By Jeff Jones
The women's Ronde van Vlaanderen is the fourth round of the World Cup, currently being led by Oenone Wood (Nürnberger), with her teammate and Primavera Rosa winner Trixi Worrack in second place. Russian powerhouse Zoulfia Zabirova won the inaugural women's Ronde last year, and in this year's second edition she will stand as one of the favourites for the 112 km classic. Riding for team Bigla, Zabirova has the experience and power to do well on this type of course.
Zabirova's biggest challengers are likely to be the Nürnberger women, which boasts Wood and Worrack, along with World Champion Judith Arndt, Olivia Gollan, Regina Schleicher, and Anke Wichmann. In terms of depth, Nürnberger probably has the strongest team in the women's peloton this year, and showed it in La Primavera Rosa two weeks ago where it took out three of the top four placings.
The Buitenpoort-Flexpoint Team should be at home in the RVV, with Dutchwoman Mirjam Melchers keen for a victory. Along with dual World Champ Susanne Ljungskog, Buitenpoort should be a force to contend with. The other strong Dutch-based team is Van Bemelen-AA Drink, featuring Olympic road champion Sara Carrigan, Wellington World Cup winner Suzanne de Goede, and the Bates sisters, Kate and Natalie.
Safi-Pasta Zara-Manhattna's Nicole Cooke has been doing a lot of preparatory work for the women's Ronde, and looks to be in great shape. She has reconnoitred the course and has been winning races in Italy, showing that she means business. Supported by Rochelle Gilmore, Cooke should have an excellent chance of winning in Ninove.
Nobili Rubinetterie will line up an experienced squad that includes Edita Pucinskaite and Olga Slyusareva, while the Swiss Univega team will rely on Priska Doppmann and Karin Thürig. For the Belgians, Vlaanderen-Capri Sonne-T Interim has Hanka Kupfernagel and Anita Valen as its stars
With 26 teams at the start, the second women's Ronde van Vlaanderen is going to be every bit as chaotic as the men's race, and the fight for position before the climbs will be paramount.