Preview: Ronde van Vlaanderen

Written by: Niels Goudriaan
Posted 4 weeks ago

Preview: Ronde van Vlaanderen

The 21st edition of the biggest spring classics race for the women’s peloton is happening this Easter Sunday, the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, where the peloton will race through the smell of fried food and beer, cheered on by thousands of spectators. All eyes will be on the Belgian World Champion Lotte Kopecky. She has the unique opportunity to claim victory in the race for the third consecutive time. With this, she could become the first rider to achieve this since Fiorenzo Magni (1949, 1950, 1951). Can anyone stop her, or will the World Champion prepare for another triumph in the Tour of Flanders?

The Tour of Flanders, known as one of the biggest single raceday in cycling, will take place this Sunday, March 31 in Flanders, Belgium. This iconic race will witness the best women in the professional peloton tackling 163km of the most renowned cobblestone climbs in Flanders. Starting and finishing after the men’s edition, the women will have a prime slot in the action, confronting the same challenging final 46km of the race which includes the Koppenberg, Taaienberg, Oude Kwaremont, and Paterberg, all packed into one thrilling climax.

You can follow the race from the start at 13:25 CET right through to the finish around 17:50 CET with our live tracker and race updates in the new Pro Cycling Women App on Android or iPhone!

 

 

What happened last year

In the 2023 and 20th edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, the peloton had a parcours ahead of them of 156.5 kilometers from start to finish in Oudenaarde, Belgium. The route included five sections of cobblestones and 13 climbs.

Early in the race, Ally Wollaston from AG Insurance – Soudal – Quick-Step made a bold move by attacking solo on the Wolvenberg climb. The peloton remained vigilant and closely followed her. Simultaneously, Elise Chabbey and Elinor Barker initiated an harfd move on a flat section after the Valkenberg climb, successfully bridging the gap to Wollaston. The chasing pack, led by teams Trek Segafredo and Team DSM, maintained a steady gap between the lead and the peloton.

As the race progressed, the breakaway was reabsorbed just before the challenging Koppenberg climb, where SD Worx launched a powerful attack. Lotte Kopecky faced a temporary setback due to a mechanical issue, but her teammate Marlen Reusser surged forward, accompanied by Silvia Persico.

Kopecky demonstrated her resilience by quickly regaining lost ground and rejoining Reusser and Persico at the front of the race. Behind them, a select group, including Elisa Longo Borghini and Demi Vollering, fought hard to close the gap.

On the decisive climbs of the Oude Kwaremont, Lotte Kopecky made a decisive move, leaving Persico behind and securing her victory. Despite a spirited chase from the peloton, Kopecky’s dominance prevailed as she crossed the finish line solo for the second consecutive year. In the battle for the remaining podium spots, Demi Vollering secured second place in a sprint finish ahead of Elisa Longo Borghini.

 

The Parcours

The route sees some significant changes this year. Last year, the peloton skipped the traditional passage around Zottegem, but now the cobblestones of Lippenhovestraat and Paddestraat make a return to the race, replacing Tiegemberg, Huisepontweg, and Korte Ast. The first of two hill zones kicks off as the pack thunders over Markt in Oudenaarde for the second time.

Wolvenberg marks the first real ascent of the day, followed by a series of familiar climbs and stretches: Kerkgate, Jagerij, Molenberg, Marlboroughstraat, Berendries, and Valkenberg. As riders descend back towards Oudenaarde, some will already be feeling the strain in their legs. And if not, they’ll soon experience it in the second hill zone.

The new Kapelleberg serves as a sort of intermediate climb, but it’s with the Koppenberg that the finale truly begins. Despite criticism of the Bult van Melden’s influence last year, any remaining sleepers are sure to wake up on the punishing trio of Mariaborrestraat-Steenbeekdries-Stationsberg. Bodies will be jostled as the Taaienberg looms almost immediately after.

Next up is the famous duo, Kruisberg-Hotond, where many a race has been decided in the past. If attacks here don’t prove decisive, there’s still potential for a selection on the Oude Kwaremont (where Kopecky made her move last year) and the Paterberg. The summit of this final climb lies approximately thirteen kilometers from the finish, marked for the tenth time on Minderbroedersstraat in Oudenaarde. On the long stretch to the finish line, chasers may yet have a chance to close gaps.

As always in Flemish spring races, it’s not just the mentioned climbs and cobblestone sections (totaling 10.41 km) that matter. Danger lurks in narrow roads, numerous speed bumps, flower pots, sometimes adverse weather conditions, and the famous concrete lanes held together by bituminous jointing compound. Mishaps or setbacks can occur in the smallest corners of Flanders.

 

 

The Favorites

With her consecutive victories in 2022 and 2023, Lotte Kopecky enters this year’s Ronde van Vlaanderen with an even stronger position. As the current World Champion, Kopecky’s dominance on the cobbles of the Kwaremont seems almost assured. She shares the record with Mirjam Melchers, Judith Arndt, and Annemiek van Vleuten, but this edition could elevate her to unparalleled heights in terms of victories in the prestigious race. Additionally, she could become only the third rider to win the Tour of Flanders in the rainbow jersey, following in the footsteps of Lizzie Deignan (2016) and Marianne Vos (2013).

However, as is often the case in cycling, victory is far from guaranteed. A single mistake or mishap can turn the tide of the race in an instant. In a sport where fortunes can change with the slightest touch or error, Kopecky’s path to victory is anything but certain. Yet, it is precisely these uncertainties that make a potential triumph all the more thrilling, knowing that victory must be earned against formidable opponents.

One such challenger may emerge from Kopecky’s own team, SD Worx-Protime. While the team boasts a roster of strong riders, their collective strength sometimes necessitates adherence to team tactics. Thus, it’s conceivable that this year’s victory could belong to someone like Demi Vollering, especially as Kopecky sets her sights on victories in Ardennes classics. The trade-off of supporting Vollering in Flanders for potential success in races like Liège-Bastogne-Liège or the Amstel Gold Race could be a strategic decision worth considering. Furthermore, the presence of riders like Marlen Reusser and Mischa Bredewold cannot be discounted.

📸 Marco Alpozzi/Lapresse

 

Other potential contenders include riders from Lidl-Trek, such as Elisa Longo Borghini, who returns from a high-altitude training camp on Teide. Longo Borghini’s strategic prowess could make her a formidable opponent, even if her primary focus lies on the Ardennes classics. The race dynamics may also favor a breakaway specialist like Shirin van Anrooij, who demonstrated her potential with a strong performance in Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Of course, the biggest wildcard may be Marianne Vos, whose recent victories in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Dwars door Vlaanderen signal her readiness to contend for victory in the ultimate Flemish race. While the Ronde van Vlaanderen presents a greater challenge, Vos’ formidable skill set could prove decisive in overcoming the dominance of teams like SD Worx-Protime. The multiple-time cross-discipline World Champion has won many races during her career; in fact, there are very few races that she hasn’t won. Her last victory at the Tour of Flanders was back in 2013 when she beat Ellen van Dijk, Emma Johansson, and Elisa Longo Borghini in a breakaway sprint in Oudenaarde.

Teammate Fem Van Empel was expected to make her 2024 road season debut at Gent-Wevelgem, but she didn’t start the race. The team said she wasn’t quite yet ready to start the season, but she is still on the roster for Tour of Flanders. Although a podium at the biggest one-day Classics of the season would be a tough ask, Van Empel is one to watch nonetheless.

Polish rider Katarzyna (Kasia) Niewiadoma of Team Canyon//SRAM Racing is the gravel World Champion and is always a contender for the Spring Classics, and she has once again shown her early-season strengths with a seventh at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and fourth at Strade Bianche. At the Tour of Flanders, Niewiadoma has also finished in the top 10 on six occasions. Her highest place was last year, where she finished fifth in the breakaway sprint behind Kopecky, Vollering, Longo Borghini and Silvia Persico. She also has her mind set for the Ardennes classics, but she is also keen on winning the biggest Flamish race, especially if the other contenders fight for a bone, she might be the third to leave with it.

One of the peloton’s most versatile riders, Pfeiffer Georgi, is both Charlotte Kool’s trusted lead-out in the sprints and Team DSM-firmenich PostNL’s most valuable card to play in the Spring Classics. She had a breakthrough season last year, winning Classic Brugge-De Panne, the British National Championships for the second time in her career, and Binche-Chimay-Binche. Georgi had a strong start to this season, too, taking third at Omloop van het Hageland and fifth at Trofeo Alfredo Binda.

At the Tour of Flanders, Georgi is strong enough to both ignite a successful breakaway and be part of the winning front group. A fast finisher in her own right, watch for the British Champion to be among the late-race contenders into Oudenaarde.

Revelation for this year is the multi-discipline rider Puck Pieterse. The Dutch Fenix-DeCeunink rider wasn’t actually expecting to be racing the Tour of Flanders when she started her road block, but given how well it has gone, extending just a little to include the cobbled Classic became an irresistible proposition. The Dutch rider, who will be targeting the Olympic Games on the mountain bike, did just a couple of UCI road races last season. Even then, she came away with a fifth at Strade Bianche. This year, however, she has ramped it up another level. The Dutch rider’s slightly extended block has included six races, five top tens, and two podiums. Given that run, there is every reason for he, who will focus on the mountain bike after ‘De Ronde’, to carry high hopes for Sunday.

Last year, Silvia Persico of Team UAE/ADQ was just one spot off the podium at the Tour of Flanders after coming in for a sprint behind winner Lotte Kopecky with a group of seven. Then she was one of the riders her rivals in the group were watching closely as the fast finish approached.

No doubt the 26-year-old will be determined, if the opportunity arises again, to go at least one better this time. The 2023 De Brabantse Pijl winner is dialling back her GC ambitions this year, given her Olympic focus, and targeting one-day events and stages instead, so this could help her deliver at the Ronde.

There are also other options for the team, with Chiara Consonni having proven a powerful force in March, stepping up to the podium first at Drentse Acht van Westerveld with a second and then most recently at Gent-Wevelgem with a third. However we expect that the race this Sunday will not end up in a sprint where the Italian can flourish, so the team will put all their eggs in their basket for Persico.

Ultimately, the unpredictability of cycling ensures that the race remains wide open, with numerous contenders vying for victory. From seasoned veterans to rising stars, each rider brings their own strengths and strategies to the table, making for an exhilarating and unpredictable spectacle on the cobbled roads of Flanders.

We can’t wait until Sunday!

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