The Tour of Flanders may be missing the normal spring time-slot and tightly packed crowds to heighten the chaotic atmosphere on the cobbles and climbs, but the competition on the road during the Women’s WorldTour race this Sunday is bound to be as intense as ever.
With the opportunities to make a mark in this season of COVID-19 quickly dwindling, the stakes and pressure to deliver couldn’t get much higher. The field will be filled with riders determined to make the most of one of their final chances season and here are 10 to watch as the 135-kilometre race unfolds.
The COVID-19 pandemic means several teams will be absent. According to reports i Belgium 2019 winner Marta Bastianelli and her Alé BTC Ljubljana team will not race after missing last week's Gent-Wevelgem.
Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans)
Pretty much any race she starts this year is one where Anna van der Breggen deserves to be on the contenders list. The Tour of Flanders is certainly no exception.
The dual world champion has won four of her last five races and the last time she raced this Belgian cobbled Classic, in 2018, she won. Also, with the race most often being won by a solo finisher, you would have to say there is a good chance of her yielding a result with the well-practised Van der Breggen tactic of using a tough section to launch off the front and then time-trialling to the finish.
Van der Breggen also undoubtedly has a strong team at her side, although the flip-side of that is that it could also mean holding back as the Dutch champion may not want to chase if a teammate with the potential to win is well positioned out in front. In fact, Jolien D’hoore has already chalked up one cobbled Classic victory for Boels Dolmans after taking the sprint from a small lead group in the final metres of Gent-Wevelgem last Sunday.
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo)
Leading the Women’s WorldTour, Lizzie Deignan has clearly found that top-end form again this year and she, like Van der Breggen, also has a team packed with formidable allies.
Deignan and her two Trek-Segafredo teammates, Elisa Longo Borghini and Ellen van Dijk, are all former winners, and their current form can’t be in any doubt, either, after all three were present at the head of the race at Gent-Wevelgem.
However, where Deignan has an added advantage is that she not only has the ability to get away in a break, but if it comes down to a small group at the end, the former road race world champion has that turn of speed many of her rivals lack.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott)
Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) has had her ups and downs this season but, like fellow Dutch rival Van der Breggen, she is one that has to be among the list of favourites at just about every race she starts.
Van Vleuten began the rescheduled 2020 season with five straight wins, then went on to take victory at the European Championships road race and looked set for a third overall win at the Giro Rosa until she crashed and fractured her wrist on stage 7.
Regardless, it was only a little over a week later that Van Vleuten took to the start line to try to defend her title at the World Championships, taking second even while racing with a plastered arm. It’s that type of grit and determination that means Van Vleuten has to be considered a rider to watch on the rough cobbled roads, even though her wrist has barely had a month to recover. She has recently been training in the warmth and isolation of Sardinia and hopes to be a contender.
Teammate Amanda Spratt, who was also injured in that same Giro Rosa crash, will also be returning to racing at the Tour of Flanders.
Van Vleuten has a record of landing on the podium at Flanders, coming second last year and third in 2018, but her best result at the race was back in 2011. It was one of her early big victories back when she was racing for Nederland Bloeit, a team which was transformed into Rabobank.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo)
The Italian rider has been so consistent in her presence at the front of the field since the season restart that the majority of her finishes this season are in the top five.
Additionally, Longo Borghini knows she has what it takes to deliver victory at this race, becoming the youngest winner of the Tour of Flanders in 2015 at the age of 23 after launching a successful solo attack.
The best chance for Longo Borghini would be for a tough race that gave her the opportunity to again launch off the front and head to the finish with at most one or two other riders, as if it comes down to even a small group sprint, the odds aren’t in her favour.
Lotte Kopecky (Lotto Soudal)
The fast-finishing Lotte Kopecky looked so close to the win at Gent-Wevelgem last Sunday, until another Belgian sprinter, Jolien D’hoore (Boels Dolmans), overtook her in the final metres of the race. That second place, however, is bound to give her confidence and motivation heading into the Tour of Flanders, as will a spate of top-three finishes right through the season.
The 24-year-old has managed to find her way onto the podium seven times in this shortened season. That includes a stage win at the Giro Rosa and victory at Belgium’s National Championships in both the individual time trial and the road race.
Just like D’hoore, she’s a rider that is dangerous in a sprint, so her rivals will be trying to shake her loose well before the line approaches.
Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb)
Another one to watch if it comes down to a group sprint at the end is Coryn Rivera.
In 2017, which was the last time the race came down to a bunch sprint, Rivera won.
This year the American rider is also lining up with a strong team, including Alison Jackson, Women’s WorldTour youth classification leader Liane Lippert and Floortje Mackaij, who earlier this month came third at the Brabantse Pijl.
Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT)
Lisa Brennauer finished third at Gent-Wevelgem but has been flying below the radar of her bigger team rivals.
That could be a costly mistake on Sunday because the experienced German rider was also ninth in the World Road Race Championships and fourth in the World Time Trial Championships, confirming her form for long and hilly races.
She is making her Classics debut but could be a real threat if the race becomes a battle for survival and a time trial to the finish.
Her long career with some of the biggest teams in the women’s peloton means she has plenty of big-race experience.
Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg)
Demi Vollering, who is set to move to SD Worx – the new name for Boels Dolmans – next year, has often been sitting in those final crucial breaks surrounded by seasoned professionals this year.
What’s more, the relative newcomer to Women’s WorldTour racing has managed to step onto the podium at two races in the series during 2020.
Judging by her performance at Gent-Wevelgem, where she came seventh, the 23-year-old also has what it takes to perform at the cobbled Classics.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope)
Last year at the Tour of Flanders, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig took advantage of a climb at 17 kilometres to go to launch an attack. It turned out to be a move that put the Danish rider on the podium, as ultimately it meant she ended up heading into the line with eventual winner Bastianelli and Van Vleuten, who took second.
Uttrup Ludwig is heading into this year’s race with a couple of Women’s WorldTour podiums already under the belt this year.
With her regular presence at the front of the field, it now seems only a matter of time before she shifts up to the top step of the podium at one of the very biggest races on the calendar.
Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv)
Update: Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) will not start due to not feeling 100 per cent.
The Tour of Flanders isn’t one of those big races on the calendar where Marianne Vos has had her name etched onto the winners list multiple times. The three-time world road champion won once back in in 2013, but she’s only been on the start line twice since then.
That’s because often in the early part of the season, where the cobbled Classics are usually situated, Vos is still working her way back to road form following a break after the short and gruelling contests of the cyclo-cross season.
Last year, however, the race was a key objective, and her form was shaping up nicely on the run-in, with an early season win at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, but then a puncture at a crucial stage ruined her chances.
With some better luck on the day this year, the outcome could be different, although it hasn’t been a smooth run into the race for Vos so far. CCC-Liv is another one of the teams that has been impacted by COVID-19, pulling out of the Brabantse Pijl on October 7 after one of the group tested positive after going into the team bubble.
Gracie Elvin (Mitchelton-Scott)
Finally, there is one extra rider that didn’t quite fit into the list of 10 contenders, but is still definitely one to watch. That is retiring rider Gracie Elvin.
In a fitting farewell, the Tour of Flanders, where the Australian rider came second to Coryn Rivera in 2017, will be one of Elvin’s last races in the professional women’s peloton.
Elvin has made a powerful impression both on and off the bike, being a key member of the Orica-AIS/Mitchelton-Scott team since 2013, twice winning the Australian National Championships and also co-founding The Cyclists' Alliance.
While there will be no fans roadside to cheer one last farewell, there are bound to be many doing so from the other side of the screen.
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