Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) finished second in Danilith Nokere Koerse on Wednesday after a gutsy ride saw her lead the winning breakaway with 50km to go but eventually missing out to Amy Pieters (SD Worx) in the cobbled uphill finish.
Brown, who has taken on a vastly improved leadership role on the Australian team since the departure of Annemiek van Vleuten to Movistar at the start of the year, rode aggressively in the wet conditions in Belgium and took advantage when the pace dropped in the peloton.
She attacked with only Lisa Klein (Canyon-SRAM) and Pieters able to follow as the sprinters’ teams relied on chasing the trio down in the final 50 kilometres.
“On the final big lap we had planned to start riding aggressively. Other teams seemed to have the same idea and the peloton split with just 25 or so in the front. I took an opportunity when the pace lulled a little to attack on a small cobbled climb. I realised that it was going to be really hard in those conditions to ride solo, so I was pleased to be joined by Pieters and Klein,” Brown said after the race.
The leaders never established more than a one-minute gap as teams such as Trek-Segafredo controlled what was left of the peloton. Brown admitted that she might have done too much work in hindsight, but at one point the trio only had a 12-second gap, with the peloton closing them down in hot pursuit.
“I felt strong today and can really feel my Classics form building now. The first part of the race was a bit hectic, but as riders started to tire I settled into the peloton a bit better. I was feeling strong in the break and maybe did a bit more work than the others. I felt determined for the move to stick,” she added.
“The other two wouldn’t come around me in the final lead-in to the line, so I decided I would just go all out from the bottom of the cobbled climb. Unfortunately, Amy Pieters has a really strong finishing kick and was able to come around me.”
Brown has yet to take a win this season but her form has certainly been consistent. She finished second in both the national and road time trial events in Australia at the start of the year, and followed that with eighth in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
In 2020 Brown won Brabantse Pijl and finished second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in what was only her first proper Classics campaign. This time around she has big ambitions, a full programme of racing between now and a return to Liège.
“It would have been awesome to win, but I’m happy with how I raced and am feeling confident ahead of some of the bigger Belgian cobble classics.”