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Nokere Koerse: Lotte Kopecky takes emotional victory in women's race
By Patrick Fletcher,
Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) claimed a sensational and emotional victory at Nokere Koerse, crossing the line alone after an all-action display and after the recent death of her brother.
Kopecky's brother Seppe died on Saturday at the age of 29, and SD Worx encouraged her privacy to be respected as they confirmed she'd still line up for Wednesday's semi-classic.
Kopecky didn't only line up; she threw herself at it as if it were the last race of her career, attacking repeatedly from long range before finally stomping clear in the finale.
After attacking on the final cobbled climb of Lange Aststraat and then burning off the only two riders left with her, she crossed the line almost half a minute clear of a heavily reduced bunch.
It was another 1-2 for SD Worx as Lorena Wiebes powered clear from the chase on the final haul to the line on the cobbles of the Nokereberg. The podium was completed by Marta Bastianelli (Team UAE ADQ).
Kopecky made her first move on the Tiegemberg 45km into the 129km race, going clear in a six-rider move. That was brought back but she soon went again, taking Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma) clear in a two-up breakaway before the race had even hit the two laps of the 28.1km finishing circuit.
The pair gained 30 seconds over a peloton that was reduced by short climbs, cobbles, and crashes, but they were reeled in with 43.5km to go.
At that point, Kopecky's SD Worx teammates took the reigns and split the bunch into four groups over the key climb of Lange Aststraat. There was a regrouping at the front but the exposed roads and the Lededorp cobbles stretched things to breaking point once more.
A group of 41 riders reformed to take the bell as they crossed the finish line with one lap of 28.1km to ride. The first attack in the finale came from DSM's Daniel Hengeveld but it was short-lived as she slid out on the exit from the Herlegemstraat cobbles.
Movistar's Aude Biannic was next, and she timed her move well, gaining 20 seconds as the race hit Lange Aststraat again with 12km to go. That's where Kopecky launched, storming through to the front. Eleonora Gasparrini (UAE ADQ) sprinted after her, but no one else could follow.
Over the top, they reached Biannic and Kopecky continued to pile on the pressure before asking for collaboration as the gap stood at 18 seconds with 10km to go. None was forthcoming, and it soon became apparent that it was a case of 'unable' rather than 'unwilling'.
Kopecky ratcheted up the pressure again through the Lededorp cobbles and exposed roads beyond to drop her companions go clear with just under 7km remaining.
Behind, Henderson attacked and was joined by Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) but the move was doomed when the Italian champion crashed on the turn into a cobbled section.
In any case, there was no catching Kopecky, whose lead grew and grew before she powered up the Nokereberg and crossed the line as the emotion started to flood in.