Ellen van Dijk also part of a select group that forms in a windswept race in the Netherlands.
It’s been four years since Audrey Cordon-Ragot raised her arms in victory in a UCI road race, making her solo win in Drentse Acht van Westerveld, the precursor to the WorldTour match in two days, that much sweeter.
“I don’t know what to say! I am super happy!” said an elated Cordon-Ragot. “It such a good feeling – it’s been a long time since I have put my hands up. Today was a good opportunity for me; it was a hard race, a warrior’s race, and I like that. I am proud of the team, of me, and the way we rode together. I think everyone is happy for me. It’s a really nice feeling.”
It was a typical, hard Dutch race with high winds, and the peloton literally blew apart in the early part of the 145-kilometer course.
Trek-Segafredo had three riders in a group of 14 that formed in the first crosswind section – Ellen van Dijk, Lotta Lepistö and Cordon-Ragot – and this would prove to be the winning move of the race.
With still over 60 kilometers to go a crash on the descent of the infamous VAMberg eliminated Lepistö, who fortunately was not injured, and pared the leading group to eight.
Director Ina Teutenberg: “Today went pretty much according to what we wanted. I had a team meeting this morning, we knew there would be over 40kph winds, and we knew there were quite a few second-tier teams here. So, with winds, narrow roads and all that, we wanted an early echelon. That worked out perfectly, we had three riders out of 14 there. Unluckily – but also luckily because she didn’t sustain any injuries – Lotta was taken out by a crash on the downhill of the VAMberg.”
The eight leaders worked well together and built a lead over six minutes on the peloton that numbered only 28 riders, a result of the gusty winds and hard pace. The rest were deemed out of contention and pulled from the race.
When the race entered the two local laps of six kilometers, it was apparent the winner would come from the leading group, and van Dijk and Cordon-Ragot, who knew a sprint ending was not in their favor, began to initiate plan A.
“Our group worked well together to the end because there was still a long way to go,” explained Cordon-Ragot. “When we were on the local lap of 6kms, we planned with Ellen to attack first, and then if that did not work, I would try in the sprint because I can also be fast.”
Van Dijk, a pre-race favorite and highly marked by the others, mustered a few searing attacks, and it was a well-timed counter by Cordon-Ragot that ultimately succeeded.
Cordon-Ragot: “We had to try something because we were not the fastest with (Amy) Pieters, (Marta) Bastianelli there. After the attacks from Ellen, and (Gracie Elvin) Mitchelton-Scott also attacked, we slowed again, and I found the opportunity to go. It was a headwind, so I was thinking it was not the smartest move, but in the end, no one in the back was able to really chase because I think everyone was kaput.”
No one responded to Cordon-Ragot’s move, and she quickly opened a gap that continued to grow over the ensuing kilometers.
“I went as fast as I could and heard the moto next to me saying 10 seconds, 15 seconds, 35 seconds, so I saw the gap growing, and I told myself to just keep going because I still had six kilometers. When I passed the finish line for the final lap, I did not feel my legs anymore. I just pulled as hard as I could, doing a proper time trial,” continued Cordon-Ragot.
“I heard Gauthier (Verdonck, team mechanic) shouting from the car, and Ina honking, and it gave me so much motivation. At this time I knew I had a minute because the car could go over the group up to me, and I just gave my all. When I saw the finish line, I finally turned my head and didn’t see the group – only the cars behind me – then I knew I made it!”
“Audrey and Ellen played it very smart,” added Teutenberg. “Ellen attacked, and I am pretty sure everyone knew she wanted to go, so they were all watching her, and Audrey launched a perfect counterattack from Ellen’s attack. Everybody was a bit hesitating, not everyone had a teammate there, and if they did, they were tired. So yeah, we had that advantage of having two there and not just two, but two very strong ones.”
The sprint for the minor places went to Amy Pieters (Boels-Dolmans) ahead of Marta Bastianelli (Virtu Cycling) with van Dijk finishing in sixth place.
“It’s great, it’s nice to see and gives good confidence for Sunday, but of course on Sunday it’s a totally different ballgame, it’s a WorldTour race, and it will be more contested. But I think we are ready for it and hopefully, we will show that on Sunday,” ended Teutenberg.