Preview: The Tour of Flanders, the pinnacle of the Classics and the fifth round of the Women’s WorldTour

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This weekend we’re heading into the fifth round of the Women’s WorldTour with the prestigious  Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen). Flanders, celebrating its centennial this year as a men’s event,  is considered the most important classics race of the season, and everyone is keen to get ride themselves into the history books.

The UCI Women’s WorldTour Standings

After winning her second Women’s WorldTour race in Gent-Wevelgem last Sunday, Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) leads the Women’s WorldTour with 10 points over teammate Lizzie Armitstead. Emma Johansson (Wiggle High5) climbed up to third place in the ranking after securing a ninth spot in Gent-Wevelgem and Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv) sits in fourth place at 180 points. The Boels-Dolmans duo is increasing their lead on the competition, but at the moment anything is still possible. It’s now up to the other teams to start challenging the orange squad.

In the young rider classification, Floortje Mackaij (Liv-Plantur) equaled Kasia Niewiadoma’s (Rabo-Liv) points after winning the peloton sprint in Gent-Wevelgem and is now back leading this classification, just as she did after the Ronde van Drenthe. Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM) sits in third place with 6 points.

A smiling Floortje Mackaij (Liv-Plantur) rolls to the sign-on of the Trofeo Alfredo Binda in the young rider jersey.
A smiling Floortje Mackaij (Liv-Plantur) rolls to the sign-on of the Trofeo Alfredo Binda in the young rider jersey.

Unsurprisingly, Boels-Dolmans is leading the team classification with a large margin on Rabo-Liv and Wiggle-High5, who are in 2nd and 3rd place respectively.

Last year’s podium and highlights

Armitstead went into the 2015 Ronde van Vlaanderen as leader in the World Cup, but it was Wiggle-Honda that snuck the victory from Boels-Dolmans as Elisa Longo Borghini arrived in Oudenaarde solo.

Teammate Jolien D’Hoore added to the celebrations by winning the sprint for 2nd place and it was Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv) who finished 3rd. Armitstead did try to bridge the gap to Longo Borghini, but failed in doing so, and with her and Blaak in 8th and 9th position, the team wasn’t as dominant in that race as they have been this season.

To add to the misery, Armitstead had to give up her World Cup leader’s jersey to D’Hoore after this race – only to take it back later of course and winning the 2015 World Cup with ease.

 

Who to watch

Oudenaarde - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Elisa Longo Borghini pictured during Tour of Flanders women UCI WC - photo Anton Vos/Cor Vos © 2015
Elisa Longo Borghini pictured during Tour of Flanders women UCI WC – photo Anton Vos/Cor Vos

If you hadn’t already guessed, all eyes should be on Boels-Dolmans. The Dutch-registered squad is absolutely smashing it this year, having won all WWT events thus far as well as  Omloop het Nieuwsblad. Chantal Blaak, Lizzie Armitstead and Ellen van Dijk will all be aiming for victory in the most important of the spring classics. Now leading the Women’s WorldTour classification, Blaak might have something extra to bring to the game.

Wiggle-High5 put together a strong team too, but even with a bunch of strong riders on their 2016 roster, they have thus far only been able to reach the podium in the Women’s WorldTour once, with Emma Johansson’s third place at the Strade Bianche. Johansson has been third or fourth a couple of times in past editions of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, so she’s definitely aiming for a better result this year. Her teammate ‘Belgian bullet’ Jolien D’Hoore is keen to follow in the footsteps of Grace Verbeke, the last Belgian winner of this race in 2010. And with Elisa Longo Borghini very much in shape to repeat her win of 2015, there are lots of cards to play at Wiggle-High5.

Rabo-Liv’s Anna van der Breggen will be back in action this Sunday, and even though she will probably be a determining factor in the race, I’m not sure she is one to watch for the win. She has had five good results but no podium places so far this year. If she wants to challenge Armitstead to become Olympic champion in Rio, she’ll have to step it up. I hope she proves me wrong.

Afetr boosting her morale with a win in the Pajot Hills Classic last Wednesday, we were hoping Marianne Vos would make an appearance at Vlaanderen, but alas she won’t. Rabo-Liv does have a strong team behind Van der Breggen with Kasia Niewiadoma, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, Thalita de Jong and Lucinda Brand in the line-up.

Other favourites include Annemiek van Vleuten, Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS), Elena Cecchini and Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM), Leah Kirchmann (Liv-Plantur), Jolanda Neff (Servetto Footon) and outsider Maria Confalonieri (Lensworld-Zannata), who’s been getting better in every race. Out of the Cervélo-Bigla team, in addition to the usual suspects Ashleigh Moolman and Carmen Small, keep your eye on Lotta Lepistö as well, after she finished third in the Omloop het Hageland and the Pajot Hills Classic this year.

How to watch

The organisation of the Ronde van Vlaanderen announced in February that the women’s race will have a livestream of the final kilometers of the race, with some live images inserted into the men’s live coverage on television.

As details have emerged about the online livestream, we now know it’s available to watch non-geoblocked at the online Proximus tv channel. Talking us through the race will be José Been and Wiggle-High5 team manager Rochelle Gilmore.

For anyone of you in Belgium, Sporza offers a livestream with former Belgian champion Liesbet de Vocht co-commentating. This one will probably be geoblocked, though.

If you don’t have the opportunity to see the race on tv or through livestream, there’s always the possibility of following the race on social media. A women’s specific hashtag hasn’t been announced (yet), so follow #UCIWWT for all info on the women’s race. Alternatively, check out Sarah Connelly’s Twitter list of cycling journalists and team accounts on Twitter.

The race starts from Oudenaarde at 11am CET (7pm AEST) and livestreaming is expected to start at 12.45pm CET (8.45pm AEST). Depending on how fast the women race through the 140 kilometer course, the race finishes between 2.45 and 3.10pm CET (10.45-11.10pm AEST).

About the course

Some have said this course looks a bit like a dragon, which might be the case if you look through your eyelashes. And have a little imagination. It would be fitting to ride a dragon though, in what is assumed to be the most important of the spring classics. It’s a monster of a race, with no less that ten climbs and another five flatter cobble sections on the course.

With a length of 141.2 kilometers, not including the 5.4 neutralized kilometers to get out of Oudenaarde, the Ronde van Vlaanderen is the longest Women’s WorldTour race yet.

The famous cobbled climbs Oude Kwarement and Paterberg come up right at the end, at 16.7 and 13.3 kilometers from the finish line, promising a spectacle and potentially even being decisive for the win.

Official race website and social media accounts

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