The women’s peloton is deep into the Classics season now and there is no landscape more emblematic of this time of year than Flanders with its narrow roads, cobbles, and punchy climbs.
Setting out from Oudenaarde, the peloton will tackle a 158-kilometre route including 11 steep climbs and six cobbled sections. The Koppenberg, and its iconic 22 per cent gradients, will feature for the first time in the women’s edition of the Tour of Flanders this year.
Four more climbs lie between the Koppenberg and the finish, each offering a launchpad for attacks. The Ronde is one of those races that can be won in a multitude of ways. Previous editions have witnessed solo victories, bunch sprints and the success of the small breakaway. As such, there are many different types of riders targeting this most prestigious of races.
Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo)
- Team: Trek-Segafredo
- Age: 24
- Race Record: 15th in 2021
Rather than being cursed by the rainbow jersey she won in Belgium at the end of last season, Elisa Balsamo seems galvanised by its weight. Currently, she sits atop the UCI Women’s WorldTour rankings following three consecutive WorldTour victories at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, the Classic Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem.
Each of these three victories has come from a bunch sprint and Balsamo has a team capable of holding the race together, with the likes of Ellen van Dijk and Elisa Longo Borghini chasing down late attacks at Gent-Wevelgem. Provided that she can survive the Flandrien climbs, Balsamo’s form is so impressive that she is surely the favourite to win from any sprint.
- Team: Movistar
- Age: 39
- Race Record: 1st in 2011 and 2021, 2nd in 2019, 3rd in 2018, 4th in 2017 and 2015
Annemiek van Vleuten first won the Ronde in 2011, escaping with Tatiana Antoshina and winning the resultant sprint for the line. Ten years later, she took victory again following a 13-kilometre solo attack. As is the case ahead of so many races, then, Van Vleuten will line up on the start as the defending champion.
After an altitude training camp in Tenerife, she returned to the flatlands for Dwars door Vlaanderen, her first race since Strade Bianche. At Dwars door Vlaanderen, Van Vleuten launched several attacks on its short, steep climbs but was unable to break free of a peloton contained by strong headwinds. The Ronde will offer her more opportunities to break away and make the race difficult for the sprinters.
- Team: SD Worx
- Age: 26
- Race Record: 3rd in 2020, 5th in 2017, 13th in 2021
Following her move to SD Worx at the end of last season, Lotte Kopecky has flourished, taking an impressive victory at Strade Bianche, a third place at Ronde van Drenthe and fourth at Gent-Wevelgem.
At Strade Bianche, she was the only rider able to follow Van Vleuten’s accelerations on the climbs, and ultimately beat the Dutchwoman in a two-up sprint for the line. This combination of talents bodes well for the Tour of Flanders, too.
On home Belgian roads, Kopecky will have extra motivation to complement the confidence she gained from winning Strade Bianche, as well as the added benefit of racing within the strongest team, SD Worx.
- Team: UAE Team ADQ
- Age: 34
- Race Record: 1st in 2019, 13th in 2018
A former winner of the Tour of Flanders in 2019, Marta Bastianelli has begun this season strongly with three victories and a series of top-10 finishes, including a third place at the Classic Brugge-De Panne.
Bastianelli’s career has encompassed many notable victories including the Ronde which she won in 2019, utilizing her powerful sprint to win from a late breakaway that also contained Van Vleuten and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig.
This year, Bastianelli’s early season form has been amongst the best in the peloton, offering her an opportunity to win a second Ronde in her final season before retirement.
- Team: SD Worx
- Age: 25
- Race Record: 5th in 2021, 7th in 2020
After her rapid rise last season, Demi Vollering has become one of the stars of the women’s peloton with victories at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Course and The Women’s Tour. Vollering seems to be following a similar race program to the one that served her so well last year, only tackling the biggest races on the calendar.
One component of the all-conquering SD Worx team, Vollering will have support from, and will support, other potential winners such as Kopecky and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, as she seeks to improve upon last year’s fifth place finish.
A second place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Opening Weekend and a 12th place at Strade Bianche, which her teammate won, suggest that Vollering should play some role in the race’s finale.
- Team: FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope
- Age: 26
- Race Record: 3rd in 2019, 7th in 2021, 16th in 2020
A solitary Women’s World Tour win at the Vuelta a Burgos last year belies Uttrup Ludwig’s immense talent for she is one of the most consistent racers in the peloton. Podium finishes at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and La Course in 2021 displayed her sprinting prowess while her third place at the Ronde in 2019 came from a small breakaway.
In tandem with her teammate Grace Brown, Uttrup Ludwig is likely to feature at the sharp end of the race. Brown also has previous form in the Ronde, finishing third last year; how FDJ balance these two riders, and harness their full potential, will be fascinating.
- Team: Jumbo-Visma
- Age: 34
- Race Record: 1st in 2013, 3rd in 2011, 12th in 2021
After a winter packed with cyclo-cross races, Vos has so far competed in just two road races this season, skipping Trofeo Alfredo Binda due to illness. As so often, however, she was a protagonist in both, finishing seventh at Strade Bianche and second in the bunch sprint at Gent-Wevelgem.
In 2013, Vos added the Ronde to her storied palmarès, breaking away with three other riders and winning the subsequent sprint for the line. Since then, another victory or podium in this race has eluded her but she is showing promising early season form.
Vos will also be strengthened by the support of Jumbo-Visma’s new signing Coryn Labecki, another former winner of the Tour of Flanders.
- Team: Movistar
- Age: 22
- Race Record: 35th in 2021
Emma Norsgaard enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2021 with two stage victories at the Ceratizit Festival Elsy Jacobs, as well as second places at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Classic Brugge De-Panne and Scheldeprijs.
So far, she has continued that upward career trajectory this season with a victory from a bunch sprint at Le Samyn des Dames. In Van Vleuten’s absence, meanwhile, she has secured a fifth place at Gent-Wevelgem and a sixth place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
In Norsgaard and Van Vleuten, Movistar possess two riders capable of winning in different ways, ensuring that they will be competitive regardless of whether the race ends in a breakaway or a sprint.
- Team: Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling
- Age: 33
- Race Record: 2nd in 2021, 4th in 2020, 8th in 2019 and 2018
Last year’s runner-up, Lisa Brennauer has always combined her road and track cycling careers. In 2021, she harnessed her trademark strength to great effect, winning an Olympic gold medal in the women’s Team Pursuit in Tokyo and the German national road race championship, as well as finishing second in the Tour of Flanders and Healthy Ageing Tour.
After following multiple accelerations in last year’s edition, Brennauer was unable to match Van Vleuten but still won the sprint behind for second. Although she has not raced much this season, Brennauer’s pedigree in this race still marks her as one of the favourites.
- Team: Valcar-Travel & Service
- Age: 22
- Race Record: 42nd in 2021, 72nd in 2020
Fresh from the biggest victory of her career to date at Dwars door Vlaanderen, effectively the warm-up race for the Tour of Flanders, Consonni will be hoping that the race ends in some form of bunch sprint.
Still only 22, Consonni has started the Ronde van Vlaanderen three times already, finishing the race on two occasions. Earmarked as a rider to watch in the future for the last few years, this season is perhaps the one where Consonni delivers on that potential.
The Ronde, however, is a hillier, longer and altogether more gruelling race than Dwars door Vlaanderen but if Consonni can make it to the finish in the front group she will be among the favourites for victory.
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Issy Ronald has just graduated from the London School of Economics where she studied for an undergraduate and masters degree in History and International Relations. Since doing an internship at Procycling magazine, she has written reports for races like the Tour of Britain, Bretagne Classic and World Championships, as well as news items, recaps of the general classification at the Grand Tours and some features for Cyclingnews. Away from cycling, she enjoys reading, attempting to bake, going to the theatre and watching a probably unhealthy amount of live sport.
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