Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) opened her season with a momentous victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday.
The 27-year-old attacked solo with 12km to go to become the first Belgian woman to win the cobbled classic, which was first introduced to the calendar in 2006.
Speaking after the race, Kopecky said: “I’ve never done a solo myself, so it was really hard for me to know how it feels and to pace this kind of race, but I think I did well.”
The Belgian’s winning move started on the Muur van Geraardsbergen, where she exploded out of the peloton to catch the race leader Arlenis Sierra (Movistar). Kopecky then shook off the Cuban on the Bosberg, the final climb of the day, before riding solo to the line in Ninove.
“It was not really the intention to go on the Muur,” Kopecky explained, “but I started with my pace on the Muur and nobody could follow, so I could not hesitate anymore and just tried to go.
“It was pretty hard, but I had a really good feeling during the race. In the climbs, I really felt strong.”
The Belgian’s team-mate Lorena Wiebes won the sprint for second, securing an impressive one-two for SD Worx. Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team ADQ) finished in third.
Next on Kopecky’s calendar is Strade Bianche, where she will defend her title on the gravel tracks of Tuscany, Italy.
How it happened
On their first WorldTour outing in Europe, the riders left one Flemish city for another, racing between Ghent and Ninove on a 132.2km course. It would be no easy passage through the fields, however, with eight challenging climbs, the majority cobbled, to conquer en route.
The peloton enjoyed a relaxed start to the afternoon, with the bunch remaining together for the first two thirds of the race.
With 40km remaining, a star-studded group containing many of the pre-race favourites broke off the front, but was soon caught amid the relentless series of ascents.
Not content to sit back and wait, Movistar’s Sierra tried her luck inside the final 30km, breaking away solo off the front and growing out a one-minute advantage. The Cuban rode alone onto the lower slopes of the Muur van Geraardsbergen, but her gap quickly began to tumble. Behind her, Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) sprung out of the peloton to launch the chase, followed by the former British national champion Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM).
Cresting the Muur, Kopecky tagged Sierra as the duo caught their breath in the shadows of the climb’s chapel. The Belgian then readied herself, before dealing her killer, race-winning attack at the foot of the Bosberg with 12km remaining.
Solo at the front of the race, the SD Worx rider took a 40-second advantage onto the flat, which was then halved as she battled into a headwind. Movistar and UAE Team ADQ tried their best to close the gap, but neither team could catch Kopecky, who crossed the line to take her first win of the season.
After the race, it was revealed that last year’s winner, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), had suffered a flat tyre on the approach to the Muur, ruling her out of the finale.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Ghent to Ninove (132.2km)
1. Lotte Kopecky (Bel) SD Worx, in 3-32-54
2. Lorena Wiebes (Ned) SD Worx
3. Marta Bastianelli (Ita) UAE Team ADQ
4. Emma Norsgaard (Den) Movistar
5. Pfeiffer Georgi (GBr) Team DSM
6. Anouska Koster (Ned) Uno-X
7. Quinty Ton (Ned) Liv Racing TeqFind
8. Christina Schweinberger (Aut) Fenix-Deceuninck
9. Soraya Paladin (Ita) Canyon-Sram
10. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, all at 11s