On Wednesday, the women’s peloton will line up at Scheldeprijs, one of the longest-running of the Belgian semi classics. The men’s edition will run for the 109th time this year.
Scheldeprijs is the final race in organizer Flanders Classics’ six-race series to achieve parity with both a men’s and women’s edition.
“We are extremely proud that the very first Scheldeprijs for women is now a fact,” said Flanders Classics CEO Tomas Van Den Spiegel. “Until last year, it was still our goal to complete our ranks of spring classics with that one race that was still missing, but now we are enthusiastically taking that step. It’s great to see that the women’s peloton is receiving the race with open arms.”
Six of the nine women’s WorldTeams will be in attendance, with Trek-Segafredo setting up to support Chloe Hosking, TeamBikeExchange backing Australian national champ Sarah Roy, and Team DSM bringing Lorena Wiebes to challenge for the win. SD Worx, FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, and Liv Racing will sit out the Wednesday race.
With the inaugural women’s Paris-Roubaix, scheduled for April 11, being postponed until the fall, team tactics could look different during Wednesday’s race. Nevertheless, the course is what it is: pan-flat and, at least in the men’s editions, won exclusively by sprinters. And, as with every spring race in Belgium, weather always factors into the course preview.
“Looking at the history of the men’s race, it is known as the unofficial sprinter’s world championships, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out and a lot of that will depend on the weather conditions which could make for a tougher race,” said Albert Timmer, Team DSM coach. “We want to ride attentively throughout the day to make sure that we’re in any dangerous split, helping us to control the race behind. If the day does end in a sprint, then we have a strong lead out to set-up Lorena for the fast finale, where we’re aiming for a good result.”
The race contains some flat cobbled sections but unlike other races, they usually don’t play a pivotal role in the result. The 136km race leaves Schoten for a large 86km loop, before returning for three local circuits of around 16km each. A group sprint is the predicted outcome.
“It’s the first edition for the women teams and I think it will likely be a sprint of about 15-20 riders,” said Martin Vestby, sport director for Team BikeExchange. “The wind may be the only variable that could affect the race and reduce the number of contenders for the final victory and this could be an advantage for us.”
Just over a year ago, Flanders Classics launched a three-year initiative to elevate women’s cycling called “Flanders Classics Women, Closing the Gap.”
In 2021, it will have completed the majority of its goals. One will come to fruition on Wednesday: that all spring classics would have a women’s race in addition to the men’s. Scheldeprijs is the sixth and final Flanders Classics race to achieve parity.
Earlier in the season, Flanders Classics came one step closer to achieving another goal of the Closing the Gap campaign — to bring all Flanders Classics races into the Women’s WorldTour or Pro Series. This year, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad went from 1.1 to Proseries. While this year’s inaugural Scheldeprijs is a 1.1 race, it will see a similarly elevated status in the next two years.
Finally, Flanders Classics stated that it would provide livestreams or TV-coverage for all races as part of the push for parity. On Wednesday, viewers in North America can watch the first-ever women’s Scheldeprijs on flobikes.com