Race every race as if it was your last, is how many athletes and teams have approached the revised Women’s WorldTour calendar that began on August 1 at Strade Bianche, with the original season shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
The AG Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne could now be the final event on the Women’s WorldTour calendar as the second wave of the coronavirus threatens to put a halt to racing once again. After competing at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, where four teams pulled out from the event, the women’s peloton will take the start line in Bruges, Belgium on Tuesday looking for what could be one last opportunity to race and one last victory of the 2020 season.
The final round of the top-tier series is still expected to take place at the Madrid Challenge, held in conjunction with the final stage of the men’s Vuelta a España on November 8. However, the second wave of the virus has swept through Spain putting many areas in a state of emergency, and there is uncertainty as to whether the two cycling events will continue into November.
Organisers of the Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne have closed the start and finish areas of the race and are encouraging fans and spectators to watch the race – both the men’s and women’s editions – from home, live on television.
The race will showcase two Belgian champions in Jolien D’hoore (Boels Dolmans) and Lotte Kopecky (Lotto Soudal Ladies), and the final could come down to a sprint with these two in contention for the win. Although they race for separate trade teams on the road, they know each other well as national teammates who often compete together in the Madison on the track.
D’hoore, who recently won Gent-Wevelgem and captured the title at Brugge-De Panne in 2018, is in top form and will line up with a strong team that includes Amy Pieters, who recently finished second at the Tour of Flanders, and Christine Majerus, who was third in the 2018 edition of Brugge-De Panne. Tour of Flanders winner Chantal van den Broek-Blaak was also a late addition to the team's roster to compete on Tuesday.
Kopecky, who won a stage at the Giro Rosa along with the Belgian national road title and was third at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, may not have a team as strong as Boels Dolmans, but Lotto Soudal Ladies have proved that they can support her to victory. Kopecky was also third in last year’s edition behind winner Kirsten Wild and runner-up Lorena Wiebes.
Defending champion Wild (Ceratizit-WNT) was forced to pull out of Gent-Wevelgem after a positive COVID-19 test, and although she is registered on the preliminary start list for Brugge-De Panne, the team has not yet confirmed if she will race, and the required 14-day quarantine period will not have been completed. Wild stated that she is feeling "relatively" fine and that she would use the quarantine time to make a full recovery.
Marta Bastianelli, who is also a contender for the victory at Brugge-De Panne, is registered to race but was also forced to pull out of Gent-Wevelgem due to a positive test within her Alé BTC Ljubljana team. The entire team has been following protocol and placed itself in quarantine, but was not able to start the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. The team has yet to confirm whether it will take the start line in Bruges on Tuesday.
Lorena Wiebes placed second last year with Parkhotel Valkenburg, and will be a rider to watch this year in her new colours of Sunweb, with support from Franziska Koch.
Trek-Segafredo line up with a strong team that includes Elisa Longo Borghini, Lauretta Hanson and Ellen van Dijk, but the they will take the start line without the Women’s WorldTour leader Lizzie Deignan, who is not set to race.
Grace Brown and Sarah Roy will fly the colours for Mitchelton-Scott after a successful Classics campaign that saw Brown win the Brabantse Pijl and take second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Roy finished fifth and Brown was 14th at the Tour of Flanders.
Other riders to watch include Alice Barnes (Canyon-SRAM), Stine Borgli (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), Elisa Balsamo and Chiara Consonni (Valcar Travel & Service), and Valerie Demey (CCC-Liv).
The expanded route
The women’s peloton has traditionally raced a 134km route that begins in Bruges and finishes in De Panne. This year, however, the organisers have increased the distance to 159km.
The women will begin in Bruges and race 48 kilometres, passing through Leeuw, Koekelare and Schoorbakke, and then enter the final circuits in De Panne where they will pass through the finish line for the first time.
The peloton will contest two laps of the circuit through Adinkerke, Houtem and Veurne, where there is an intermediate sprint, and then back to Koksijde and then De Panne.
They will pass through the finish line to complete the second and final lap, again through Adinkerke, Houtem, Veurne and back to Koksijde for the finish of the race in De Panne.
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