Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday was the perfect apéritif for what’s to come in the next Women’s WorldTour race; Ronde van Vlaanderen, aka the Tour of Flanders.
So far this season we’ve had some textbook team tactics from the best team on the roads right now, SD Worx. We’ve had surprise solo winners like Trek-Segafredo’s Shirin van Anrooij and Team DSM’s Pfeiffer Georgi at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Classic Brugge-De Panne. And all of the action was building up to the next weekends of racing. The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift are known as cycling’s holy week for a reason.
Last year Oudenaarde saw the Belgian national champion Lotte Kopecky of SD Worx take the win ahead of Movistar’s Annemiek van Vleuten and Kopecky’s teammate, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak. It was a finale that had viewers on the edge of their seats. This year Kopecky returns as a hot favourite, but her teammate Demi Vollering, who won Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, is also a good pick to win. Perhaps infighting will see SD Worx struggle to continue their dominant winning streak in West Flanders, or perhaps they will win on pure strength as they have over and over again.
As the Ronde van Vlaanderen approaches there are a lot of questions, and none of them will have answers until Sunday evening. Can the other teams find a way to beat SD Worx? Did Van Vleuten find her form while training at altitude the last three weeks? How will Trek-Segafredo fair without both Ellen van Dijk and Brodie Chapman? Are Team DSM’s recent results a sign of things to come or did they get lucky? And can Canyon-SRAM win their first WWT race since Lisa Klein won a stage of the Boels Ladies Tour in 2019?
In short: there’s a lot to look forward to on Sunday.
After starting in Oudenaarde the women will race over five cobbled sectors and 13 climbs, the final six of which are cobbled, before they return to Oudenaarde 158 kilometres later. The final 45 km of the women’s race is, like last year, the same as the men’s.
Two climbs were added to the 2023 edition of Flanders, however, they are early in the day and thus will probably not impact the results drastically. They could thin the peloton out a little before the third climb up Wolvenberg, which is where the race starts to kick off in earnest.
From the Wolvenberg it’s one climb after another as the race takes on the Molenberg, Marlboroughstraat, Berendries, and Valkenberg in a 30 km chunk. For good measure, there are also a few cobbled sectors thrown in between the Wolvenberg and Molenberg climbs.
The crucial racing starts on the Koppenberg with 44 km to go, but the middle section of the race will test the riders and remove some of the quicker sprinters before the next few climbs even start.
Once the race hits the Koppenberg those who are hoping to win can’t make any mistakes; the Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg, Kruisberg/Hotond, Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg all come in the next 32 km. None of the climbs are long (it’s West Flanders), but they are steep. Coming in quick succession, they will slowly break the legs if the form isn’t there.
The final two climbs, the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg are where the race is won or lost. Solo moves have gone clear on the Paterberg in the past; with only 13 km to the finish there’s not a lot of road left to organize a chase if any teams even have the numbers left at that point.
Unsurprisingly, SD Worx enters the race as the favourites with not one, not two, but three riders who have won WWT races so far this year. Defending champion Lotte Kopecky, who also won Omloop Het Niewusblad at the start of the Spring; Demi Vollering, winner of Strade Bianche; and Marlen Reusser, winner of Gent-Wevelgem.
Movistar also has some good prospects with Van Vleuten, two times winner of Flanders in 2011 and 2021, and their two new signings Liane Lippert and Floortje Mackaij. Lippert and Mackaij were teammates on Team DSM for years before moving to the Spanish team together and know how to work together, so between them and Van Vleuten Movistar has some good options. Plus there’s Arlenis Sierra, who finished fourth last year in Oudenaarde.
Pfeiffer Georgi and Megan Jastrab rode well at Classic Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem. The two of them are leading Team DSM into a new era.
There’s a few teams with an outside shot at getting on the podium, but a win might be out of reach. Canyon-SRAM’s Maike van der Duin and Shari Bossuyt have been strong this year and could conceivably make it to the podium. The same goes for Loes Adegeest and Grace Brown of FDJ-Suez.
There’s a real question mark over Trek-Segafredo, who is missing the Australian national champion Brodie Chapman after she crashed at Gent-Wevelgem last weekend. They still have Shirin van Anrooij and Elisa Longo Borghini, but Longo Borghini was sick and only returned to racing at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday and Van Anrooij will not be able to surprise the peloton again as she did at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. Longo Borghini looked good at Dwars but not Flanders-winning good.
Finally, on the Wheel Talk Podcast last week Ellen van Dijk (ITT world champion and professional for Trek-Segafredo) said that Marianne Vos couldn’t win Flanders, but the Dutchwoman was looking pretty good on Wednesday for having just had surgery on her pelvic artery.
Conversations with the Wheel Talk Podcast
Abby: It doesn’t look like we will have a repeat of the Gent-Wevelgem weather on Sunday but the days before look very wet so I guess we can’t fully rule it out.
Loren: Sunday it’s meant to be colder (9-10C / 48-50F). If the wind is up in the afternoon, that will play a bit of a factor. But the rain won’t play into it.
Both Lotte and Demi will be fighting for the win. Could this work against them by cancelling out each other’s attacks by following? 😅
Abby: Ya, SD Worx has been so strong but we haven’t seen Demi and Lotte race with each other since Strade Bianche.
Matt: I think we also need to keep Marlen Reusser in mind when it comes to SD Worx. She was so strong at Gent-Wevelgem, and again at Dwars door Vlaanderen. Such a handy rider to send up the road a bit earlier.
Loren: Good point.
Abby: 100%. Don’t think she can ride away again but I also would have said that last week.
Matt: Given some of the weird stuff we’ve seen in Group 2 this season, I can see it happening again!
Abby: Actually with Annemiek back to racing and how Lippert and Mackaij were racing at Dwars on Wednesday I think Movistar will be a force on Sunday.
Matt: Yeah, 100%. Annemiek is a fascinating one. Hasn’t raced since Strade, she’s been at altitude. Who knows how strong she’ll be on Sunday but I don’t think anyone would be surprised if she managed to win it again.
And as you say, Abby, having Lippert and Mackaij there now makes Movistar very interesting.
Abby: Ya, and Lippert especially has been training with Annemiek so I think the two of them will be super interesting.
Trek is a weird one. No Brodie. And Elisa Longo Borghini has been sick. Although she looked pretty good at Dwars. She died a thousand deaths and kept coming back.
But their tactics Wednesday left something to be desired. It was like they were racing for training. Not racing to win.
Matt: Looks like we’re still yet to get the full line-up for Trek-Segafredo, but Brodie is a big loss. So good last year. I wonder how they’ll handle it. Do you reckon Balsamo’s a chance, Loren?
Loren: If the race is really hard, I don’t see Balsamo being there at the end. I don’t think she will have the team behind her this year to form a chase. And like you said Matt, when the race is gone, no one seems to be able to coordinate the chase…
Matt: (I think that was Abby but I’m happy to take the credit 😛 )
Abby: Balsamo didn’t race Dwars, but she did fly back to Italy to graduate from college, so she wasn’t exactly resting.
Matt: Ha, good for her! And yeah I agree, I think she’ll struggle to be there right at the end on Sunday.
Loren: This race depends on how hard it is raced, and the willingness of more than one or two teams to make it hard.
Abby: Ya. exactly. If Canyon-SRAM, DSM and FDJ-Suez can play off each other SD Worx might run out of matches. Maybe. Probably not. A girl can dream.
Matt: I’m quite excited to see what Canyon-SRAM can do. I know you’ve talked on the podcast about how the team’s been disappointing lately, but I’ve been really excited by Shari Bossuyt and Maike van der Duin. Both have had many strong results and while I don’t think they’ll win it Sunday, I’m keen to see how they go.
Abby: They could definitely play a part in the action! Van der Duin is especially exciting for the future.
Matt: For sure. Four WWT one days is all she’s done for the year. Two podiums and a 7th! And she’s only 21.
Loren: That would also be fun to pick. Riders who aren’t going to win, but are going to have a cracking day out there. Like Brodie last year.
Abby: Matt who’s your pick to win?
Matt: Well when Demi wins, let the record show that I agreed with Loren, but yes, Annemiek to win solo with her Teide form.
Loren: I’d be happy with one of our picks actually winning hahaha.
Wheel Talk Podcast picks
As usual, the picks are in order, with no repeats allowed.
Gracie Elvin: Lotte Kopecky
Abby Mickey Skujina: Marianne Vos
Loren Rowney: Demi Vollering
Matt de Neef: Annemiek van Vleuten
What you didn’t know you need to know
Oudenaarde, located in West Flanders, has a rich history. The region flourished in the 11th century, when the town hall and St-Walburga Church were built, both of which can still be visited today, but experienced a decline during the Reformation of the 16th century. More recently, the city was damaged in both World Wars, but especially in World War II when it was occupied by Nazi Germany. It would later be liberated by the British in September of 1944.
Nowadays Oudenaarde is known for two things, at least two things that matter to you if you’re reading this preview: cycling and beer.
Liefmans Brewery in the town of Oudenaarde was founded in 1679 and brews a Flanders Brown style of Flemish beer also known as Oud Bruin. The beer has two fermentation periods, the first for a year and the second for several weeks. It is then further aged in bottles for a few months. At the end of the process Oud Bruin develops a sour/malty taste, not exactly a surprise with a malt percentage that ranges from 90-100%.
After you’ve enjoyed a Flanders Old Brown at Liefmans you can walk over to the Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen, a museum dedicated to the Tour of Flanders with interactive exhibits, vintage cars and bikes, and some pretty outdated views on women’s cycling. Actually maybe skip it. Better to hop on your bike and ride some of the icon climbs in the area.
When you should tune in
Live coverage on GCN+ kicks off at 15:00 CEST on Sunday, April 2nd. If you’re in North America tune into FloBikes for all the action, with streaming starting at 5AM Eastern.