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Bike Race Stopped As Woman Catches Men

Ghent, Belgium —(Map)

A biker who was leading a women’s bike race by two minutes was forced to stop when she nearly caught up with the group of men who had started the same race eight minutes earlier.

Saturday marked the beginning of bike racing season in much of Europe. The first race of the year is a race in Belgium called “Omloop Het Nieuwsblad”. It’s a 76-mile (123-kilometer) loop that starts and ends near Ghent, Belgium.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Ghent, February 27, 2016.
The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is a bike race in Belgium. The men’s race starts eight minutes before the women’s race begins so that the races are separate, but share the same crowd. This picture is from 2016.
(Source: Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Though the event is open to both men and women, the two groups ride separately. The women’s race starts eight minutes after the men’s race begins. The idea is that the races can share the same crowd, but the men’s and women’s races don’t interfere with each other.

Except when they do…

Nicole Hanselmann, a 27-year-old Swiss cyclist, jumped out to an early lead in the women’s race. About 4.5 miles (7 kilometers) into the race, Ms. Hanselmann took a chance and went ahead of all the other riders. She was going so fast that she led for the next 18.5 miles (30 kilometers). The closest woman was almost two minutes behind her.

Nicole Hanselmann used this picture in a post she wrote on the internet about the event.
Nicole Hanselmann, a 27-year-old Swiss cyclist, took a strong early lead in the women’s race. She was going so fast that the closest woman was almost two minutes behind her. Ms. Hanselmann used this picture in an internet post she wrote about the event.
(Source: Nicole Hanselmann, via Instagram.)

Normally in a bike race, the cyclists stay fairly close for much of the race. It is easier and less tiring to ride as part of the large pack, which is called a peloton. The reason it’s easier is that the people in front of the peloton block the wind and create a small “pull” for the riders behind. People in the peloton take turns going in front so that everyone saves energy.

The women's peloton heads out onto the race course at the start of the Boise to Idaho City stage of the 1998 Women's Challenge stage race.
Normally in a bike race, the cyclists stay fairly close for much of the race. It is easier and less tiring to ride if you are part of the large pack, which is called a peloton.
(Source: © James F. Perry [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

So Ms. Hanselmann knew she was taking a chance by breaking away, but she felt strong. And she was strong – too strong!

Ms. Hanselmann began to see ambulances and other cars and motorcycles. These vehicles were traveling behind the men’s race in case anyone got hurt. If she passed the support vehicles, she would catch up to the male riders at the back of the men’s race – the ones who had had an 8-minute head start.

The people in charge of the race decided to stop the women’s race to let the men get further ahead.

The people in charge of the race decided to stop the women’s race to let the men get further ahead. Ms. Hanselmann’s team posted this picture of her waiting.

When the women were allowed to ride again, they let Ms. Hanselmann go first, so she still had her lead. But the break was enough to change the race. Ms. Hanselmann began to get tired and soon other riders began to catch up with her.

Chantal Blaak, a 29-year-old rider from the Netherlands won the race. Ms. Hanselmann came in 74th. She said she felt like the break gave the other women a greater desire to catch her. “I think we stopped for five or seven minutes and then it just kills your chances,” she said.

Chantal Blaakon the Col d'Izoard, the first stage of La Course, 2017/Chantal Blaak op de Col d'Izoard tijdens de eerste etappe van La Course 2017
Chantal Blaak, a 29-year-old rider from the Netherlands won the race. This picture of Ms. Blaak is from a race in 2017.
(Source: Filip Bossuyt from Kortrijk, Belgium [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

As far as what went wrong in the first place, Ms. Hanselmann said “Maybe the other women and me were too fast, or the men too slow.” The race organizers say they’ll think about giving the men a bigger head start next year.

Ghent, Belgium


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