Sunday is the Tour of Flanders, which for classics riders is like the Super Bowl, game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, and the lower Oakland roller derby finals all rolled into one.
The race has bergs, cobbles, and — in normal years — throngs of rowdy fans, and the magical mixture of the three often produces top performances from the world’s best riders. We all remember Coryn Rivera’s rocket-like sprint to win the 2017 edition, right?
Well, the fans will be missing on Sunday, however the cobbles and bergs and amazing rides will be there. The women’s peloton rolls out of Oudenaarde at 1:35 p.m. CET for a 152.4km loop in the Flemish Ardennes before finishing back in Oudenaarde at approximately 5:30 p.m. While organizer Flanders Classics has not yet published the full route in an effort to dissuade fans from attending, the race is likely to take in the traditional route that includes 10 hellingen. The crux of the race is the back-to-back ascents of the Oude Kwaremont and then the Paterberg, followed by the long and often windy 13km slog back to Oudenaarde.
Who are the favorites? Look no further than Annemiek van Vleuten, who this week showed her return to world-beating form at Dwars door Vlaanderen. SD Worx comes in with another stacked roster, anchored by Anna van der Breggen and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak. Trek-Segafredo’s Lizzie Deignan and Ellen van Dijk are potential winners themselves, or they could ride to set up their attacking teammate, Elisa Longo Borghini. And you cannot count out former champions Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), Marta Bastianelli (Alé BTC Ljubljana), and Rivera herself.
There’s more to Flanders than just the bergs and stars. We spoke to pro riders Lotte Kopecky — herself a top favorite to win — and Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-SRAM) and Vita Heine (Massi-Tactic) about what makes this race so special.
What is so special about the Tour of Flanders
Lotte Kopecky (Liv Pro Cycling): It’s the race that we’re looking forward to the whole season as Belgians. It has a really long history and normally with spectators on the side of the road, when you enter the Oude Kwaremont you get goosebumps because of all the people. That’s not the case this year, but for me, it is still the dream of every kid that starts cycling in Belgium to do this race. I started racing seriously at 10 or 11 and from the beginning, this race was very special to me.
Vita Heine (Massi-Tactic): Normally it’s the atmosphere and the big number of fans. You really feel that fans care about this race. So many people cheering. Now with COVID, it will of course be different, but we know that many people will watch the race from their homes. So it will still feel special.
Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-SRAM): It’s of course the atmosphere around the race. This year it will be different again without the cheering crowds, but Flanders is still very exciting and special. The roads around Flanders have their own energy which makes this race special, and that doesn’t change whether there are crowds or not
What’s your favorite Tour of Flanders memory?
Lotte Kopecky (Liv Pro Cycling): I would say last year’s podium was really nice, but actually it was 2017 when I became fifth place. At that point, I didn’t know if the race really suits me, and I hoped one day I could be on the podium. That year I could see that I could do it.
Vita Heine (Massi-Tactic): Two years ago I was in a group sprinting for eighth place. Felt very strong that year following the attacks in the last 30 km.
Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-SRAM): I have every year some good memories about Flanders, but the best is last year‘s edition because I liked how I raced it. In my opinion, Flanders is always a fight: a fight against the pain you feel, a fight against the cobbles, a fight to keep position, a fight with your head to go over your limits and so deep to try to achieve your dream.
Which climb do you dread the most?
Lotte Kopecky (Liv Pro Cycling): At the moment I don’t know exactly because there is a new hill and it is now before the Kanarieberg, and I think that might change the race a bit. Before, the race always opened at the Kanarieberg but now with the Taaienberg after that, the race is more closed. I really like short climbs at the moment so I’m not fearing a specific climb.
Vita Heine (Massi-Tactic): Kanarieberg. It’s long and comes late in the race when it’s also hard to keep the attention. And the favorites are often attacking here. And the fight before the entrance into the climb is hard.
Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-SRAM): Each climb is kind of dreaded but especially climbs in the final because each climb can be decisive. The most painful is Paterberg because it is the last one of the day and always full gas even if there is nothing left in the legs.
What have you learned about the women’s peloton so far this season?
Lotte Kopecky (Liv Pro Cycling): In the first races we learned that SD Worx is really dominant, but I think the last two weeks Trek-Segafredo really made a good impression. So, I think for Sunday we can really put SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo on the same height, I think.
Vita Heine (Massi-Tactic): It’s fast, also because it’s an Olympic year. Many still have to qualify. Also, we almost take every race as the last one since we never know if the racing can be stopped because of COVID.
Alena Amialiusik (Canyon-SRAM): I learned that level is very high, and a lot of the races have changed a lot from previous years. Overall the riders are racing more aggressively from the start until the finish, and everyone is hungry for the races. Flanders will be an interesting and exciting race, I am looking forward to it!