Yes, it’s back, by semi-popular demand and with its customary cavalier attitude to lengths of time.
Sweeping up the entire first three weeks of the [VDS] season in one tremendous gust, this edition buffets Strade Bianche and a muddy Ronde van Drenthe (UCI Women’s World Tour rounds 1 and 2), breezes through SSRs at Le Samyn and Drentse 8, and lightly ruffles VDS opening weekend.
Reasonable. Images of a muddy peloton riding up the VAMberg and across tree-lined stretches of cobbles at Drenthe were particularly memorable.
- Marta Bastianelli: Yes, yes, at Drenthe you can say she got lucky. Chantal Blaak practically ferried her across to form a three rider group with solo leader Ellen van Dijk from which she was always likely to win, especially when Blaak ended up doing much of the work. (Bastianelli summed it up in a classic sorry-not-sorry post-race interview). But there’s nothing lucky about Bastianelli’s start to the season: two wins, a second place, a third, a fourth, points scored in every VDS race, leader of the WWT. Rider of the week/fortnight/season so far.
- Annemiek van Vleuten: Rode away from the peloton at Strade Bianche after attacking on the steep slope of the penultimate gravel section to win by 37 seconds, almost as if last season had never ended and she hadn’t spent the winter rehabilitating a fractured kneecap. Ominous.
- Annika Langvad: The sight of defending champ Anna van der Breggen pulling on the front of the chase group at Strade Bianche ended thoughts of an early season reprise of Annemiek versus Anna. Instead, it was multiple MTB world champion Langvad who finished the job for Boels. With no chance of catching the winner, she beat habitual runner up Kasia Niewiadoma for second, pretty impressive for what she said was her ‘first real road race.’
- Audrey Cordon-Ragot: Long-serving domestique Cordon’s breakaway win at Drentse 8 was probably the most popular win of the week, if not the month, year or even decade. (Elisa Longo Borghini’s delight for her long-time comrade was particularly enjoyable.)
- Jip van den Bos: Attacked from a group of seven to take her first pro win at Le Samyn, demonstrating that her podium at Omloop was no fluke, and defying naysayers who doubted her prospects in a super-strong Boels team (mentioning no names, eh).
- Chantal Blaak: Whatever you make of her and/or Boels’ performance at Drenthe, so far this season Blaak has a win (Omloop), a second place in one WWT race, a top ten in the other, and is currently second in the VDS points standings. Which, you know, isn’t bad…
TotW is a sucker for a doomed escape and enjoyed Grace Brown’s efforts over the VAMberg at Drenthe (brought only slightly prematurely to an end by a wrong turn at a roundabout).
Team of the week
Boels. Two wins, second in both WWT races, three out of six riders in Team of the Week. If not them, who else? This is a team award, after all.
Not team of the week
Also Boels. This time last season they had both rounds of the WWT in the bag. This year they have two second places and seem unsure how to use their strength in depth. Ok, they put in a decent team effort at Strade Bianche and maybe couldn’t do too much about Annemiek riding away, but they were curiously passive at Drenthe where they couldn’t make their greater numbers count. Anna and Annika Langvad are both off riding MTB in South Africa this week. How Anna organises her calendar and how the team divide up leadership in her absence might well have a major impact on the season, and not just for Boels.
Casualties of the week
Omloop van de Westhoek fell victim to the windy weather. As did Jolien D’Hoore, practically blown across the road (and into Lotta Lepistö) at Drentse 8, and ending up with a broken collarbone which will probably put paid to most of her classics season. (Not to mention TotW’s—admittedly already not very high—draft league hopes.)
Raised eyebrows of the week
Ellen van Dijk joined in the general eyebrow-raising at the Drenthe finale, then added a bit of head in hands at the ‘always useful’ prizes. Come on, who doesn’t have room for a waffle iron? (Though EvD probably has a kitchen full by now.)
General joy for Bastianelli owners. bsmashers’ faith in Van den Bos has also been repaid, putting his or her Arya Stark Rising team out in front. Taustar’s Alphas are the leading non-Bastianelli team, with Chantal Blaak as top scorer. Special shout to the seven players (including Chris and seemsez) who took a clever bet on Annika Langvad.
Frankly, TotW would like to pretend the draft league doesn’t exist. Vlady—way out in front thanks to the wise selection of Marta Bastianelli—will no doubt beg to differ.
Modesty forbids. Don’t worry, it won’t last.