Van der Breggen and Niewiadoma inch away from you, metre by metre, and by the time they turn off the climb, they’ve got a handy little lead. You soft pedal for a few moments to allow a small group to come together and then you’re off, rolling turns together, riding hard to try and catch the duo ahead and, with any luck, Van Vleuten as well.
You turn onto the day’s final climb, the Paterberg, with Van der Breggen and Niewiadoma about 15 seconds ahead. You can see them just up the road, receiving plenty of encouragement from an enthusiastic crowd. Your chase group gets a similarly rousing reception and you find yourself tapping into reserves of energy you didn’t realise you had.
By the top of the Paterberg your little group has made ground on Van der Breggen and Niewiadoma — they’re now just 10 seconds ahead. You catch them with about 5 km to go, forming a group of eight as you return to Oudenaarde to contest the finish.
Your legs are starting to feel better, but you know you need to save as much energy as you can for the sprint. It’s clear that Van Vleuten will hold on to win, but you can still take second place. You look around your little group to see who else is here. By your reckoning Marta Bastianelli is the strongest sprinter, but you just never know after a long, hard race like this.
You sit in the wheels until about 200 metres to go, waiting patiently on Bastianelli’s wheel. She kicks late, with only 100 metres to go, and you follow, passing her with just metres to spare. It’s a battle to hold your wheel in front, but a throw to the line secures it. You’ve finished second at the Tour of Flanders — a terrific result and one that will set you up very nicely for the season ahead.