Preview: Route and contenders at Ronde van Drenthe

Will the VAM-Berg break the race apart or will a sprinter take the day on Saturday?

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One week after what was one of the best races of all time at Strade Bianche, the women will line up again, this time in the north of the Netherlands, for the second round of the women’s WorldTour.

Ronde van Drenthe is one of the longest-running races on the women’s calendar. It first started in 2007 (nothing if you compare it to the men’s races but that is the world we live in) and has been won by many of the top riders in the sport, including Marianne Vos, Lizzie Deignan, and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak.

Over the years the weather has played a big role in the final outcome of the race. Typical of Dutch racing, if there are crosswinds the peloton will often be reduced before the race hits the infamous VAM-Berg and solo moves or small selections take the day.

If the weather is tame the race can often come down to a sprint. Amalie Dideriksen, Amy Pieters, Jolien D’Hoore and recently Lorena Wiebes have all written their names into the history of Ronde van Drenthe.

The weather prediction on Saturday favours a 15C high with a lot of cloud cover but no precipitation. The wind is supposed to be calm-ish most of the day with potential gusts up to 33 kph from the south-southeast, so there is a possibility of crosswinds on the run into the VAM-Bergg.

Ronde van Drenthe was one of the races that was forced to cancel the 2020 edition and in 2021 they had to reschedule to late October. The calendar shift meant a lot of teams couldn’t field full rosters, due to the length of the season a lot of riders were burnt out or injured.

This year will be the first “normal” edition of Ronde van Drenthe since 2019.

The Route

Ronde van Drenthe starts in Assen, in the Drenthe region of the Netherlands, and finishes in Hoogeveen 155.9 km later. The first 80 km of the race is relatively flat. There are lumps in the profile, don’t be fooled, they are likely highway overpasses or something similar. If the wind does play a role, the direction shift as the race heads south might make things interesting.

Where the action will really kick-off is once the race has completed 80 km. At this point, the peloton will be approaching three laps of the circuit containing the VAM-Berg. Here the road narrows considerably, although calling it a road is rather generous, bike path is more accurate.

The VAM-Berg offers an opportunity for an any-non sprinter to make their mark on the race. The most aggressive tactics will be seen here, with the strongest teams taking advantage of the sharp left hand turn into the VAM-Berg to launch attacks. For a little added spice, part of the VAM-Berg is cobbled.

After the first ascent of the VAM-Berg, a climb that is only 500 meters long but very steep at the bottom, the race descends a technical narrow road and takes a sharp left to take on the climb two more times. There is very little road to chase or time to organize between VAM-Bergs.

Once the peloton has completed three laps they head towards the finish line in Hoogeveen but the race isn’t over there. After they pass through the finish once they head back out for a fourth and final climb up the VAM-Berg. If a rider is distanced on this final ascent their chances at victory are probably long gone. Once the final race up the VAM-Berg is complete the remaining riders have 13 and a bit kilometres to go until the final finish in Hoogeveen.

The Favourites

With the potential for wind gusts, we’re looking at the strongest teams as contenders for the victory on Saturday. With or without wind Team DSM will line up with defending champion Lorena Wiebes, who recently completely demolished the sprint at GP Oetingen to take her first win of the season.

Wiebes wins Ronde van Drenthe, 2021

Wiebes is the sprinter to beat but she can also hang on when the race hits these small short climbs. The VAM-Berg doesn’t present much of a challenge for the Dutchwoman. Team DSM is taking a strong team to support Wiebes. Leah Kirchmann could win the race herself, while Pfeiffer Georgi has had a promising start to the season. If things don’t look to be in Wiebes’s favor, the team can always send Floortje Mackaij on the attack.

As per usual, SD Worx is the team to beat with Strade Bianche winner Lotte Kopecky leading the charge. Kopecky can win the sprint but could also find herself in any move that goes or even solo, if she really feels like it. Alongside the Belgian national champion is Marlen Reusser, who spent opening weekend in the breakaway but could also go for a solo win on Saturday. Then there is the young talent Lonneke Uneken who recently sprinted to win the second stage of the EasyToys Bloeizone Fryslân Tour.

Canyon-SRAM will line up with their two sprinting options Alice Barnes and Sarah Roy. Barnes has come toe to toe with Wiebes on multiple occasions and can definitely hold her own. Roy has been up there in a few of the early season sprints but hasn’t quite been able to piece together a result.

If the race is aggressive and the peloton reduced Canyon-SRAM will probably look to Barnes, who has thrown down a few gutsy moves recently and is looking to be pretty strong. For any selections that go on the VAM-Berg they have Elise Chabbey, who is quickly becoming one of the top riders in the women’s peloton.

Unfortunately, Emma Norsgaard, another sprinting super talent, is not on the provisional start list for Movistar. They will be debuting Arlenis Sierra, however. The Cuban rider has had some phenomenal results in the past but isn’t super consistent. At this point there’s no telling if she will be in contention at Ronde van Drenthe but if she does deliver Movistar their fourth win of the season no one should be surprised.

FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope’s best chance at victory will be a move from Australian Grace Brown. Brown has been on the attack in a few races this season, and although she was distanced from the top contenders at Strade Bianche she did fight back into the race and deliver a stellar leadout into the final climb. Brown has been known to steal the day from the top sprinters before and could do so again on Saturday. Vittoria Guazzini is another FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope rider to watch on Satuday. She was part of a late-race move at Le Samyn des Dames and although she couldn’t contend with Norsgaard’s sprint, she still managed to finish third on the day.

Jumbo-Visma will not start three-time Ronde van Drenthe winner Marianne Vos or their new signing Coryn Labecki, who both could have contended for the win. They will have Anouska Koster and Riejanne Markus. Markus recently turned heads when she finished second behind Ellen van Dijk at the opening time trial of the EasyToys Bloeizone Fryslân Tour, ahead of the European champion Reusser. She is often on domestique duty, but without Vos might have an opportunity to try for a surprise result.

Elisa Balsamo will take to the start for Trek-Segafredo. The world champion won the first stage of Setmana Valenciana and finished fourth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. So far this season she has fit seamlessly in with her new American team and if the race doesn’t blow apart too much could contend for the first WWT win for Trek-Segafredo this year.

If the race does blow apart, Trek-Segafredo has Ellen van Dijk. The European champion recently won the overall at the EasyToys Bloeizone Fryslân Tour and the second stage of the Setmana Valenciana. She spent opening weekend jumping in breakaways and having some fun and could do so again on Saturday. Van Dijk has finished on the podium of Ronde van Drenthe three times, in 2019, 2015 and 2013, but never won the race.

Finally, a heavy favorite for the win on Saturday is Marta Bastianelli. Bastianelli snatched UAE Team ADQ the first win of the 2022 season at the Spanish one-day Vuelta CV Feminas, took the final stage of Setmana Valenciana, and then won Omloop van het Hageland. She was on the attack in Strade Bianche but didn’t factor in the final selection, which is no matter, Ronde van Drenthe suits her much better. Bastianelli won Ronde van Drenthe once already, in 2019, from a group of three.

CyclingTips star ratings

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Wiebes, Kopecky, Bastianelli
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Brown, Balsamo
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Ruby Roseman-Gannon, A. Barnes
⭐️⭐️: Roy, Sierra, Alison Jackson, Van Dijk
⭐️: Julie Leth, Koster, Chabbey

How to watch

The race will be available for live viewing in all GCN+ territories at 3:10 pm CET.

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