Tour of Flanders Women's WorldTour 2018 - Preview

Held in conjunction with the men's event, which started in 1913, the women's Tour of Flanders is also celebrated with fandom and fixed firmly in Belgian culture despite its relatively short 14 years on the calendar.

There have been a dozen women celebrated for their victories in the ultimate spring Classic. The next woman to win on April 1 will join that elite club and go down in cycling's history books as one of the sport's all-time greats.

Russia's Zoulfia Zabirova captured the inaugural victory in 2004, and the calibre of winners to follow has been immense. Dutchwoman Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel won twice and then it was Great Britain's Nicole Cooke in 2007, followed by Germany's Judith Arndt, who joined Melchers-Van Poppel as a two-time winner.

German sprinter Ina-Yoko Teutenberg stormed to victory as did Belgium's Grace Verbeke and then came Dutch riders Annemiek van Vleuten, Marianne Vos and Ellen van Dijk. In more recent years, Italy's Elisa Longo Borghini won solo, while Britain's Lizzie Deignan was fastest in a two-up sprint. The defending champion is American Coryn Rivera after she won a reduced bunch sprint.

During Cyclingnews' recent 'Belgian Week', we dug through the archives and selected the six best editions of the Tour of Flanders. They each captivated fans in different ways; aggressive tactics, solo wins, breakaway sprints and bunch kicks. Over the years, organisers have included more climbs and extended the race from 94km to over 150km.

Flanders is the most important one-day race on the Women's WorldTour. It's the sixth round of the series, which is currently led by Belgian champion Jolien D'hoore (Mitchelton-Scott).

The series started at Strade Bianche where Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) took a solo victory. Her teammate Amy Pieters won the second round at the Ronde van Drenthe and Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) won Trofeo Alfredo Binda, the third round. D'hoore won the fourth round at Driedaagse De Panne and moved into the overall lead after placing second behind Marta Bastianelli (Ale Cipollini) at the fifth round at Gent-Wevelgem.

D'hoore leads the overall ranking with 380 points ahead of Niewiadoma and Bastianelli, both with 350 points.

Some of the champions mentioned above targeted events that better suited their ability while choosing to sit out others. All of them will be on the start line in Oudenaarde.

The contenders

In the 2017 edition, Rivera won out of a bunch sprint ahead of Gracie Elvin (then Orica-Scott) and Chantal Blaak (Boels Dolmans).

Rivera hasn't had the same success in her run-up to Flanders this year but will have support from a talented Sunweb squad that includes former winner Van Dijk, who won Omloop van het Hageland in February and Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday. Rivera told Cyclingnews that Sunweb's team is both versatile and honest, and so she will work for Van Dijk or any other rider on team, if they end up in a better position for victory.

Boels Dolmans is the world's number one ranked team after their series of winning performances last year. They have a set of potential winners in Van der Breggen, Pieters and Blaak.

Only one Belgian rider has ever won Flanders - Verbeke in 2010 - and D'hoore was the closest placing second in 2015. The pressure is on her to be the next Belgian rider to stand on the top step of the podium. She arrives with a team that includes, time trial world champion and former winner, Van Vleuten, Elvin and Amanda Spratt. She says she's ready to play the game.

Canyon-SRAM also have Niewiadoma, who could potentially move back into the lead of the Women's WorldTour, but they also have potential winners in Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Elena Cecchini.

Vos, who won the 2013 edition, was third at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and will line up with her Waowdeals team. The former multi-discipline world champion is always a contender, even if she has struggled to regain the dominant form she had before taking a break in 2015.

Gent-Wevelgem winner Bastianelli will lead Ale Cipollini, but the Italian team have cards to play with sprinter Chloe Hosking and Le Samyn winner Janneke Ensing. American team Cylance will feature former two-time world champion Giorgia Bronzini and all-rounder Lauren Stephens. Team Virtu line up with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Christina Siggaard.

Former winner Longo Borghini will not be on the start line in Oudenaarde after pulling out from the race with illness. Her Wiggle High5 teammate Kirsten Wild will be there, and she has stood on the podium at the Tour of Flanders in three previous editions.

The road to Oudenaarde

The Tour of Flanders is 151km and includes five cobbled sectors and 11 hills before finishing in Oudenaarde.

The flatter section of the course, and the main cobbled sectors, all feature in the first 50km of the race. The first is Lang Munte, which comes at 15km, and is 2,500m long. It is followed by Lippenhovestraat (36km, 1,500m), Paddestraat (37.5km, 2,300m), Holleweg (65.9km, 350m) and then Haaghoek (71.6km, 2,000m).

A succession of bergs takes over at the 60km mark. The first six are relatively minor affairs and will likely not play a role in the outcome of the race. They begin with Edelare (59.7km) followed by Wolvenberg (63.2km, 645m), Leberg (72.1km, 950m), Berendries (76.1km, 940m) and then Tenbosse (81.1km, 450m).

The last 50km of the race is where the leading contenders will start to watch one another. The Muur-Kapelmuur (91.5km, 750m), a steep ascent that maxes out at 20 per cent near the top, is one of the most famous of the climbs. They'll crest it with stinging legs and then face the back-to-back Pottelberg (110.1km, 1,353m) and Kanarieberg (115.9km, 1,000m).

It is in this section of the race where attacks will begin, and potentially decisive breakaways will emerge.

The climbing doesn't end there as there are still three more hills to contest, and they are arguably the most important because of their proximity to the finish line: the Kruisberg (125.3km, 2,500m), Oude Kwaremont (134.2km, 2,220m) and Paterberg (137.7km, 360m).

For the riders who make it over these last three climbs in the front group, it will be a test of strength, will and smarts along the undulating 13km into Oudenaarde.

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