Grace Verbeke began the 2010 race as an underdog, though she had a plan to win. She remains the only Belgian winner.

I had made the race a goal and I was really looking forward to it, but before the start, stress and panic struck during my warmup and I was in tears. Once we arrived at the start in Oudenaarde the good feeling and my confidence came back because of the atmosphere.

During the race I was able to stay at the front, but it was fairly closed and calm. Some teams were thinking of getting their sprinter over the climbs, or playing the game in the deep final. I decided to get ahead by attacking from afar and hopefully staying ahead with a group or being there in the final when the favourites caught us.

That group was just myself and Adrie Visser. I attacked on the Molenberg, 50km before the finish and collaborat­ion with Adrie was good, although

I felt that I was better on the climbs. At the Muur van Geraardsbe­rgen I went solo, just under a minute ahead of the group of favourites.

Over the Bosberg, and the 10km to Ninove, it was a mix of persistenc­e and adrenaline. I can still see my supporters standing a few kilometres before Ninove. That helped me keep going.

But I lost more and more of my lead and in the end I only had about 10 seconds left. At the last corner I was still doubting I could win and looked behind me. I was only sure I would win 300m from the finish line.

Winning was a huge release of emotion and a bit of disbelief. I won races before and after the Ronde, but this one was the ultimate in terms of experience. Being able to share that with friends and family makes it special.

The recognitio­n and media attention was enormous. At that time there was only attention on the Ronde and World Championsh­ip but after that win I started to notice a change in Belgium in terms of attention around women’s cycling.

After almost 11 years I’m still being asked about being the only Belgian winner. That recognitio­n is nice, but people only know me for that victory. The rest of my wins have been pushed into the background when I still value them.”

Verbeke shares the 2010 podium with Marianne Vos (l) and Kirsten Wild
TOUR OF FLANDERS Verbeke shares the 2010 podium with Marianne Vos (l) and Kirsten Wild
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