Lotte Kopecky captured the Tour of Flanders (aka Ronde van Vlaanderen) title at the sixth attempt after seeing off legendary Dutchwoman Annemiek van Vleuten in the sprint. Van Vleuten had twice won in Flanders in 2011 and 2021 but had to settle for a fifth podium instead after SD Worx captured another major title in women’s cycling. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak took third after supporting Kopecky.
Team SD Worx delivered Lotte Kopecky to the line in a limousine, as the Belgian champion beat last year’s winner, Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), in a two-up sprint finish at the Tour of Flanders.
From Antwerp to Oudenaarde, it was a towering team performance from the Dutch outfit. All-in for the favourite, every one of their riders played a part in a victory that seldom seemed in doubt.
As the race began to take shape, Elena Cecchini put in the hard early yards while the others kept Kopecky safe from the wind.
Before the bergs and the cobbles, two separate breaks formed.
The first was made up of Maria Martins (Le Col-Wahoo), Olivia Baril (Valcar-Travel & Service), Clara Honsinger (EF Education-Tibco SVB), and Sofie van Rooijen (Parkhotel Valkenburg).
In the second there was Katrijn De Clercq (Lotto Soudal), Naomi De Roeck (Bingoal Casino-Chevalmeire-Van Eyck Sport), Lotte Popelier (Bingoal Casino-Chevalmeire-Van Eyck Sport).
Talented prospects among them, none were likely to be there when the race really got going, but nor were they unable to influence proceedings. In their respective groups they worked well to drive the race towards the second half, where the hellingen (hills) themselves could take over.
The new Flanders course featured, for the first time, the challenging cobbles of the Koppenberg, 600 steep metres of rough cobbles that were sure to offer something to the race.
At the first of the hills, the Wolvenberg, the breakers were starting to struggle. In contrast SD Worx had Christine Majerus and Marlen Reusser taking turns to set a tough tempo on the front of the peloton.
Aware of what was coming from behind, out front Honsinger and Baril opted to dispense with the dead wood. 100km into the race, by the Valkenberg, the real race was visibly beginning to heat up. Trek-Segafredo, in the shape of the European champion, Ellen Van Dijk, and Lucinda Brand, added some fuel to it, which brought the leaders back within range.
10km later several were inspired to counter attack, join up with the North Americans, and help their lead back up again.
Another 10,000m and the realest of climbs were upon them. Demi Vollering (SD Worx) laid into the Koppenberg’s cobbles like jackhammer. Reusser and Kopecky rode them in her wake.
As the race entered its penultimate phase it was Majerus, in the Luxembourg jersey, who was tasked with chasing attacks. The move that mattered was that of Van Vleuten’s team-mate, Arlenis Sierra, who seemed surprised to find herself leading the race. Marlen Reusser, wearing Swiss red, followed then freelanced to the front to pull a few shapes of her own. Kasia Niewiadoma’s (Canyon–SRAM) presence in this late move altered the calculus, simultaneously increasing and decreasing its chances.
All Kopecky really had to do was stay in touch with Van Vleuten, which she had no difficulty in doing. When, to no one’s surprise, Van Vleuten set off on the Paterberg, reaching and then overwhelming that group, Kopecky stuck to her back wheel like glue. When it really mattered, she was even able to take team-mate Chantal van den Broek-Blaak with her.
Unable to drop Kopecky on the final climb in the closing kilometres, Van Vleuten found herself at a two to one disadvantage. Broek-Blaak rode as hard as she could on the front, making it impossible for Van Vleuten to go long. The best the Olympic time trial champion could do was sit on the wheel and hope Kopecky did not quite have the legs for the sprint.
Unfortunately for the veteran Movistar rider, she did.
With a tailwind favouring the rider behind, they had to leave it late, and Van Vleuten had to go first. Kopecky came eased around her and gave Belgium their first home win since Philippe Gilbert in 2017.