Omloop Het Neiuwsblad kicked off Classics season on Saturday, and both men’s and women’s races were broadcast live to viewers worldwide.
Race organizers set up parallel starting grids in Gent, with the men departing just ten minutes ahead of the women. This led to an awkward moment when, just 35 km into racing, the women’s peloton caught up with the tail end of the slower moving men’s race.
While it is certainly unfortunate that the women’s race was interrupted, it was also great to see the women’s and men’s race started together and to have dedicated live-streams for both races.
How the Neutralization unfolded
Biglia Pro Cycling’s Swiss rider Nicole Hanselmann was leading the charge, having escaped in a solo break early on in the race. Hanselmann had built up a 90 second advantage over the chasing peloton. A group of three, containing Diana Carolina Peñuela Martinez (Ale Cipollini), Chiara Perini (BePink), and Crystal Lane-Wright (Isorex Cycling Team) followed 45 seconds behind the Swiss rider.
As the race entered Sint-Dejijs-Boekel, it became clear that Hanselmann was going to ride into the caravan following the men’s race, forcing officials to neutralize the women’s event. The head umpire can be seen talking with the Biglia rider, then gesturing for her to slow before finally calling for the race to be neutralized. Another umpire can be heard on camera apologizing to Hanselmann as she sits at a railroad crossing, waiting for the rest of the women’s field to catch up.
Once the field came to a stop, the head umpire can be heard explaining that the race would be neutralized for ten minutes and that riders would start with the same time gaps they finished with. There appeared to be minimal confusion, with many riders taking advantage of the break to ditch jackets and find a bathroom while waiting for the race to resume.
After the break
When the race was set to resume, Hanselmann and the trio of chasers were separated from the field. Each were started separately with their pre-neutralization time gap. The live feed cut out temporarily at that point, but when it returned it appeared the impetus had gone out of the breakaway, and the field was back together. While it’s not likely Hanselmann or the trio behind would have survived the remaining 90 km to the finish, standing in the cold Belgian rain while waiting for the race to resume surely didn’t help their cause.
2017 road race world champion Chantal Blaak would go on to win Omloop Het Niewsblad in a thrilling finale.
Classics season continues tomorrow, with the peloton taking on Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Women’s WorldTour racing resumes next Saturday, March 9 at Strade Bianche.