Classics

Preview: Women’s Tour of Flanders

Cobbles, fine weather, and fierce competition on tap for Sunday's women's race.

On Sunday, the final Monument of the season commences in Oudenaarde, Belgium and takes the women’s pro peloton on a rollicking ride through the Flemish Ardennes.

Flanders,” as the iconic Ronde van Vlaanderen voor Vrouwen is commonly known, takes on even more importance this year with the cancelation of the inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix that was set to occur later this month. Nevertheless, the cobbled classic has been a hit since its inaugural edition in 2004.

“Flanders is the best race of the year because it’s Flanders,” said Canyon-SRAM mechanic Oliver Grabowski. “No more words are needed.”

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The course

This year, the 135.6km course begins and ends in Oudenaarde as the peloton loops around the Belgian countryside, taking in a number of hilly bergs and cobbles along the way. The first of the cobbled sectors comes just 35km into the race with the Lippenhovestraat; riders will tackle five flat cobbled sectors totaling 7.8km in length in addition to four bergs before the halfway point.

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After the short but steep Valkenberg, there’s a brief 10km respite from the punchy hills and cobbles before the climbs ramp up for the next 20km. The day then ends with the illustrious Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg duo. At 2.2 kilometers, Oude Kwaremont averages 4.2 percent and is quickly followed by the short and steep Paterberg. Its average gradient is 9.7 percent and the toughest ramps go up at an unforgiving 20 percent.

The Oude Kwaremont/Paterberg combo is the last ‘hellingen’ of the day and often sets the stage for the finale of the race — however, the race can and has been won in myriad ways.

2019 saw a group of three sprint to the line; Anna van der Breggen won solo in 2018; and 17 riders contested the finish in 2017. The key is for teams to get their riders near the front on the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, which means not using them up on the climbs beforehand.

The race concludes with a flat run-in of 13.3 kilometers into Oudenaarde.

The weather for this year’s edition looks to be particularly forgiving with a high of 55 degrees Fahrenheit, no chance of rain, and a gentle breeze.

Live coverage

Viewers in the U.S. and Canada can watch the action beginning at 8:45 CST on flobikes.com. In Europe, fans can find extensive live coverage starting at 13:45 CEST on Eurosport ‘s Player App and via the GCN Race pass.

The contenders

The 2020 season has shown us that there are a dozen riders in the women’s peloton who have what it takes to win a race like Flanders. With results coming so quickly on the heels of one another given the compressed race schedule, it also seems that some riders came into the season in peak form, while others are riding into it currently.

One unique piece of trivia regarding this year’s edition: all of the winners of Flanders since 2011 will be at the start line on Sunday, save for the 2012 victor Judith Arndt.

2011 Flanders champion Annemiek van Vleuten is one of them. The current European champ has said that the date of the race coincides with the one-month mark since she had corrective surgery on her wrist after fracturing it during the Giro Rosa.

Van Vleuten has only raced twice since crashing out of the Giro Rosa, with very mixed results. She finished second at worlds and 28th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes. After Liège, she said that her legs weren’t where she’d hoped they’d be, so what did she do? Went to Sardinia, of course.

“I went to get some sun to recover from my broken wrist, both mentally and physically,” van Vleuten said. “I needed some sun and a different training area to energize myself and my body again! So, after Liège, I noticed my level was not so good anymore and I needed a solid block of training if I wanted to compete at Flanders.”

There are a host of other Dutch riders who could finish the season with a successful Flanders, the most obvious of which is world champion Anna van der Breggen. We haven’t seen the Boels-Dolmans rider since Liège-Bastogne-Liège, which could mean she’s been enjoying a great bout of recovery for the past two weeks. Van der Breggen won Flanders in 2018, and there’s no reason to believe she won’t do it again this year.

Boels-Dolmans brings other contenders in Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and Amy Pieters, both of whom have finished atop the podium at Flanders in the past three years

Trek-Segafredo brings an all-star lineup to the Flanders, with three former champions who are also current contenders in Lizzie Deignan, Elisa Longo Borghini, and Ellen van Dijk. Deignan, who currently holds the overall points title in the Women’s WorldTour, hasn’t been shy about her intentions for Flanders.

“Personally, I’m very motivated to try and win again, the classics are my favorite races,” she said. “The Tour of Flanders has always been my favorite so I’m particularly motivated about that and really looking forward to it.”

Another favorite is Danish rider Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. The FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope battled valiantly for third at last year’s Flanders, and 2020 has seen her at the front of almost every race. She climbed her way to the overall in the mountains classification at the Giro Rosa and showed her prowess at the classics with a second-place finish at La Flèche Wallonne.

Belgian champ Lotte Kopecky (Lotto Soudal) is also one to watch on Sunday, given her latest top-five finishes at Brabantse Pijl and Gent Wevelgem. Kopecky can climb and sprint, as evidenced by her stage win at the Giro Rosa.

Other riders to watch include Lauren Stephens (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank), Mavi Garcia (Alé BTC Ljubljana), and Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg).