After another enthralling edition of Strade Bianche opened up the 2019 Women's WorldTour last weekend, the series continues this Sunday with the Ronde van Drenthe. This will be the 13th edition of the one-day race, but it will prove to be lucky for someone.
Home team Boels Dolmans have dominated the race in recent years, winning each of the last three editions, and will be looking to get back on top after being beaten by Mitchelton-Scott's Annemiek van Vleuten in Siena last weekend.
Van Vleuten will not be in Drenthe on Sunday as this weekend's course tends to lend itself to the sprinters who can handle themselves on a climb – although a climber can sometimes get away like, as Lizzie Deignan (then Armitstead) did back in 2014.
Generally, however, it is the fast finishers who do well here with Jolien D'hoore, Amalie Dideriksen and defending champion Amy Pieters all on the list of former winners and all in Boels Dolmans' ranks.
This year's route, at 165 kilometres, is slightly longer than last year's offering, starting in the town of Zuidwolde. The neutralised section lasts just over five kilometres before the flag for racing to begin is dropped just outside the town of Hoogeveen. The route is made up of a series of loops, marked by 10 trips over the cobbles and four trips up the VAM Berg – the climb built over a former waste dump.
The VAM Berg is often used as an opportunity to attack, but the final visit to the climb comes 50 kilometres from the finish, and any riders that get away will have a lengthy battle on the flat in order to stay away. Following the last trip to the VAM Berg, the route heads back towards the finish line before a number of small loops, which include two last cobbled sectors.
Last year's wet and windy race saw a group of 19 riders come to the finish line, but it is a race that is always ridden aggressively, and can just as easily end with a solo break or a small group with a handful of riders contesting the win.
Boels Dolmans may have missed out at Strade Bianche, but they'll be the overwhelming favourites with the last four winners named in their six-rider line-up. Amy Pieters will wear the number one as the defending champion, but lining up alongside her in the black and orange will be past victors Chantal Blaak, Amalie Dideriksen and Jolien D'hoore. They also have Le Samyn des Dames winner Jip van den Bos and Christine Majerus – two riders that also stand a chance of taking the top step on the podium.
Leading the way for Canyon-SRAM is last year's runner-up Alexis Ryan, who finished fifth at the recent Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. She'll have the support of the extremely experienced Tiffany Cromwell. Still just 24, Ryan is growing in strength each season.
Now riding for Team Virtu Cycling, Marta Bastianelli must be considered as one of the top favourites. Bastianelli enjoyed a resurgence last season with the European title the high-point of her 2018 season. She has carried that into the new season, finishing in the top 10 of every race she's ridden so far. The Italian won the recent Omloop van het Hageland and finished an impressive fourth at Strade Bianche.
Bastianelli's former teammate Chloe Hosking will be looking to better her third place from last season with Ale Cipollini. Hosking already has two victories under her belt this season with stage wins at both the Tour Down Under and the Herald Sun Tour, but her European programme is yet to reap such rewards.
The new Trek-Segafredo women's team has got off to a strong start in their debut season, and they bring a strong line-up to Drenthe. The team has a number of cards to play with Lotta Lepistö and Lauretta Hanson both strong contenders in a sprint, while Ellen van Dijk provides them with an opportunity to attack. Lepistö is probably their best bet after the Finnish rider took two convincing victories at the Setmana Valenciana last month.
Despite winning the opening round of the WorldTour with Van Vleuten, Mitchelton-Scott come to the Ronde van Drenthe without a clear favourite. Former podium finisher Gracie Elvin and sprinter Sarah Roy will lead the team, and we can expect an aggressive approach from the Australian team.
It would be remiss not to include Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) within the list of favourites, particularly as she is a three-time former winner of the race. After taking bronze at this year's cyclo-cross world championships, Vos made her return to the road at Strade Bianche last weekend. The Dutchwoman finished seventh in Italy – just behind her new teammate Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio – and this course certainly suits her better than the one she faced last week.
Others to keep an eye out for are Kirsten Wild (WNT-Rotor), who is returning to the road after starting the season on the track, Elisa Balsamo (Valcar-Cylance), Lotte Kopecky (Lotto Soudal), Aude Biannic (Movistar), Emilia Fahlin (FDJ) and Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb).
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