Van den Broek-Blaak, who attacked on the Oude Kwaremont with 19km to go, and held off the chasing group with help from her teammates.
“I’m speechless. Normally I always feel who won, but I was so broken in the sprint, they told me twice that I had won, but I asked for confirmation ten times. All of the sudden the measure was there and I had to jump. I looked at Wout’s wheel, but neither of us knew. The fact that he started the sprint late was a sign that he, too, was tired to death. I caught him perfectly, but he came halfway next to me. Today I had the number 51, like my dad’s age, it will be something special,” said Van der Poel, who beat his historical cyclo-cross rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) with a bike throw.
Van den Broek-Blaak’s perfect attack on the Oude Kwaremont
117 riders from 20 teams started the Women’s Ronde Van Vlaanderen, leaving Oudenaarde 10 minutes before 2pm. After the neutralized zone, the course offered 135.6km with eleven climbs, the first after 51km. Six former winners of the race were in the group: Dutch rider Ellen van Dijk, Briton Lizzie Deignan and Italian Elisa Longo Borghini with Trek-Segafredo, the American Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) and the UCI World Champion Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) both from the Netherlands.
After 15km, the first breakaway was made up of seven riders: Dutch Teuntje Beekhuis (Lotto Soudal Ladies), Spain’s Gloria Rodriguez Sanchez (Movistar) Team Women and Mireia Trias Jordan (Massi Tactic Women Team), Irishwoman Alice Sharpe (Ciclotel), Germany’s Mieke Kröger (Hitec Products-Birk Sport), and Americans Heidi Franz (Rally Cycling) and Emily Newsom (Team Tibco – Silicon Valley Bank). After the first cobblestone sector of Lippenhovestraat, only Beekhuis, Rodriguez, Kröger, Franz and Newsom remained on the front and the group’s gap was 3’11 after the first climb, the Katteberg.
The German Liane Lippert (Team Sunweb) went solo from the bunch on the Leberg climb with 65km to go and she was joined shortly after by the two Americans Coryn Rivera and Kristen Faulkner (Team Tibco – Silicon Valley Bank), but their attempt ended 15km later. The breakaway was caught shortly after, thanks to the powerful pace of the UCI rainbow jersey Van der Breggen, who pulled the peloton on the tough Taaienberg at 40km to go. Dutch rider Riejanne Markus (CCC-Liv) and Alena Amialiusik (Canyon//SRAM Racing) from Belarus attacked from the bunch at 36km go and a reduced main group of only 15 riders with all the favourites chased and eventually caught them on the Oude Kwaremont with 20km remaining. At 19km to go, Van den Broek-Blaak went clear and quickly gained about half a minute. She kept pushing to save her advantage and finally triumph in her first Ronde. Her teammate and compatriot, Amy Pieters, won the sprint of the chasers ahead of Belgian Lotte Kopecky (Lotto Soudal).
Van der Poel’s first Monument Classic after an exciting duel with Van Aert
The 2020 course was reduced from 267 to 242km due to the packed October calendar with the Muur van Geraardsbergen’s cut. Six men made the first breakaway after 25km with Austrian Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe), Belgians Gijs Van Hoecke (CCC Team), Fabio Van den Bossche (Sport Flanders-Baloise) and Dimitri Peyskens (Bingoal WB), the Italian Samuele Battistella (NTT Pro Cycling Team) and Dutchman Danny van Poppel (Circus-Wanty Gobert). Their advantage on the peloton reached 8’02’’ after 83km then started decreasing after the Kettleberg. Shortly after, Mühlberger hit the floor after throwing his musette and accidentally catching his handlebar.
There was another crash, this time in the main group after the first passage on a desert (and almost dystopian) Oude Kwaremont, involving two favourites, the Belgians Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) and Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), but without serious consequences. Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen (NTT Pro Cycling) attacked off the front of the bunch just some seconds before the barriers of a level crossing came down. The group had to stop – for 1’13’’, it was the express train to Antwerp, where the race started – and both the Norwegian and the lead group gained some seconds, but their destiny was already written.
The closer the peloton got to the escapers, the more attack attempts came, including the German Max Walscheid (NTT Pro Cycling), then the former UCI World Champion Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) from Poland, the current rainbow jersey Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck Quick Step) from France and his team-mate, the Czech Zdeněk Štybar. On the summit of the second passage of the Oude Kwaremont, the breakaway was caught with 50km remaining.
Alaphilippe went clear on the Koppenberg at 44km to go and the other two favourites Van der Poel and Van Aert closed the gap, but more drama came 10km later when the UCI World Champion suffered a horrible crash after colliding with a race motorbike. The remaining duo kept pushing full gas to Oudenaarde, creating a duel on the road that had been a leitmotif in the cyclocross. They started the sprint almost at the same time, but the Dutchman immediately gained a decisive gap and secured his first Monument Classic with a perfect bike throw. Norway’s Alexander Kristoff won the chasers’ group sprint to claim third position.