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Tom Boonen was not the only Lowlander to retain a Tour of Flanders title on Sunday. Holland's Mirjam Melchers-van Poppel won the women's World Cup event for the second year in succession when she, also like Boonen, won a two-up sprint in Meerbeke. Austria's Christiane Soeder, team-mate of Britain's Nicole Cooke, was cast in the Leif Hoste role of runner-up.
Run over 111 kilometres and featuring 12 of Flanders famous bergs, the first key move came with 40km remaining when Buitenpoort-Flexpoint's Melchers attacked and was followed by Kimberly Anderson (T-Mobile), Edwige Pitel (Bianchi) and Soeder. The four riders became three when Anderson was soon dropped on the Berendries.
As with the men's race a couple of hours later, the decisive attack came on the Valkenberg with 32km remaining, Melchers going clear and crossing the Mur de Grammont with a gap of almost a minute. However, Soeder, having dropped Pitel, closed in rapidly over the Grammont and Bosberg, and caught Melchers with a couple of kilometres remaining.
But the impression that Melchers was spent proved incorrect. The sprint didn't unwind until the final 50 metres, and the Dutchwoman had more than enough zip left to take it easily. "I had kept something in reserve, and I managed to come out on top in a short sprint, which is what I had been hoping for," said Melchers. "Winning this race two years in a row is magical."
Cooke finished sixth in Meerbeke to move herself up to 10th in the World Cup standings, which are still led by T-Mobile's Ina Teutenberg.
1 Mirjam Melchers-van Poppel (Hol) Buitenpoort-Flexpoint 111km in 3.16.57 (33.82kph)
2 Christiane Soeder (Aut) Univega 0.01
3 Loes Gunnewijk (Hol) Buitenpoort 0.53
4 Zoulfia Zabirova (Kaz) Bigla 0.58
5 Edwige Pitel (Fra) Bianchi
6 Nicole Cooke (GB) Univega 1.20
7 Theresa Senff (Ger) AA Drink
8 Susanne Ljungskog (Swe) Buitenpoort
9 Judith Arndt (Ger) T-Mobile
10 Sharon van Dromme (Bel) Vlaanderen 1.31
World Cup standings
1 Ina Teutenberg (Ger) T-Mobile 120
2 Melchers 75
2 Sarah Ulmer (NZ) New Zealand 75
4 Miho Oki (Jap) Nobili Rubinetterie 73
5 Tina Mayolo-Pic (USA) USA 57
6 Annette Beutler (Swi) Elk Haus 52
7 Soeder 50
7 Oenone Wood (Aus) Nrnberger Versicherung 50
9 Ljungskog 43
10 Cooke 42
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