De Ronde Van Vlaaderen het is elk ajar een buitengewone dag. (The Tour of Flanders is always a special day.)
The Tour of Flanders is two simultaneous cycling events on the same course. For the men, the race was seeing its 95th edition. The men's event began in Brugge and features the top classics riders in the world. The women's race is no different in that respect. This year's race was the 8th edition for the women, who start a little further down the road and race 130 km (82-miles) of the same course. Both men and women finish on the same wide straightaway into the town of Ninove.
Riders were greeted by good weather today: overcast and cold for most of the day, but no wind or rain. The sun finally broke through the cloud cover late in the race. Team soigneur Arenda said a windy Tour of Flanders is an advantage for European riders over Americans (and Italians), because Europeans have more experience in colder weather.
For 2011, race organizers added more climbs and cobbles to the course, including the infamous "Oude-Kwaremont" (in Dutch means "old dirty bastard"), a 2 km climb up a narrow cobblestone road, coming 48 km into the race. Hitting climbs like this near the front of the group is essential to staying in the race. And Team Directeur sportif Angela van Smoorenburg noted that she was very pleased with the way the entire team performed. "They did nothing wrong the first 50 km of the race," she said. "When we cam to the hills, they were very well organized and always near the front.
But Flanders has a way of affecting the outcome of a race like no other course. With narrow roads and cobbles, crashes are inevitable. And good luck is essential to being there at the finish of the race. Unfortunately, for the second consecutive week, Megan Guarnier of Team TIBCO experienced such luck while looking very strong, sitting top five at the front of the race. "Another rider went down in front of her and Megan had nowhere to go," van Smoorenburg said. While Guarnier again escaped without serious injury, her Specialized Amira was less fortunate and she was unable to continue on. Later on in the race, Emma Mackie also went down hard in a similar situation while near the front of the race, but she was able to get her bike squared away and finish up the race strong. However, at that point the front group was already up the road. But Team TIBCO was still in a good position, with Joelle Numainville in that front group.
"Joelle rode extremely well for her first time riding Flanders," van Smoorenburg said. "On all the hills she was in the middle to front of the group. She was holding her own among the top riders in the world."
That included on the vaunted Muur, (meaning "wall" in Dutch), a 500-meter long hill so steep, even pro's sometimes have to walk their bikes up it. The Muur comes in the final 10-miles of the race and is often decisive. But the race had already started to break apart at the mid-way point following the Eikenberg climb.
Numainville was part of a 12-rider front group that was still together just 2 km from the finish. At that point, Russian champion Tatiana Antoshina (Gauss)countered the catch of another rider and opened a gap with Dutchwoman Annemiek van Vleuten (Nederland Bloeit). The two riders opened a gap of 0:10 in the final kilometer and help on, with van Vleuten taking the two-up sprint for the win.Ten seconds later, her teammate Marianne Vos won the small bunch sprint for 3rd, with Numainville taking 6th on the day.
"This is a very special race," van Smoorenburg added. "There are a lot of people on the side of the road. It's a very hard race. I'm very happy with how everyone rode today. Even Kendall Ryan, given her youth, was in good position today. This was my first race directing the team and I'm pleased with the outcome. I'm looking forward to the upcoming races."
Veteran Team TIBCO rider Joanne Kiesanowski added, "It was great to see how we all rode in good position in the front of the peloton. Joelle had a very gutsy ride to finish 6th. I think this was the toughest course on paper here so far, with seven cobbled climbs and numerous longer sections of cobbles. It bodes well for the upcoming Dutch races! "