The European race season got underway with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Ghent this month. The race covers 124 kilometre in total with nine Hellingen (climbs) and six Kasseien (cobbled sections) along the way. A strong performance was shown by all the Drops riders, particularly Ann-Sophie Duyck, who gave an impressive early season performance finishing in 14th place.
In the early part of the race Demmy Druyts (Sport Vlaanderen-Etixx) broke away to lead solo with a gap that one on point reached three and a half minutes. But with the main climbs and cobbles awaiting the peloton the pace increased and she was eventually caught on the climb of the Kluisberg.
Unfortunately crashes in the peloton stopped Becks Womersley and Annie Simpson making the second half of the race. Abby-Mae Parkinson made a strong effort to keep captain Susanna Zorzi in contention, but it wasn’t to be as mechanical issues meant Susy didn’t make it to the end. Despite the disappointed it was a positive start for Abby-Mae who crossed the line with a small group on her debut for the team.
Alice Barnes wasn’t far behind Ann-Sophie Duyck as she too made the group behind the six rider breakaway as the race hit the Molenberg. But it was the Belgian on home soil who got closest, crossing the line two minutes after race winner Lucinda Brand.
"The Omloop was a typical Omloop - nervous and lots of crashes,” Ann-Sophie said after the race.
“For many riders, this is the first race of the season, so it's also an indicator of everyone’s level at this time of the year.
“A big part of the race is already decided by how well you know the race, in the front you mostly see experienced riders who have done this race several times. Knowing the roads and a little luck helps you to be in the front of the race where needed.
“During the race, the hills made a first selection in the peloton, but the cobbled sections of Paddestraat and Lippenhovestraat were decisive for the back end. The front group split in several smaller groups. After the cobbles, I found myself in the group behind the leaders - I couldn't follow Chantal Blaak's acceleration on the Paddestraat. In the last 3km I tried to break away for the 7th place, but it ended in a sprint and I don't have sprinter legs!”
Nevertheless, a good start on a cold and windy day that saw Drops easing themselves in to the demanding 2017 calendar. With plenty to take away and think about, the team moved on to the next race, Omloop Van Het Hageland.