HTC-Columbia looks for Flanders hat-trick

The women’s 10-round World Cup series continues Sunday with the 7th Tour of Flanders in Belgium.

The women’s 10-round World Cup series continues Sunday with the 7th edition of the Tour of Flanders in Belgium.

The 119.3km Ronde van Vlaanderen voor Vrouwen is one of the toughest of the year and features nine cobbled climbs as the race traces sections of the men’s course used later in the same day.

HTC-Columbia will be aiming for its third-straight victory, with defending champ Ina-Yoko Teutenberg and Judith Arndt, the 2008 winner who missed last year’s race with a broken collarbone.

“I think I’m in good shape and I’m feeling pretty confident, even if you’re always a bit nervous about your first big European race of the season,” Teutenberg said. “The field’s more competitive than last year, but the races went well all the same, which is a good sign.”

With six wins already this season in the USA, the HTC-Columbia pro says so far her year has been a success.

“With Judith back and also Noemi [Cantele], we’ve got a very strong lineup for Flanders, and we’re ready for all kinds of different situations, too. Flanders is a race which you take kilometer by kilometer,” she said. “You have to see what kind of weather there is, because Flanders is so difficult and the weather changes things a lot.”

HTC-Columbia will see tough competition. Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit) has never won here and will be especially motivated to notch the victory after a late-race attack last year stalled in the final kilometers.

A winner last week at the World Cup season opener at Trofeo Binda Cittiglio in Italy, Vos will be looking to defend her lead as well as the race win.

Cervélo TestTeam also brings a strong squad, anchored by the Dutch tandem of Kirstin Wild and Mirjam Melchers

“Our riders have always been strong at this race. Mirjam won the race in 2005 and 2006 and Kirstin has been on the podium twice (third in 2008 and second in 2009),” said sport director Egon van Kessel. “This is the classic that we really would like to win, and with Kirsten and Mirjam we have two riders who can do it.”

Monday at the 9th edition of GP Dottignies in Belgium, last year’s winner, Sarah Düster (GER), will be looking to repeat her victory and defend her title. Kirsten Wild, who was second in 2008, will also have a good chance to end up on the podium. The two riders have a strong team behind them in this 121 km race.

Others to watch include Nicole Cooke, racing with the British national team, and Emma Johannson, who opened the 2010 World Cup with third last weekend in Italy.

Past winners
2004 – Zoulfia Zabirova (Team Let’s Go Finland)
2005 – Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel (Buitenpoort-Flexpoint)
2006 – Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel (Buitenpoort-Flexpoint)
2007 – Nicole Cooke (Raleigh Lifeforce Creation HB)
2008 – Judith Arndt (High Road)
2009 – Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Columbia)