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UPDATE: The Ronde van Drenthe has been cancelled amid coronavirus concerns.
In 2020, the Ronde van Drenthe gets the name “Bevrijdingsronde van Drenthe”, or “Liberation Ronde van Drenthe” as the Netherlands celebrates the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
The race takes place on Sunday March 15, despite the worldwide health crisis caused by COVID-19. The coronavirus is also currently active in the Netherlands, although most cases are in the province of Noord-Brabant, about 200 kilometres to the south of Assen, where the Ronde van Drenthe is taking place. In Noord-Brabant, all sports and cultural manifestations are cancelled. In the north of the country, less than 20 cases are currently confirmed.
Due to the postponement of Strade Bianche over coronavirus concerns, the Ronde van Drenthe is the first Women’s WorldTour event in Europe this season.
The Ronde van Drenthe is an old race. The men’s events celebrates its 60th edition this year, founded by Albert Achterhes. The women’s event started in 1998.
The race took place in Hoogeveen for many years, and until his death Achterhes watched the race from his window. Though she is well into her 70s now, Achterhes’ daughter Femmy Van Issum is still the driving force behind the event, which starts in Assen this year.
“We agreed with the province of Drenthe that the Ronde start would alternate between different cities. This is the first time it starts from Assen, the capital of the province,” Van Issum told CyclingTips. “This means we can now add cobbled sectors in the north of the province which we couldn’t include in previous years due to the maximum distance of 160 kilometres of a women’s race.
“Unfortunately, we also have to cancel some cobbles near the end of the race due to the large amounts of rain in the past months. The sectors are now too wet and dangerous to cross.”
Van Issum is extremely dedicated to her race but sees that times are changing fast.
“It gets harder and harder each year to organize this event. This year we only had the final go from the commander of the police three weeks ago,” Van Issum said. “It’s also more difficult to get volunteers who actually work with us voluntarily. More and more ask money to be traffic wardens. And now the COVID-19 virus adds to all this which caused Movistar, Rally, and Mitchelton-Scott to cancel all their races, including ours.
“We still have 18 teams left though [Italian team Valcar-Travel and Service are off the start list as well because they can’t travel] but it’s a pity these teams are not here.”
The Ronde van Drenthe is a long race characterized by cobbles and its marquee climb, the VAMberg, a man-made hill on top of a landfill. It’s only a short climb — a few hundred metres long — but it is steep in parts (nudging 15%) and is paved with cobbles towards the top.
The peloton climbs the VAMberg three times. The first time comes after 93 kilometres. Due to the new start place in Assen, the peloton will have already crossed many cobbled sectors before that.
In Drenthe, these cobbled sectors are old forest maintenance and agricultural roads through the woods. That usually makes the cobbles, or flinten as they are called in Drenthe, slippery with moss and very uneven. The peloton will be shattered by the time the first climb of the VAMberg comes around.
After a short loop, the VAMberg features for the second time.
After another small loop the peloton approaches the climb for the third and last time.
The riders cross the finish line in Hoogeveen for the first time and start a final loop with 35 kilometres to go. Unfortunately, the last two cobbled sectors in that loop are cancelled, so the run-in towards Hoogeveen will be different than previous years.
After 156 kilometres of racing, we will know who succeeds Marta Bastianelli as winner.
A race without the world champion
Mitchelton-Scott isn’t part of the peloton on Sunday but world champion Annemiek van Vleuten never intended to race Drenthe this year anyway. Plenty of other favorites, however, do come from the Netherlands, the country that has won all three Spring Classics so far: the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Dwars door het Hageland, and the GP Le Samyn.
Expect the Ronde van Drenthe to be a battle between Trek-Segafredo and Boels-Dolmans, the two strongest teams at the start. In Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, Amy Pieters, and Jolien d’Hoore, Boels-Dolmans has three former winners on the startlist. The team also has Jip van de Bos, Anna van der Breggen and Christine Majerus starting, making for a strong line-up indeed.
Trek-Segafredo has a strong team to counter Boels-Dolmans. Former winner Lizzie Deignan is part of the team as are Ellen van Dijk, who was on the podium last year, and Audrey Cordon-Ragot, the winner of the Drentse 8 van Westerveld in 2019, the race that always precedes the WorldTour race on Sunday. Trixi Worrack and Lucinda Brand will also be there.
If Marta Bastianelli (Alé BTC Ljubljana) takes the start in Assen — some reports suggest she won’t — she’ll wear number 1. She won the Ronde van Drenthe in 2019 by beating Blaak and van Dijk on the line in Hoogeveen. Bastianelli already showed in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Dwars door het Hageland that she is strong and not fazed by the elements. With two second places and a win in Valencia she has had a strong start to the season and will be one of the riders to beat if she’s in attendance.
Other riders to watch are Dutch champion Lorena Wiebes (Parkhotel Valkenburg), Kirsten Wild (Ceratizit – WNT Pro Cycling Team), who returns to the road after her scratch and Madison world titles in Berlin two weeks ago, Lizzie Banks (Bigla-Katusha), who excelled in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Emilia Fahlin (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope).
And don’t forget to keep an eye on 18-year-old Maike van der Duin, who is riding a home race in Drenthe.
In stark contrast to last year’s windy and rainy conditions, Sunday’s forecast calls for a nice, dry spring afternoon with temperatures up to 14ºC (57ºF) — nice weather to kick off WorldTour racing in Europe.