Tour of Flanders: Elisa Longo Borghini triumphs in the rain

Italian champion outsprints Kasia Niewiadoma after combining with teammate Shirin van Anrooij in the finale

Clock16:03, Sunday 31st March 2024
Elisa Longo Borghini celebrates victory at the Tour of Flanders

© Getty Images

Elisa Longo Borghini celebrates victory at the Tour of Flanders

Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) outsprinted Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) to win a spectacular edition of the Tour of Flanders, with Shirin van Anrooij making it two Lidl-Trek riders on the podium.

Van Anrooij, who attacked just before the Oude Kwaremont and was joined by the other two after the brutally steep Paterberg, led out the sprint, with Niewiadoma caught in between the two Lidl-Trek riders and Longo Borghini sweeping round to claim her second Flanders title after her first in 2015.

Dwars door Vlaanderen winner Marianne Vos (Visma-Lease a Bike) could only manage fourth, leading an elite chase group over the line, ahead of two-time Flanders winner Lotte Kopecky and teammate Demi Vollering (SD Worx-Protime).

“This race means a lot to me," said Longo Borghini. "I’d like to thank my trainer, Paulo Slongo, my husband Jacopo [Mosca], the entire team for the way they supported me today. The girls were really good, the staff in the car were super supportive.

"I had a crash, I had a flat and went down, they were supporting me in a super nice way and it’s amazing. Shirin was a motorbike! In the end we can be proud, first and third in a race like this is a huge thing."

While Lidl-Trek posted two riders to the podium, SD Worx, long the dominant force in women's cycling, couldn't manage any, with Kopecky and Vollering held up on the Koppenberg and then reduced to patching holes all the way to the line.

After Mathieu van der Poel claimed a third Tour of Flanders victory earlier in the day, fellow world champion Kopecky had been chasing a record third women’s title but appeared to struggle in the gruesome conditions and could only manage fifth.

How the race unfolded

On a classically grim Belgian spring day with rain lashing down, this was a long, attritional slog for the riders, with cyclocross specialist Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck) probably the only one pleased with the hideous conditions.

Starting and finishing in Oudenaarde, the riders tackled 12 sharp Flemish climbs and several cobbled sections, with most of the uphill packed into the second 70km of racing after a rolling, flatter start.

An early crash inside the first 10km, on the flat, long Lange Munte stretch of cobbles saw pre-race favourite Kopecky go down. Her teammate Marlen Reusser (SD Worx-Protime), Lizzie Deignan (Lidl-Trek), Monica Greenwood (Coop-Repsol), Chloe Dygert (Canyon-SRAM) and Romy Kasper (Human Powered Health) also hit the deck, with Reusser, Deignan and Greenwood forced to abandon in an early blow to SD Worx-Protime and Lidl-Trek.

A five-strong breakaway took advantage of the splits in the peloton following that crash to distance themselves after about 20km of racing, featuring Justine Ghekiere (AG Insurance-Soudal), Gladys Verhulst-Wild (FDJ-Suez), Elena Pirrone (Roland), Josie Talbot (Cofidis), and Mieke Docx (Lotto-Dstny).

Camilla Rånes (Coop-Repsol) and Josie Nelson (DSM-Firmenich-PostNL) each set off separately in hot pursuit, eventually forming a group of two. Nelson sat up after failing to close the gap not long before the Wolvenberg, the day’s first climb, with Rånes caught as well with around 100km to go.

With rain hammering down there were several other crashes over the day. Thalita De Jong (Lotto-DSTNY) and Dygert hit the deck shortly before the Wolvenberg but were back on their bikes swiftly after, and Anya Louw (AG Insurance-Soudal) and Lily Williams (Human Powered Health) collided on the entry to the Berendries later on.

Anouska Koster (Uno X-Mobility) got a small gap on the Kerkgate cobbles but was caught on the next pavé section, the Jagerij, with the break maintaining their lead and no move managing to make an attack stick.

Longo Borghini crashed on the corner just approaching the Molenberg and had to fight to get into position ahead of the climb with no team cars nearby. Pfeiffer Georgi was expertly delivered by her DSM-firmenich PostNL teammates onto the climb with the bottleneck caused by the narrowing road bringing some riders to a standstill and allowing Longo Borghini to reattach herself.

Docx was the first of the break to be reabsorbed, visibly struggling on the Molenberg, with the breakaway’s advantage narrowed to 50 seconds after a frantic climb before ballooning back out to 1:20. Tour de France Femmes winner Vollering's pacing on the Berendries climb had a devastating effect on the bunch, with Kopecky - racing in an all-white kit and rainbow stripes - quite far back having missed several bottles.

A wave of attacks followed from Cédrine Kerbaol (Ceratizit-WNT), Norwegian national champion Susanne Andersen (Uno X-Mobility) and Alice Maria Arzuffi (Ceratizit-WNT), the latter leading the charge up the Valkenberg and eroding the breakaway’s lead.

Belgian rider Ghekiere powered clear of her companions on the Kapelleberg, refusing to give up with the peloton swarming into view. She was the last to be caught, just before the infamous Koppenberg, which reaches gradients of 20.8%.

Attacking the Koppenberg

The Koppenberg promised drama and did not disappoint, with riders struggling with the slick cobbles and savage gradients. An elite group of favourites including Vos, Longo Borghini, Paternoster, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx), Karlijn Swinkels (UAE Team ADQ) and Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ) made it over the top first, led by an imperious-looking Pieterse.

US national champion Dygert’s day went from bad to worse as she hit the deck again on the cobbles alongside Shirin van Anrooij (Lidl-Trek). Vollering and Kopecky were both forced to run up sections pushing their bikes, with the SD Worx duo leading the charge in a chasing group but very much on the back foot.

With 40km left of racing, the two-time champion was 35 seconds down the road alongside Pfeiffer Georgi, van Anrooij, Fem van Empel (Visma-Lease a Bike) and Lea Curinier (FDJ-Suez).

The gap to the second group was up to 44 seconds on the Steenbeekdries cobbled section after the climb, as Swinkels powered the leaders up the Taaienberg. Further down, Vollering piled on the pace on the second group, but the biggest casualty of that was her teammate Kopecky, who struggled to claw herself back on after dropping behind.

SD Worx-Protime appeared to change their tactics, with Kopecky taking to the front to shelter Vollering and the remainder of their chase group parking the bus behind them.

The final climbs

Kopecky was distanced again by Van Anrooij and Vollering as the brutal cobbled Oude Kruisberg splintered the attackers. Curinier’s day was ruined by a mechanical at the worst time, and Vollering timed her moment to perfection to power away, dropping Van Anrooij.

As the lead group crested the top of the climb the favourites paused and looked around at each other, and Niewiadoma pounced, forcing Longo Borghini to close her down and distance the suffering Vollering, who had been mere bike lengths away from bridging across to the front of the race. Paternoster and Swinkels were dropped, leaving a shaved-down group of favourites jostling for position with just 25km to go, but the two rejoined as the group refused to cooperate.

Looming in the background was Dutch national champion Vollering, who put in a huge effort to join the front group just before the Oude Kwaremont.

With the leaders taking a breather after that tough climb, van Anrooij timed her attack to perfection, rejoining the group and immediately sweeping past in an echo of her move earlier this week at Dwars door Vlaanderen. She opened up a huge gap as Swinkels fought to chase, with Pieterse shooting off the front to close them down.

The rest of the group failed to react, and van Empel, Kopecky and Giorgi made it back on, leaving three SD Worx riders in the chasing pack and the double Flanders champion playing domestique at the front. Swinkels had an unfortunate mechanical but hung on to her position as Van Anrooij hit the 1500m of cobbles up the Oude Kwaremont.

With 17km to go Pieterse latched onto Swinkels, around 15 seconds behind the Dutchwoman at the front. Another five seconds back, Kopecky dragged her group at the Kwaremont, with Wiebes dropped on the steep cobbles.

The run-in

After almost 70km of climbing in lashing rain the riders approached the 400m Paterberg, with Van Anrooij's main enemies at this point two service vehicles in the way. The punishing 18% section at the top of the Paterberg split the chasers again and Niewiadoma and Longo Borghini powered away.

The Italian bridged across to her teammate at the front of the race with Niewiadoma attached to her wheel. The three leaders worked well together to draw out a 20-second advantage over the remaining chasers with all the climbing done and just 12km left to race.

Vollering and Kopecky managed to persuade Vos and Persico to join their efforts, but by the 5km to go mark the gap had swung out to 28 seconds, and it was a tense finale with all of the pre-race favourites well positioned to take a monumental win.

Van Anrooij kickstarted the dash for the line with the chasing group bearing down on the leaders. Niewiadoma made a valiant effort but Lidl-Trek came away with the spoils in a nail-biting finish to a phenomenal race.

Race Results

1

it flag

LONGO BORGHINI Elisa

Lidl-Trek

4H 16' 04"

2

pl flag

NIEWIADOMA Katarzyna

CANYON//SRAM Racing

"

3

nl flag

VAN ANROOIJ Shirin

Lidl-Trek

"

4

nl flag

VOS Marianne

Team Visma | Lease a Bike

+ 9"

5

be flag

KOPECKY Lotte

Team SD Worx-Protime

"

6

nl flag

PIETERSE Puck

Fenix-Deceuninck

"

7

it flag

PERSICO Silvia

UAE Team ADQ

"

8

nl flag

VOLLERING Demi

Team SD Worx-Protime

+ 15"

9

it flag

PATERNOSTER Letizia

Liv AlUla Jayco

+ 1' 40"

10

nl flag

SWINKELS Karlijn

UAE Team ADQ

"

Provided by FirstCycling

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