The UCI Women's World Cup heads to Belgium on Sunday for the Ronde van Vlaanderen Vrouwen, the Women's Tour of Flanders, for the series' second of nine rounds. The winners of the previous five Rondes will be on hand in Oudenaarde, led by defending champion Ina Teutenberg (HTC-Columbia Women).
Joining the German on the start line are 2008 winner and HTC-Columbia teammate Judith Arndt, 2007 champion Nicole Cooke (Great Britain) and the only two-time women's Ronde winner Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel (Cervelo TestTeam), winner in 2005-2006.
HTC-Columbia seeks to continue their winning streak in the Tour of Flanders. "We won Flanders in the last two years and so we want to do it again with the team," said defending champion Ina Teutenberg. "We will have a very strong line up with Judith [Arndt] and Noemi [Cantele] but there are more than a hundred people that want to win that race."
One of those riders who will be a threat to HTC-Columbia's hat trick will be two time World Cup winner and current World Cup leader Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit), always a threat no matter the parcours. The 22-year-old Dutchwoman won last Sunday's opening World Cup event in Italy, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, and has the form and desire to claim her first Ronde. Vos made the elite selection on the hilly Italian course and handedly outsprinted her rivals for the victory.
The former world road champion and reigning world 'cross champion attacked solo on the Bosberg last year, but was caught inside of two kilometres to go, ultimately finishing sixth in the sprint. Perhaps Vos will mark her rivals and wait for a sprint this year, but no matter how the race plays out the Dutchwoman has the talent to prevail.
While Cervelo TestTeam has two-time former champion Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel, the Dutch squad also starts potential winners such as the Netherlands' Kirsten Wild and Briton Emma Pooley. Wild finished second to Teutenberg last year on her way to third overall in the World Cup and Pooley, a multiple World Cup race winner, is always a threat on hilly terrain.
Sweden's Emma Johannson (Redsun Cycling Team) finished third at the Ronde last year, and opened her 2010 World Cup campaign with a third place finish in Italy the previous Sunday. The Beijing Olympic road race silver medalist led the World Cup mid-season in 2009, before ultimately finishing second to Vos.
Reigning Olympic road champion and former world champion Nicole Cooke is racing for the British national team in 2010 and opened her World Cup with a sixth place finish at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda the previous weekend. The Briton is the complete package, able to climb, sprint and time trial, and will surely be a contender for a second career Tour of Flanders victory.
Other rider to watch include Martine Bras (Gauss RDZ Ormu), Trixi Worrack (Noris Cycling), reigning world champion Tatiana Guderzo (Team Valdarno) and Grace Verbeke (Lotto Ladies Team)
Twenty-seven teams, each with six women on their roster, will do battle on the cobbles and 'hellingen' of Flanders on a parcours 119.3km in length. The women race the same day as the men and will take in nine of the same climbs as the men's peloton.
While the men start in Bruges and head west to the coast on their lengthier 262km trek, the women start in the heart of 'hellingen' country in Oudenaarde, the home of the Tour of Flanders museum.
The first of the bergs the women will tackle is the Kluisberg, coming at 35km followed seven kilometres later by the Knokteberg. The women will head northeast back to Oudenaarde before joining the men's Ronde parcours in the approach to the Eikenberg, their third 'hellingen'. For the remaining 60 kilometres to Ninove the women will share the same roads as the men taking in the Molenberg, Leberg, Berendries, Tenbosse, Muur-Kapelmuur and Bosberg en route to the finish.
Weather may be a factor this year, with a 50 percent chance of rain and brisk temperatures in the forecast, but no matter what the conditions the ever-challenging Ronde will assuredly crown a worthy champion.