As the days get lighter and the weather gets somewhat warmer, the cobbled sections of pavé on the roads in Belgium get ready.
They anticipate the upcoming streams of riders who jump and jolt over the cracks between the rocks, punctures and mechanicals lying in wait for those who cross them.
The firstCobbled Classic of the new season covered 124 kilometres and scaled eight climbs on the roads from Ghent to Ninove. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad ensured cobbled sections decorated the route, including the dramatic ascent of the famed Muur-Kapelmuur before the Bosberg.
Elizabeth Bennett attacked just four kilometres from the flag drop, drawing out Claudia Jongerius (Bingoal Casino – Chevalmeire) and Kylie Waterreus (Multum Accountants Ladies Cycling Team). The attack opened the curtains for Drops’ season in chilly 6° weather, colouring the road in their new Le Col team kit.
The lead stretched to five minutes as the trio continued to push ahead, Bennett still punching the pedals to help drive the pace. She led the group onto the Hollegweg sector, covering 1100 metres of cobblestones. The objective of being in the breakaway and gaining time of the television achieved.
The leading trio were reeled back in with 38 kilometres to go after an impressive day out on the attack, as Anna van der Breggen would later claim victory.
Marjolein van’t Geloof, Maria Martins, Maike Van der Duin, Bennett and Sara Penton all finished in the same group.
There was no rest for Drops, who took to the start line of Les Samyn Des Dames just three days later. A smaller race with a chance to aim for the podium.
Les Samyn Des Dames encapsulated 15 cobbled sections ranging in difficulty and distance, with a warmer 16° temperature to contend with en route from Quaregnon to Dour. As the peloton reached the Côte de la Roquette, they had to complete two laps of a gruelling circuit.
The final cobbled section of Rue de Belle Vue could not separate the lead group, guaranteeing a sprint finish. Van’t Geloof contended in the fast-paced bunch, placing 5th on the day.
After the race, she said: “The positioning was really good with the team today. I think we had some bad luck but in the end, everyone worked really hard and we were really good together.
“The last five kilometres were really hectic. I was by myself because of a crash… but I could find a good position and ended up in fifth so I’m really happy.”
You can see a gallery of racing images from the opening week here.