Round two of the Women’s WorldTour gets underway in Hoogeveen, Netherlands this Saturday with Ronde van Drenthe. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) leads the overall WWT competition after an impressive win at Strade Bianche and will take the start this weekend. The 26-year-old Italian will not be racing for herself, however, on a course that favors a sprint finish, but will be riding in support of 2015 winner Jolien D’hoore.
“I will be there because it’s a very well-organized race, and I can be useful for Jolien,” she said. “I will try to honor my jersey because I think the leader of the WorldTour needs to be at the WorldTour races, even if the race is not suited for her. It’s a way of honoring the calendar, and honoring the challenge. I think it’s a kind of duty that you have if you are the leader.”
The mostly flat 152-kilometer course is characterized by seven stretches of cobbles. Riders tackle the famous 300-meter long VAMberg climb three times, which averages a 17 percent gradient and tops out at 23 percent.
Although the race climbs the VAMberg three times, there are still 30 kilometers of racing after the final ascent, making the climb less decisive. Last year, a group of four escaped with 79 kilometers to go, working well together to hold off the chasing peloton. Boels-Dolmans claimed its second WWT of the year as Chantal Blaak out-sprinted her three breakaway companions.
Will we get a similar small group finish like we saw in 2016? Or will the peloton keep it together for a large sprint to decide the second WWT winner of the year?
Fun fact! The VAMberg climb is constructed over a waste disposal site and named after the company that built it. Sorry, data nerds, I bet you were hoping the “VAM” stood for ‘velocità ascensionale media’ (average climbing speed).
Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans)
Watch for a repeat performance from Blaak as the Boels-Dolmans riders are hungry for an early spring win. They’ve yet to earn the top podium step this year but Blaak has come closest with her sprint to second place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. She’s deadly in small group sprints and will have no trouble with the short, steep gradients of VAMberg.
Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb)
She won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad by attacking the small group at the last minute, soloing to victory with an 18-second lead. Clearly on form right now, Brand followed that up with a late-race bridge and attack at Strade Bianche that nearly stuck on the steep climb into Siena. The climbers eventually caught her, but Brand held on for fourth, finishing just off of Lizzie Deignan’s wheel.
Jolien D’hoore (Wiggle-High5)
With current WWT leader Longo Borghini taking a supporting role this weekend, all eyes are on D’hoore as team leader. She won the only big group sprint so far this season at Spar-Omloop van het Hageland and has the pressure to keep Wiggle-High5 on top of the podium at WWT races.
Gracie Elvin (Orica-Scott)
Second here last year, Elvin just missed her first big career win as Blaak out-sprinted her at the line. If she makes the winning move and escapes with another small group, it could be an exciting replay of last year’s finish.
Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini)
If the race stays together to the end, Hosking’s powerful sprint could nab Alé-Cipollini its first European win of the season — she won stage 3 of the Santos Women’s Tour in Australia. Hosking was second at Spar-Omloop van het Hageland behind our other pick for a group sprint favorite: Jolien D’hoore.