Preview: Your guide to the 2020 women’s Tour of Flanders

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It feels like the season only started yesterday yet here we are, at the final one-day races of the year. Sunday’s penultimate one-day race on the Women’s WorldTour calendar is not just your standard single-day event — it’s the event: the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Flanders is everything that makes cycling exciting. Cobbles, climbs, weather, chaos. Flanders has it all. That’s why it is a favorite for the fans of cycling and for the riders themselves. When a rider wins Flanders it is a combination of luck as well as legs. To win Flanders is to win one of the biggest races in the sport. The men’s race is one of the longest-running races on the calendar which adds to the hype of the race.

The Course

The 2020 route features a shortened course, down from 157 km to 135 km. After the start in Oudenaarde, the peloton will make its way over 11 climbs and four cobbled sectors before finishing back in Oudenaarde.

In an interview on the Freewheeling podcast three days before Flanders Gracie Elvin (Mitchelton-Scott) pointed out that every section of the race is important. The race cannot be solely won on any of the climbs or cobbles, but it can most definitely be lost on a single climb, or in a single cobbled sector.

“It’s actually quite different”, Elvin said of the new course. “They’ve used a lot of smaller farm roads in some of the middle parts of the race, so I am actually glad I went and saw it because it’s significantly different from what it was before”.

Although the bulk of the course has changed the finale remains the same. “It’s going to be the same spectacular blow-up on the Oude Kwaremont and exciting racing to the end”, was what Elvin said of the finish of the race.

Here’s what is interesting about the route: each of the climbs may be short (and as we saw at Gent-Wevelgem the short climbs were not enough to implode the peloton) however, the distances between each of the climbs is shorter at Flanders than at Gent-Wevelgem. After each of the GW climbs the peloton was able to come back together before the next climb. This probably won’t be the case at Flanders. After each climb, the peloton will get smaller and smaller until the race hits the final two climbs, the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg, where only the strongest will remain in contention.

Similar to the other Flanders Classics races the organization has not published the course for Sunday, but with some quality sleuthing we know what climbs and cobbles will feature in the course. Here they are nicely organized for you to keep track:

The Contenders

As one of the final races of a very compressed 2020 season, there will be multiple teams out for a result at Flanders. The season was basically dominated by three riders: Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen, and Lizzie Deignan, each having won three or more races since August 1. This means a lot of teams are looking at potentially walking away from the 2020 season with no victories in the WorldTour races, most notably Canyon//SRAM, who have been really really close a number of times.

Team Sunweb will also be hungry for a victory — their last WorldTour win was with Liane Lippert at Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in February. The other top teams with no WorldTour victories in 2020 are Alé BTC Ljubljana and Movistar. Unfortunately for defending Flanders champ Marta Bastianelli and for 2020 breakout star Mavi Garcia the Alé BTC Ljubljana team is currently in quarantine in Belgium after a positive test within the team before Gent-Wevelgem. It’s unclear yet if they will start on Sunday.

Flanders will be a wild one. The three most dominant riders in the peloton will still be on top form, but there are a lot of riders whose hopes will be high. The race itself has always been unpredictable. It has finished in large bunch sprints, solo riders, or small selections just in the past four years. The unpredictability gets even more intense given that the season is ending very soon and there’s nothing to lose now by going hog-wild.

UPDATE Due to the rising number of COVID cases Astana Women’s Team, Chevalmeire Cycling Team, and Alé BTC Ljubljana will not start Flanders. Additionally, Èquipe Paule Ka will no longer compete in 2020 after the team announced that they will be folding with immediate effect on October 16th, two days before Flanders.

Lizzie Deignan and Trek-Segafredo: Deignan has been one of the strongest riders of the 2020 season. She won the GP de Plouay at the end of August and then turned around and won La Course four days later. She was on the podium for three stages of the Giro Rosa and most recently she won Liège-Bastogne-Liège with an impressive solo move.

A factor in Deignan’s favor is that she clearly has one of the best teams on the scene right now. Together, the current Trek-Segafredo outfit has won four editions of Flanders. Deignan herself won in 2016, Elisa Longo Borghini won in 2015, Ellen van Dijk won in 2014, and their team director, Ina Teutenberg, won in 2009. With the combination of their latest achievements and their Flanders experience, Trek-Segafredo is rolling up to the start with enough confidence to sink a pirate ship.

Fun fact: Trixi Worrack, who is on the start list for Trek-Segafredo, was second at the very first edition of Flanders in 2004.

Annemiek van Vleuten and Grace Brown (Mitchelton-Scott): On the day of Flanders it will be a month and a day since Annemiek van Vleuten crashed in the Giro Rosa and broke a bone in her wrist. She raced the Worlds road race a week later and got second, so it clearly didn’t affect her form too much, but, with a month of recovery between the crash and Flanders, she will definitely be in better shape overall than she was in Imola. Plus, she took two weeks off of racing between Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flanders which included a little vacation time in Italy.

Going into Flanders, she may be the Van Vleuten we saw in the early season; the one that won four races in a row (five if you include Omloop Het Nieuwsblad). Van Vleuten also has some extra motivation. Crashing out of the Giro Rosa when you look to be walking away with the overall and then trying to defend your World Championship title in a cast definitely adds some extra fire to the desire to win a bike race.

Van Vleuten is not the only card Mitchelton-Scott has to play. After her back-to-back performances at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Brabantse Pijl Grace Brown has made the next step in her professional cycling progression. Both performances were very impressive and she is showing very good form for Flanders, especially since her moves were both made on punchy climbs and Flanders has plenty of those. Plus, she was fifth in the ITT at Worlds, and her TT-like move to try and catch Deignan in Liège-Bastogne-Liège could come in handy on the road between the Paterberg and the finish.

Another Mitchelton-Scott rider who deserves a mention is Sarah Roy. Roy was fourth in Gent-Wevelgem just last weekend. She was able to hang on to a strong group of riders who went away on the final climb of the day and stayed away to the finish, so she’s another great option for Mitchelton-Scott, and in a race as crazy as Flanders, options are key.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope): Looking through Uttrup Ludwig’s 2020 results she has consistently been in and around the top 10. In the Giro Rosa, she walked away with the mountains classification and fourth on GC. Soon afterward she was second to Anna van der Breggen in La Flèche Wallonne. Actually, if you look through her results for the last couple of years she is always up there, always fighting. In 2019 Uttrup Ludwig was third in Flanders, but it isn’t just her results that land her on most “riders to watch” lists.

The Dane is one of the most aggressive riders in the peloton, and when you throw as many apples at the target as she does, she’s bound to hit once. Well, Flanders could definitely be that hit. It’s a course that suits her, and the crazier the race the more chances she will have to pull something off.

Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv): Vos won the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2013. She has also been second in 2010 and third in both 2007 and 2011. This season has been yet another incredible one for the Dutch rider, with a string of victories at the Giro Rosa and a second-place at La Course. Unfortunately, Vos was unable to race Brabantse Pijl and Gent-Wevelgem due to a positive test within CCC-Liv, but she’s back on the start list for Flanders and is undoubtedly a favorite for the win.

Although her climbing might not be as quick as the likes of Longo Borghini, Van Vleuten, Uttrup Ludwig, Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon//SRAM), and a couple of others, if she can get over the Oude Kwaremont and to the finish with any of them, she can outsprint them.

UPDATE: The day before the race Vos announced that she would be sitting out Flanders this year. On her Twitter Vos wrote, “sad to miss out on Ronde van Vlaanderen, but the best decision. Not feeling 100% and for Flanders, you need to be on top of your game”. A definite blow to Vos fans as we get closer to the end of the season and thus will have to wait longer to see the shock on Vos’ face every time she wins a bike race (which is often).

Anna van der Breggen and Boels Dolmans: The world champion returns to racing after sitting out Gent-Wevelgem and Brabantse Pijl, and as usual, if Van der Breggen is on a start list, she is a favorite. She’s had an outstanding season so far, and to top it off with her second win at Flanders (her first was in 2018) would be the icing on the cake.

When Van der Breggen won Flanders she did so solo by a minute and 18 seconds, and to do that again would be the least crazy thing to happen in 2020. On top of her form, it looks like Van der Breggen’s team has found its stride at Gent-Wevelgem with Jolien d’Hoore and Amy Pieters. Pieters was second to Van der Breggen in 2018 and D’Hoore was second to Elisa Longo Borghini in 2015. With her sprint and her climbing ability, both of which helped her to a win in Gent-Wevelgem, D’Hoore should not be overlooked. A proud Belgian, winning Flanders would be a highlight of her career, one that is coming to a close at the end of 2021.

Other than the major favorites there are a couple of other riders who could pull off a result at Flanders, depending on how the race plays out. Floortje Mackaij (Team Sunweb) is one of two strong riders on Team Sunweb who could potentially pull off a result at Flanders. The other being Liane Lippert. Lippert has been strong all season, always up and about the top of the standings. Jose Been recently wrote a feature on Lippert for CyclingTips, and it is highly recommended reading.

As for Mackaij, she is a perfectly alright climber, but she excels on the cobbles and in the chaos. Earlier this season she was third at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, second in the bunch sprint to Marta Bastianelli with Van Vleuten taking the win solo. In the mid-week Classic Brabantse Pijl, Mackaij was third behind Grace Brown (solo) and Lippert. Mackaij’s best finish at Flanders was 14th in 2018, but as she gets more years in her legs she continues to get better and better. Plus, Sunweb will really want a win, so expect them to throw everything at the race.

Kopecky winning stage 7 of this year’s Giro Rosa.

If the race does come down to more of a sprint finish all eyes will be on Lotte Kopecky of Lotto Soudal. With a stage win on stage seven of the Giro Rosa following a third place in stage six and second in stage five, plus the Belgian road and time trial titles, Kopecky is having one heck of a season. She’s always been a strong rider, but this year she’s taken a step up, most recently narrowly missing out on a win at Gent-Wevelgem.

An aggressive race would suit Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenberg). One of 2020’s breakout stars, Vollering impressed with her third place at La Course from a group of legends, and again third at La Flèche Wallonne. She’s a versatile rider who can take advantage of the big dogs looking at each other and with a little more racing under her belt, she will be a favorite for more and more of these types of races.

Finally, there’s Lauren Stephens of Team Tibco SVB. The American was just sixth in Gent-Wevelgem from the selective move that went on the final climb. Previously in the season she won the general classification at Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardeche and won the virtual Tour de France on Zwift. It’ll be interesting to see what Stephens can do in a one-day like Flanders, but she has the legs to be up there. After that all she needs is luck.

How to watch

The Ronde van Vlaanderen will be live on all the usual cycling channels: Eurosport and the various related apps worldwide, SBS TV and its channels in Australia, and FloBikes in North America.

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