Contested Sunday alongside the Ronde Van Vlaanderen will be the seventh running of the women’s Tour of Flanders, or Ronde Van Vlaanderen Vrouwen, which begins in the town of Oodenarde and loops east, also ending in Meerbeke, near Ninove.
The second round of the women’s 10-round World Cup, the 119km race begins at 11 a.m. and is expected to finish by 2 p.m., almost two hours before the men are expected to roll into Ninove. And just like the elite men’s race, cold rains and wind are expected to add even more difficulty to the nine rated climbs and 12 rated cobblestone sections on what is one of the more challenging courses on the World Cup circuit.
German Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (HTC-Columbia) will be back to defend her title while two-time winner Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel will be lining up with Cervélo.
Other favorites include Nicole Cooke (British National) and Dutch rider Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit), who hopes to win of the few major one-day races she hasn’t yet.
With six wins already this season in the U.S., Teutenberg said her year has thus far already been a success.
“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 fields were more competitive than last year, but the races went well all the same, which is a good sign.”
Former world champion Judith Arndt, who won the race in 2008 but was forced to miss last year’s race after breaking her collarbone, will bolster the HTC squad’s chances of a third straight win.
“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,” Teutenberg said. “Flanders is a race that you take kilometer by kilometer. You also have to see what kind of weather there is, because Flanders is so difficult and the weather changes things a lot.”
The Cervélo women’s team will be built around Dutch riders Melchers and Kirstin Wild. Melchers won the race in 2005 and 2006 and Wild has been on the podium twice (third in 2008 and second in 2009.)
“This is the classic that we really would like to win, and with Kirsten and Mirjam we have two riders who can do it,” said Cervélo women’s team directo Egon van Kessel.
Two American squads will be contesting the race — TIBCO and the U.S. national team. For its first European race as a team, TIBCO is sending Americans Brooke Miller, Megan Guarnier and Devon Haskell, New Zealand’s Joanne Kiesanowski and Australians Ruth Corset and Emma Mackie.
TIBCO European directeur sportif Chris Georgas said that despite the team’s first foray into Europe, individual riders bring a wealth of experience to the line.
“Yes, this is a big race with which to open our spring European campaign, but I’m not concerned about the riders being ready for it,” said Georgas. “Everyone on the roster has had experience racing against top competition in Europe, either with their previous trade teams or on their national teams. They all know what it takes to make an impact here.”
“Ruth (Corset) took a fantastic 4th place last weekend in the first world cup,” noted Georgas. “The final selection for that race was small and elite and she was right there in the mix.”
TIBCO manager/director Linda Jackson said Miller has had an exceptionally good spring already and is ready to compete in Belgium.
“Brooke had an awesome race at Redlands,” said Jackson. “It was the best she’s ever looked on the Sunset Loop. I think that’s a great, great sign headed into the Spring Classics. She races Flanders on Sunday and I’ve never seen her look so good on the Sunset course, so I think that’s a really good predictor for the future as well.”
USA Cycling is sending Andrea Dvorak, Janel Holcomb, Sinead Miller, Jessica Phillips, Lauren Tamayo and Alisha Welsch.
Check VeloNews.com Sunday for a full race report, results and photos from the women’s Tour of Flanders.