Preview: Your guide to the 2021 women’s Tour of Flanders

Anna van der Breggen leads the peloton during the 2020 edition of the Tour of Flanders

by Abby Mickey

photography by Kristof Ramon


As one of the toughest races the women face all year, there’s no question why the Tour of Flanders is a favorite worldwide. First held in 2004, the eventually has grown each year eventually hitting legendary status.

Given the brutal nature of the course, with climb after cobbled climb, it’s rare we see a group larger than 20 reach the finish together. In the last 10 years, the race has been won solo, from a reduced bunch sprint, and from a small breakaway.

The names of riders who have won Flanders over the last 10 years will be familiar if you currently follow the women’s peloton. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak is the most recent to take the top step, in 2020 by just over a minute to her teammate Amy Pieters. In 2019 a group of three rode to the line together, with Marta Bastianelli outsprinting Annemeik van Vleuten and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig.

Yet again in 2018, Pieters was beaten to the line by a teammate, this time Anna van der Breggen. The year before, Coryn Rivera was the first American to win the Tour of Flanders. She was the fastest out of a group of 16 that rode to the line together.

Year after year the Tour of Flanders never fails to disappoint. Each year the race features the top riders in the sport, and this year will be no different. Leading up to Flanders we have seen a series of exciting races, with some surprise victories, and some not-so-surprising yet still thrilling to witness.

It’s hard to narrow down a list of favorites on a route that tends to make for an unpredictable race.

The peloton rides over the Holleweg Cobbles at the Tour of Flanders.

The Course

Like Gent-Wevelgem, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and Dwars door Vlaanderen before it, the route for the Ronde van Vlaanderen is not available to the general public.

What we do know is that the peloton will set off from Oudenaarde, race 158 km, and finish once again in Oudenaarde. The information we were able to acquire about the route is what climbs and cobbles the riders will encounter while rolling around the Flemish countrysides.

In total, the race features 13 climbs, the first of which is the Kettaberg 57 km into the day. A handful of climbs and cobbles are scattered throughout the first 70 km, with the Holleweg cobbles at 57.8 km, the Edelare climb at 62.7 km, the Boigneberg at 67.2 km, and two cobbled sectors, Karel Martelstraat and Jagerij at 68.1 and 70.5 km.

Once the race has completed 76 km, the real fun begins. There are two blocks of the race that feature climbs and cobbles in quick succession.

At 76.7 km to go the Molenberg climb kicks off a series of four climbs over 13.3 km. Those climbs are the Marlboroughstraat, the Berendries, and finally the Valkenberg. The peloton gets to catch their breath over the Bevoorrading cobbles before they take on six climbs one after another.

With barely under the 50 km to go mark the race hits the Berg Ten Houte, the Kanarieberg, the Taaienberg, the Kruisberg, before the grand finale of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg.

In earlier sections of the race, there is enough time for groups of escaped riders to be caught, but with the Kruisberg/Oude Kwaremont/Paterberg trio of cobbled climbs within a 13 km chunk, the finale of the race is going to be spectacular.

Here is a helpful little key to get through the race

The final four climbs mirror the 2020 edition of the Ronde, where Chantal van Den Broek-Blaak rode away atop the Oude Kwaremont and maintained her lead all the way to the finish, but the final 35 km of the race were aggressive with moves by the 2020 world champion Anna van der Breggen and the European champion Annemiek van Vleuten.

The Weather

The weather predictions call for partly cloudy with highs of 55°F/12.7°C most of the day on Sunday. There is a very small chance of rain that increases as the day progresses. As for wind, only a 7mph/11kph forecast is predicted.

The Contenders

Anna Van der Breggen wins the 2018 Ronde Van Vlaanderen.

Anna van der Breggen, SD Worx

Anna van der Breggen, winner of the 2018 Tour of Flanders, will be one of a few cards SD Worx could play on Sunday. The world champion has not raced since she was third at Strade Bianche on March 6. Van der Breggen spent two of her weeks away from racing breathing thinner air in Sierra Nevada, Spain with teammate Demi Vollering.

Van der Breggen will line up for Flanders with 2020 winner van den Broek-Blaak, Jolien D’hoore, Amy Pieters, Elena Cecchini, and Christine Majerus. The team has been on the Tour of Flanders podium eight times, with van den Broek-Blaak making the most appearances.

SD Worx dominated the first handful of races this season but has not featured as much in the last three WorldTour events. With Van der Breggen back on the start line it would not be surprising to see the team go all in for the world champion with Van den Broek-Blaak as a solid backup.

Annemiek van Vleuten wins the 2011 Tour of Flanders.

Annemiek van Vleuten, Movistar Team

Ten years have passed since Annemeik van Vleuten won the Tour of Flanders. Since then she has finished third once and second once, but she has also completely transformed as a competitor. In 2019 and 2020 she was nearly unstoppable. Although 2021 has not started with the usual bang, Van Vleuten was still fourth at Strade Bianche, her most recent WorldTour race.

Three days before the Tour of Flanders Van Vleuten was back to her winning ways, attacking with 36 km to go, and narrowly holding off a chasing group of 14 to take her first win of the season. The only rider who could hang on when Van Vleuten went was Kasia Niewiadoma, the next on this list of favorites.

Van Vleuten now has one victory under her belt and will be looking to notch a second. Her form is coming around, a scary thought for the rest of the women’s peloton.

Katarzyna Niewiadoma at Gent-Wevelgem.

Kasia Niewiadoma, Canyon-SRAM

The hunger was clear in the eyes of Kasia Niewiadoma at Dwars door Vlaanderen as she not only held on the Van Vleuten’s wheel but worked with the former world champion to stay away from their chasing competitors.

Niewiadoma was the one who made the move that set up Elisa Longo Borghini to win Trofeo Alfredo Binda and was active in the attempts to chase down the Italian national champion. Niewiadoma wants that win.

She was vocal about her desire to win Strade Bianche, and was openly devastated when she didn’t. Now, mere days before Flanders, her performance at Dwars door Vlaanderen is a sign of good things to come for Niewaidoma. The only worry will be how the Polish rider has recovered since Wednesday.

Niewiadoma lines up for Flanders with an all-star team. Alena Amialiusik, Alice and Hannah Barnes, Tiffany Cromwell, and Lisa Klein. All six riders have been showing strength this season, and Canyon-SRAM is one step away from a big win.

Elisa Longo Borghini wins the 2015 edition of the Tour of Flanders.

Elisa Longo Borghini, Trek-Segafredo

If there is one rider who has been far and away the strongest of 2021 so far it is Elisa Longo Borghini. Longo Borghini’s win at Trofeo Alfredo Binda was simply incredible to watch. Add to that performance her near win at Strade Bianche and courageous attack at Gent-Wevelgem and it seems like the Italian national champion is on the cusp of the best season of her career.

When Longo Borghini won Flanders in 2015 she did it solo, by 43-seconds. Behind her, her then-Wiggle Honda teammate D’Hoore sprinted to second.

While Longo Borghini lines up as a favorite for the win on Sunday there are two other potential winners within her Trek-Segafredo team. Lizzie Deignan, who was sick at the start of the season but looked to be coming around at Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen, and Ellen van Dijk. Van Dijk was incredible at the Healthy Ageing Tour, narrowly holding on to the general classification after a crazy final stage. She was also relentless in her attempts to bring back Van Vleuten and Niewiadoma in Dwars door Vlaanderen earlier in the week.

Van Dijk won Flanders in 2014 and was second the year before. Deignan has also won Flanders in 2016 and was runner up in 2014 behind her now teammate. The team is stacked with extraordinary riders and piloted by legendary ex-professional Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, and after two mistakes in a row, they’re going to be on fire.

Marianne Vos wins the 2013 Tour of Flanders.

Marianne Vos, Jumbo-Visma

Marianne Vos, the winner of the 2013 Tour of Flanders, started her 2021 season with a bang. She is consistently honing her form, just in time for Flanders. Seventh at Strade Bianche, second at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, and topped off by a win in Gent-Wevelgem. The fact that we will see Vos up and about during Flanders is one of the few guarantees in life.

Vos’s Jumbo-Visma team has also been consistently getting better and better. As a new team it takes a minute for everyone to read each other in races and understand each others style, but the team is made of up riders who already know each other to a certain extent, making the transition a smooth one, at least so far.

The Ronde van Vlaanderen has Vos’s name all over it. Punchy climbs with a chance at a small group sprint is her bread and butter. She has been third in 2007 and 2011 as well as second in 2010, one of the few riders to grace the podium of Flanders four times.

Grace Brown at Gent-Wevelgem.

A few other favorites …

The peloton for the women at the moment looks to be the strongest it’s ever been. More riders are featuring in races, and the list of favorites for a race like Flanders is growing each time we see the women throw down. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) has been up and around the top step for years. Flanders is one of her favorite races, due to the exciting nature of the course and the atmosphere. In 2019 she finished third from a group of three. So far this season she has been as active as ever, finishing fifth at Strade Bianche and third at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. For Uttrup Ludwig, the harder the race the better she does. What she needs is for SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo to focus on each other and we could see her making some sneaky moves.

Speaking of sneaky moves, Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) could be an exciting one to watch on Sunday. Brown was very impressive at the Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne, and it wasn’t even a race that suited her, technically speaking. A race like Flanders, where the course will eliminate most of the field and leave an opening for Brown to make one of her classic final 10 km solo attacks, would be a natural step in the career of an opportunistic rider like Brown.

Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT) and Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing) are two more riders who have been consistently present at the pointy ends of races. Kopecky sat out Dwars door Vlaanderen in the middle of the week, so she will have the fresh leg advantage at Flanders. Brennauer also opted to not race the mid-week Flanders pre-show. Kopecky has been forth at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Nokere Koerse, and Brugge-De Panne. She also finished second at Gen-Wevelgem, just ahead of Brennauer. Both riders are strong sprinters, and if they can get over the series of climbs in Flanders, they will be formidable in the finale.

If Kopecky isn’t there in the closing kilometres her teammate Soraya Paladin will be. Paladin was with Longo Borghini in the doomed move at Gent-Wevelgem, she made the elite selection of riders behind Longo Borghini at Trofeo Alfredo Binda where she finished fifth. Although contending at a race like Flanders isn’t exactly her M.O., she is still riding well at the moment and would be able to hang on if the race splits on some of the longer climbs.

The Coverage

Once again the women’s race will take place after the men’s, something Flanders Classics has been doing more and more. The women’s race is available live on GCN+ in Europe and Asia-Pacific. starting at 15.35 CET as well as on Eurosport in Europe. FloBikes will have the race for those viewing from North America, and if viewing from Australia, the race can be caught on SBS.

2020 Flanders winner Chantal van Den Broek-Blaak powers up the Paterberg while her rivals try to chase her down.

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