Home favorite Kopecky triumphs in Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Van Vleuten second

Home favorite Kopecky triumphs in Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Van Vleuten second

Sunday 3 April 2022 at 17:49

Lotte Kopecky has, twelve years after the victory of Grace Verbeke, given Belgium another victory in the Tour of Flanders for women. The home favorite was able to crown a strong race from her employer SD Worx and defeated Annemiek van Vleuten in the sprint.

The women were also allowed to prepare for Vlaanderens Mooiste today. The recipe for High Mass has been pretty much the same for a good ten years now. Nevertheless, some interesting changes have been made: for example, the dreaded Koppenberg made his first appearance in the women’s race. After fifteen potential executioners, the riders reach the finish in Oudenaarde after 158.6 kilometers. Before the start, there was mainly talk about defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten, the Belgian hope Lotte Kopecky, Marianne Vos, Demi Vollering and world champion Elisa Balsamo.

‘Cyclist’ Honsinger in the early flight
Soon after the start, four riders managed to separate from the peloton and thus form the early break. Clara Honsinger (EF Education-TIBCO SVB), who we mainly know from cyclo-cross, Sofie Van Rooijen (Parkhotel Valkenburg), Olivia Baril (Valcar) and Maria Martins (Le Col Wahoo) joined forces. The peloton initially did not give in and several riders counterattacked, in vain. As a result, the race never really came to a standstill, but the four escapees managed to slowly but surely extend their lead to two minutes.

Honsinger was part of the early flight – photo: Cor Vos

As the miles went by, the fatigue continued to increase. For Martins and Van Rooijen, after a few cobblestone sections, things went too fast in the leading group and so there were only two early breakaways left with Honsinger and Baril. In the peloton, the pace was set by the teams of Van Vleuten (Movistar), Kopecky (SD Worx) and Vos (Jumbo-Visma). As a result, the lead melted like snow in the today’s absent sun. Before the foot of the Koppenberg, Honsinger and Baril were joined by three counter-attackers: Camilla Alessio, Marit Raaijmakers and Maike van der Duin.

Koppenberg ensures serious selection
These five leaders started the Koppenberg with a lead of just under two minutes. On this dreaded cobblestone slope, the course broke open completely and a serious shift took place. Van Vleuten took command and, in her typical working woman style, managed to thin out the group of favorites. Van Vleuten turned out to be the initiator of a strong escape group, including Lotte Kopecky, Demi Vollering, Marta Bastianelli and Marlen Reusser. A promising attack, but at the hands of Katarzyna Niewiadoma the chasing group was caught by the nose.

In the meantime, Van der Duin appeared to have the strongest legs in the leading group. The Dutchman tried to sing it out on her own for a while, but was called to order again with 25 kilometers to go. A first elite group of about 25 riders started the first steep sections of the Taaienberg not much later. On this slope, inextricably linked to Tom Boonen, the wheat was once again separated from the chaff. A first group of eleven riders managed to separate themselves here. The real top favorites were not happy, but there were still enough strong riders represented.

The British Henderson was part of a strong flight – photo: Cor Vos

Strong leading group starts the Oude Kwaremont
Arlenis Sierra, Christine Majerus, Anna Henderson, Niewiadoma, Brodie Chapman, Marit Raaijmakers, Sofia Bertizzolo, Maria Confalonieri and previous attackers Alessio, Baril and Van der Duin: those were the names that were part of the first group. Strangely enough, these riders were given space and managed to walk for half a minute towards the foot of the last passage of the Oude Kwaremont. On this iconic slope, the strong Reusser and European time trial champion completely whipped the front group apart. Chapman was with us, the rest had to fit.

The lead over the chasing group, containing the biggest contenders for victory, was considerable. And so Van Vleuten had to try something in the background. That is what the winner of last year did and the leader of Movistar, together with Kopecky and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, tried to rectify the imbalance. Van Vleuten, Kopecky and Van den Broek-Blaak found each other in pursuit of Reusser and Chapman and managed to force the connection on the Paterberg. Van Vleuten again took care of the lion’s share of the work, but just couldn’t get Kopecky off.

A scenario like the one in the previous Strade Bianche seemed to repeat itself, only the finish was now after a flat final of thirteen kilometers. And perhaps even more important: Kopecky had a teammate at the front with Reusser, while Van Vleuten had to rely on himself. The latter therefore did not intend to ride to the finish line with two SD Worx riders (Kopecky and Reusser), as a result of which a third rider from the Dutch star formation was able to join Van den Broek-Blaak. Van den Broek-Blaak decided not to delay and jumped away, hoping to play out SD Worx’s dominance.

Kopecky had everything under control in the final – photo: Cor Vos

Van Vleuten versus Kopecky and Van den Broek-Blaak
However, Van Vleuten is a tough one and had no intention of letting her compatriot drive just like that. Van Vleuten reacted as if stung by a wasp and drove to the rear wheel of Van den Broek-Blaak. A very sprightly Kopecky was attentive and jumped along, so that we started the last ten kilometers with three leaders. Van Vleuten, Kopecky and Van den Broek-Blaak: one of these riders would win the Tour of Flanders. Van den Broek-Blaak decided to sacrifice himself completely in the final phase for the faster Kopecky on paper, who was the big favorite for the victory given her sprint speed.

And the Belgian champion also managed to live up to her favorite status in the sprint. Van Vleuten was the first to enter the Minderbroedersstraat, but was professionally reassembled by Kopecky. The latter sprinted convincingly to the biggest victory of her career. Earlier this year she was also the best in another great classic: Strade Bianche. Even then she was too strong for Van Vleuten, who, just like in Italy, had to settle for second place. Van den Broek-Blaak crossed the finish line cheering in third place.

Disbelief with winner Kopecky – photo: Cor Vos