EF Education-Cannondale’s first monument

The team rode a brave Ronde van Vlaanderen

March 31, 2024

De Ronde van Vlaanderen is a brutal, beautiful bike race.

EF Education-Cannondale’s hopes were dashed when the peloton came to a standstill on the mud-slicked cobblestones of the Koppenberg. Until that narrow tractor lane, which climbs up a steep knoll in a farmer’s field, they had ridden a strong race as a team, holding their own at the front of the pack in their first ever monument.

American Kristen Faulkner wanted to become the second American to win De Ronde, following her teammate Coryn Labecki, who won the great Flemish classic in 2017. Unfortunately, crashes early in the race set her back. Kristen rode on, but was stuck in traffic and missed the split, when the favorites attacked over the top of the Koppenberg.

"It was a really hectic, tough race," Kristen said after the finish. "It was hard to see with the rain and that definitely made it harder to position. I was caught behind a crash going into Oudenaarde and that was a really critical point in the race. So that was really tough. We had a bit of bad luck, but we came back from every incident and the team gave a really good leadout into the Koppenberg, but it was just a mess. Still, I think we raced it really strongly, given everything that happened."

Noemi Rüegg had gone down in the same crash as Kristen. Together, the two EF Education-Cannondale riders chased back to the peloton, arriving at the bunch shortly before the foot of the climb. While Kristen was able to push her way through the crowd, Noemi’s luck then turned worse.

“It was a crazy, hectic race,” she said on the bus back to the hotel after the finish. “I crashed with Kristen and we came back and then I had to change my wheel and I had to chase back again and then we entered the Koppenberg and we all had to run up it. Someone rode into my derailleur, so my derailleur broke and because we had no cars in the back I had to take the neutral service bike and then my race was over. It’s a shame because we were committed to the plan. Alison and Nina and Coryn and Letizia were really working well and were committed. Hopefully, we’ll get some better luck next time.”

Letizia Borghesi made it over the Koppenberg with Kristen. Together, they mounted a brave chase, pushing hard right to the finish. They were determined to do their best, even though they knew they were not going to get the result they wanted.

“I was in the fight till the second last climb,” Letizia said. “I tried to help Kristen. It was a super hard day with a lot of rain. It was really crazy. On the Koppenberg, we had to walk. Honestly, I could jump on my bike quite early so I could gain a lot of positions, but I lost my back wheel there. Only the first ten riders could ride it. I am glad I could stay safe. Then, with Kristen after the Koppenberg I tried to help her and tried to hang on. I was a bit disappointed because I lost the group right at the end of the Oude Kwaremont, but I just didn’t have any power left. Kristen did a good job. With the crashes, she had to spend a lot of energy. We could have done better and hopefully will in the next races.”

Sports Director Carmen Small is proud of the spirit EF Education-Cannondale showed.

“The team committed to the plan and still stuck with it and kept fighting back,” she said. “After the Koppenberg, we were pretty far back with Letizia and Kristen. And they rode back and came pretty close back to the front. Unfortunately the group did not want to work, but that’s bike racing. We did not have luck on our side.”

EF Education-Cannondale will now turn their focus to another brutal, beautiful bike race: Paris-Roubaix. The French cobbled classic promises to be just as crazy as De Ronde, but that’s what makes it special.

“Roubaix is also a race that you cannot really predict,” Noemi says. “There are so many things going on that you cannot really plan, so you just have to be really flexible. Everyone will have some troubles in that race, but you just have to always fight back. The motivation is really high, having the former winner of the race, Alison Jackson, with us. We will do everything to have a good recon and then prepare for a good race.”

Rest up team. Soon, it will be time to race back onto the cobbles.

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