The first Belgian race of the season got underway today, with the 15th edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in the Flemish Ardennes. The 126km-long race from Ghent to Ninove featured 10 “hellinge,” five cobbled sectors and typical windy and rainy Belgium weather. The key pair of climbs, the legendary Kapelmuur, and the Bosberg, came near the end of the race, providing grounds for a potential opportunity to launch attacks.
During the race, Bigla – KATUSHA could be seen riding actively at the front of the field. In these tough conditions, it was always going to be difficult for riders to keep up, and eventually when the selection fell, Lizzy Banks and Marlen Reusser made it into a group of 21 riders, with Marlen also making a move from the group a few kilometres before Annemiek van Vleuten launched her decisive solo attack. With more riders dropping off the field as the chase behind the World Champion got underway, Lizzy managed to stay up there as part of the chase, only dropping back as the leaders hit the final climb. In the end, van Vleuten stayed away to take the win in Ninove, and in a class field of riders, Lizzy took a strong sixth position, while Marlen finished in 13th place.
After the race, Lizzy recounted: “It was a tough day, but we wanted it to be like that, and we prepared for that type of race as well. The weather didn’t make things any easier. Although it started pretty mildly, we knew it could turn, and with our KATUSHA kit, we were prepared for the wet weather. Hats off to Emma, who was climbing well today, as well as Marlen, who rode with me for much of the day in the pre-selection group. I was well-positioned heading into the crucial climbs, and made it into the small group that took chase after Annemiek when she went solo. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have that final kick over the Bosberg, and I was dropped. However, I maintained my position to finish sixth in Ninove. I’m really pleased with my performance, as I felt strong and confident with my positioning, the weather and the cobbles. I’m also proud of the team and I know that there’s even more that we can do. We’ve come together well as a group, and I think people can expect fireworks from us this Spring.”
Team Manager Thomas Campana reported: “We had three leaders: Lizzy Banks, Leah Thomas, and Marlen Reusser. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is known for being a hard parcours, and today’s conditions added to the difficulty, with rain and storms, and temperatures as low as 5 degrees. Lizzy rode a particularly exceptional race, and unfortunately just lost contact on the last climb. However, she was able to bring it home for sixth position in the end, and it’s really exciting to see her sportive development over the past 12 months. Marlen was up there, and stayed at the front end of the race to eventually finish in 13th position, with Emma Norsgaard Jørgensen also showing good form in the second group. Unfortunately, Leah was not feeling too well today, otherwise she would have likely been up there fighting for a good place alongside her teammates. Overall, having made the change from Spain to Belgium, the team adapted well and put in a strong performance.”