Situated 35 kilometres from the finish, the Kemmelberg once again turned out to provide the key moment at the women’s Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, which was won by Boels Dolman’s Jolien D’hoore. On the climb’s steep slopes, the decisive move of the day formed – first on the cobbled ascent, then on the narrow and twisty descent.
When the first gaps appeared on the lower part of the Kemmelberg, the first nine riders were still close together, and eight of them would end up in the winning move. Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) was a bit further behind, as were Jelena Eric (Movistar Team), Silvia Pollicini (Valcar-Travel & Service), Lauren Stephens (Tibco-SVB) and Équipe Paule Ka’s Emma Norsgaard and Elise Chabbey.
After Chabbey, there was another gap to the rest of the peloton, led by Riejanne Markus (CCC-Liv), Team Sunweb’s Floortje Mackaij, with her teammate Lorena Wiebes on her wheel, Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM), and Arlenis Sierra (Astana Women’s Team).
Deignan closed the gap to the front group on the steepest part of the climb, while Norsgaard, Pollicini, and Chabbey were unable to keep up with the pace and dropped back, being passed by Pollicini’s teammate Marta Cavalli, who surged from the group behind.
Over the top and onto the asphalted but narrow descent, Stephens had almost made it to the front group of 10, with Cavalli chasing hard behind her. Eric and Markus were also not out of sight, but while Stephens and Cavalli latched onto the front group shortly before a sharp turn, Eric and Markus were still chasing.
This corner was the next turning point as Liane Lippert (Team Sunweb), in seventh position, slipped on a wet patch of road and crashed, causing a gap to appear. Lippert jumped to her feet unhurt, but a stuck chain stopped her from remounting and chasing back. Sierra went down in the same spot as Lippert, and although the Cuban champion was quickly back on her bike, the standing riders narrowed an already narrow road even further for the peloton that followed.
The gaps between the groups increased, and at the bottom of the descent, Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), Amy Pieters and Jolien D’hoore (Boels Dolmans), Parkhotel Valkenburg’s Demi Vollering, Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT) and Sarah Roy (Mitchelton-Scott) were about 50 metres ahead of the next five riders. When Longo Borghini looked around and saw that her teammates Deignan and Ellen van Dijk weren’t part of the front group anymore, she stopped pushing the pace, allowing them – as well as Lotte Kopecky (Lotto Soudal), Stephens, and Cavalli – to close the gap more easily.
Eric had come out of the descent only another 50 metres further back, but the 24-year-old Serbian had no chance of closing the gap all on her own. Markus and Norsgaard soon came up to her, but by that point the gap to the front had increased to 10 seconds, and the three riders were eventually caught by what remained of the peloton, including sprinters Wiebes and Barnes.
This set the stage for the remainder of the race, with the front group and the peloton effectively racing a 30-kilometre team pursuit. Wiebes’ Sunweb and Barnes’ Canyon-SRAM teammates, as well as CCC-Liv, chased hard behind, and had the front group in sight in the final kilometres, but the gap proved to be eight seconds too big for them in the end.