The weather couldn’t have been worse for Annemiek van Vleuten and her fellow competitors at a cold, wet and windy Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on February 29. When the 126.1-kilometer Belgian classic began in Ghent, the reigning world road champion was wearing a vest over her Giordana-made rainbow stripes, knowing that ahead she’d face high winds and sideways rain before tackling five cobbled sections and 10 climbs. But maybe these were perfect conditions for an unforgettable race in Flanders.
“It was one of those races where the team did everything perfectly,” said van Vleuten. “We were always in position; we were there when we needed to be in front and I didn’t have to spend any energy—and they put me in an awesome position for the last climbs.”
A few attacks in the peloton strung out the race for short periods but they were all brought back in short order. Then disaster struck for Annemiek.
With less than 75 kilometers to go, with Team Sunweb setting pace at the front, she suffered a mechanical—a dropped chain—and she had to dig deep to catch back onto the group with the help of her teammates.
Once safely back in the lead group, Annemiek decided to make an attack of her own when the race reached Geraardsbergen to start the iconic, cobbled Muur-Kapelmuur climb. She gained 10 seconds on her rivals before the summit, with 17 kilometers still to go.
“I didn’t have any expectations,” she said, “but my goal was to go hard from the bottom of the climb then check to see who was following me. Only then could I make a decision on what to do, just see what the situation was and then deal with it.”
When she saw the nice gap to a half-dozen chasers, van Vleuten continued riding hard, using a tailwind to push her highest gear and increase her lead to a half-minute by the top of the final climb, the Bosberg. She then battled crosswinds on the run-in to Ninove to constantly increase her lead.
“I felt like maybe I was losing time and they were chasing really hard behind me,” she said, “but then I just looked a little bit to my watts on my Garmin and could see I had a lot of power, so I knew they’d need to chase really hard to catch me. At one point when I was solo coming into the final, my director, Martin [Vestby], said the time gap was 30 seconds, but then I started to doubt if he said 30 or 13 seconds, so that made me a little bit insecure in the final kilometers.”
Before crossing the line, the Mitchelton-Scott team rider unzipped her Giordana vest to reveal her world champion’s rainbow jersey and take her first victory in her first race of the 2020 season.