Lara Gillespie takes biggest win of young career at Antwerp Port Epic

Lara Gillespie secured victory in the Antwerp Port Epic, out-sprinting an elite group to take the win. The 23-year-old Irish rider held off strong competition, including Zoe Bäckstedt, who had launched a solo breakaway earlier in the race, and Sanne Cant, who finished fourth.

The half-gravel race only came to life in the latter stages. Early breakaway attempts by Mieke Docx and Nora Jencusova were quickly reeled in, leaving the peloton to regroup.

The first significant move came from Zoe Bäckstedt, who attacked on a gravel section 30 kilometres from the finish. The 19-year-old Briton, riding for Canyon SRAM Generation, managed to carve out a gap and looked set for a long solo effort. However, an elite group of ten riders caught her with 8 kilometres remaining.

Among the chasers were Ilse Pluimers and Julia Kopecky from AG Insurance, who both launched repeated attacks. Despite their efforts, no one managed to break clear, setting the stage for a sprint finish.

Gillespie, riding for UAE Development Team, launched her sprint from third position and held off Bäckstedt, who tried to come around her but couldn’t match the Irish rider’s speed. The victory marks Gillespie’s sixth professional win. Sanne Cant, representing Belgium, sprinted to fourth place.

Zoe Bäckstedt: “Today was really fun. I love this race. It’s probably one of the best races on the calendar for me, with a lot of gravel, cobbles, and hard sections—everything I love to do.”

Reflecting on her attack, Bäckstedt said, “There was a Ceratizit rider who attacked into one corner, and I followed her, and then I thought, okay, this is it, this is the moment to go. I’ll go and see what happens. I’m happy with that attack.”

Bäckstedt remained optimistic despite being caught, stating, “When I was away, I kept pushing and fighting. It could come down to five seconds, but it could also go back to 30 seconds—who knows? I just focused on riding hard and pushing where I could.”

After being caught with about 7km to go, Bäckstedt faced multiple attacks from teams with two riders. “That wasn’t so great for my legs, but I kept fighting,” she said. “It was a completely new experience to be in that situation in a final, going for the win from a small group, and I’m happy to have had it.”

Bäckstedt also noted her position in the sprint: “I could have been better positioned in the sprint. With 1km to go, I was about fifth or sixth and had to make up some places in the final kilometre. I could see the line coming quickly, but everything was going in slow motion! I started my sprint seated because my legs were so tired. It’s the best position I’ve been in for any final, so I must be happy with today.”

(l-r) Zoe Backstedt, Lara Gillespie, Babette van der Wolf

Gillespie, pleased with her performance, celebrated her victory, stating, “It feels amazing. I couldn’t be happier. It would not be possible without every single person who rode today on our team and all the staff and everything. It’s just amazing.”

2024 Antwerp Port Epic Women result

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Main photo credit: Lars van Densen

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