Wiggle-High5 is calm and ready for battle at Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. Elisa Longo Borghini, Jolien D’hoore, and Audrey Cordon-Ragot unwound at a café near the top of the historic Kapelmuur, sipping cappuccinos as amateur riders struggled up the steep cobbled climb. “Today we have a relaxing day,” D’hoore said. “We have a coffee, we’ve been to the physio, and we’re preparing for Sunday.”
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As the current Women’s WorldTour leader, race favorite Borghini is a serious threat on the steep Belgian climbs. She’s one of four returning Flanders champions to race on Sunday, joined by Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott), Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb), and last year’s winner Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans). Only two women have won Flanders twice, Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel (2005 and 2006) and Judith Arndt (2008 and 20012). “It’s already very hard to win it once,” Borghini said about her chance at another win. “And I think the second time, it’s even more hard. It would be a dream of course, but it’s something that probably won’t happen.”
Borghini said that knowing if she falters on Sunday, Wiggle-High5 has another key contender in D’hoore. The Belgian favorite placed second at Flanders in 2015, out-sprinting the chase group as Borghini soloed to the win. D’hoore won Spar-Omloop van het Hageland earlier this March and just missed the win last week at Gent-Wevelgem by millimeters.
Even with two race favorites, it won’t be an easy race for Wiggle-High5 on Sunday. But the team is ready for aggressive racing and tricky team tactics that come with the rising level of WWT racing. “Women’s cycling is becoming more and more professional and that is seen in the tactics of the racing,” Cordon-Ragot said. “It’s what’s making women’s cycling more and more attractive for the public.”
As the level of competition continues to grow, Borghini points out that the main threats still come from a select number of teams. “Bigla is very strong and Sunweb is very strong,” she said. “And then there are a couple of teams for example, Orica and Canyon that can really break up the race.”
But it’s last year’s most dominant team, Boels-Dolmans that is typically the biggest mover and shaker. “Boels is always so strong,” she said. “I am even tired to mention Boels all the time because they are always there, they are always around.” Despite the tough competition, D’hoore is confident in her teammates. “[Borghini] is the current WorldTour leader so she has pretty good form,” she said. “Audrey as well.”
It’s obvious by the way they talk that this trio has faith in each other to win Sunday. But they weren’t satisfied with just their own faith, so they visited the Kapelmuur’s chapel, perched on top of the climb, asking for luck and smooth racing. “I just pray for having safety and for having a good race without crashes, without injuries,” Borghini said. “I just hope for a good show and a good race for everybody.”