The Tour of Flanders is the biggest one-day race on the Women's WorldTour, and takes place this Sunday in Belgium. The world-class peloton will toe the start line in Oudenaarde in the absence of one very important person – the defending champion Anna van der Breggen.
Van der Breggen, who is also the reigning world champion, chose not to compete at the Tour of Flanders this year because she instead raced the Cape Epic mountain bike stage race – a race she won with Boels Dolmans teammate Annika Langvad. The eight-day race, of which the average stage was five hours, ended under two weeks ago, and she didn't think she would have time to recover.
"The Tour of Flanders is such a cool race, and I would love to do it again. It feels a bit strange to not race this year, but, on the other hand, I'm happy that I made that decision before the Cape Epic. I could feel that it would be tough on my body, and I took this week just to recover and feel energised again," Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews on Wednesday.
While Van der Breggen recovers and looks ahead to targets at the Healthy Ageing Tour and the Ardennes Classics, there are a number of other riders waiting in the wings to become the next champion at the Tour of Flanders this weekend.
The course: four cobbled sectors and 10 hellingen
The women's 159km loop starts and finishes in Oudenaarde. This year marks the 16th edition of the women's race, and it's the sixth round of the 2019 Women’s WorldTour, currently led by Marta Bastianelli (Virtu Cycling).
The bulk of the flat cobbled sectors are at the beginning of the race: Lange Munte (10km), Lippenhovestraat (33km), Paddestraat (35km) and Haaghoek (61km).
The 10 sharp climbs kick in at the 55km mark with the Achterberg, before moving on to the Leberg (64km), Berendries (68km), Tenbosse (76km), Muur-Kapelmuur (86km), Kanarieberg (114km), the newly added Taaienberg (118km), Kruisberg/Hotond (133km) and the final two climbs over the Oude Kwaremont (143km) and Paterberg (146km).
Race organisers have given the women's race an even tougher finale with the addition of the Taaienberg climb, making the final 40 kilometres of the race the same as the men's edition.
Boels Dolmans’ roster may not include Van der Breggen, but they still line up with a number of potential winners in Chantal Blaak, Amy Pieters – who was second last year – and Jolien D'hoore. Although D'hoore is listed to race Flanders, she has been recovering from a broken collarbone suffered in a crash at Drentse 8.
"I don't know if Jolien is doing the race. I hope so," Van der Breggen told Cyclingnews. "It's in Belgium, and she is the biggest Belgian rider, and so she would love to do it. Amy was second last year, and Chantal is always good at that race. I would like to be there to help those riders, but other races are coming up, and so there will be time for that."
CCC-Liv will line out with Marianne Vos, who won the race in 2013 and told Cyclingnews earlier this month that she hoped to be ready for the race. The team also includes Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, who was fourth last year.
Mitchelton-Scott field a tough-to-beat duo in Annemiek van Vleuten and Amanda Spratt. Van Vleuten won the race in 2011 and was third last year, but said her main focus was on the Ardennes Classics this season. She won the opening round of the Women’s WorldTour at Strade Bianche.
Trek-Segafredo field two former winners in Ellen van Dijk, who just won the Dwars door Vlaanderen, and Elisa Longo Borghini.
Sunweb also field a former winner in Coryn Rivera, but will also have strong contenders in Lucinda Brand and Leah Kirchmann.
WNT-Rotor have had a dream start to the Women's WorldTour season with two victories at the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem, both with sprinter Kirsten Wild. Flanders could be too hilly for the Dutch track specialist, but anything can happen in an unpredictable Classic. The team also includes a contender in Lisa Brennauer, who has been an essential part of the lead-out for Wild in the sprints. Perhaps they will reverse roles for the Tour of Flanders.
Women's WorldTour leader Bastianelli spoke with Cyclingnews earlier this month and said that the Tour of Flanders was a primary target this year – that and the Yorkshire Worlds road race – so look for her at the head of the race on Sunday.
Movistar have a contender in Malgorzata Jasinksa, who was sixth last year. After a strong 2018 season, the team told Cyclingnews that they would put more support behind the Polish champion.
Canyon-SRAM bring Kasia Niewiadoma as their top contender. She was ninth last year and will have support from Elena Cecchini, Alexis Ryan and Tiffany Cromwell.
"Flanders is super long and demanding," Niewiadoma said. “We are completely prepared and ready for the crazy battle on Sunday. We're in excellent shape, and we have the best equipment. Our team is incredibly strong, and everyone is willing to go out there, do their job properly and race their hearts out for our team's success. It's going to hurt, but we're good at dealing with suffering and accepting pain."
Check in with Cyclingnews directly following the Tour of Flanders for the full results, race reports, gallery and related news.