The revised Women’s WorldTour calendar has made it as far as the Tour of Flanders, and although cracks are starting to form in the COVID-19 late-season with teams and riders being forced to pull out of races and quarantine in accordance with national health authorities, the peloton will attempt to line-up in Oudenaarde on October 18 for what is widely regarded as the most prestigious one-day race in professional women’s cycling.
Event organisers have taken steps to make the race as safe as possible by encouraging spectators to stay at home and watch on television, and banning spectators on the cobbled climbs, as well as from the start and finish areas. They have also shortened the event in order to give teams and riders the opportunity to build in sufficient rest and recover between the events on the revised calendar in October.
Update: Four teams have been forced to pull out of the Tour of Flanders women's event; Alé BTC Ljubljana team will not start the, leaving the race without its defending champion Marta Bastianelli. The team had dropped out of Gent-Wevelgem after having a COVID-19 infection within the squad. Astana Women's Team and Chevalmeire squads also withdrew from the event over concerns about the COVID-19 situation. Equipe Paulé Ka withdrew after the team's title sponsor failed to live up to its obligations. The team has no funding to continue racing. In addition, Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) will not start due to not feeling 100 per cent.
11 steep climbs
The peloton will race a shortened 135.6km race to and from Oudenaarde. The distance was reduced from the 159km originally planned for the women’s race. The race will include flat cobbled sectors; Lippenhovestraat (33km), Paddestraat (35km), Holleweg (57km) and Haaghoek (62km).
Race organisers have removed the Wolvenberg, Tenbosse and the Muur-Kapelmuur, that were part of last year's route, but there will be 11 climbs that will make for a challenging edition of the Tour of Flanders.
The climbing will begin at the Ketterberg (700m at 5.5 per cent located at 51km) and Edelare (1km at 4.5 per cent located at 56km) and Varent (700m at 7.6 per cent located at 61km) followed by the Leberg (1km at 3.5 per cent located at 67km) and Berendries (800m at 7.3 per cent located at 72km).
The women will then pass over the newly added Valkenberg (500m at 7.7 per cent located at 77km) and then the Kanarieberg (1.2km at 8.1 per cent located at 90km) followed by Taaienberg (700m at 6.9 per cent located at95km).
The more decisive climbs come near the end of the race with the Kruisberg/Hotond (2.6km at 4.1 per cent located at 106km) and the final two climbs over the Oude Kwaremont (2km at 4.2 per cent located at 118km) and lastly the Paterberg ( 400m at 9.7 per cent located 121km).
From the crest of the Paterberg, the peloton will race another 13 kilometres to the finish line in Oudenaarde.
Defending champion Marta Bastianelli is currently in quarantine with her Ale BTC Ljubljana in Belgium after the team was forced to pull out of last weekend’s Gent-Wevelgem due to a positive COVID-19 test with in the team. The team has followed local health authorities and race protocol, however, they will not take the start line in Oudenaarde.
World champion Anna van der Breggen, who won the race in 2018, is a confirmed starter and will be joined by a powerful Boels Dolmans team that also includes Belgian sprinter Jolien D’hoore. D’hoore has made it a career goal to win the Tour of Flanders, and if she succeeds on Sunday, she will be the first Belgian to win the women’s race since Grace Verbeke ten years ago. Together, Van der Breggen and D’hoore give Boels Dolmans two winning options, but the field will be stacked with talent as every team will be vying to win the title at the Tour of Flanders.
Mitchelton-Scott have confirmed their support for co-leaders Annemiek van Vleuten, who won the race in 2011 and finished second to Bastianelli last year, and Amanda Spratt. Van Vleuten will line-up in the European champion’s jersey as one of the favourites. She returns to racing after sitting out the last events to continue he recovery form a broken wrist.
"I realise this could be the last race of the season, and for me after five years also my last one with the team, so I am working hard here to finish it off on a high! It’s been super cool to see the team is still in really good form and I am happy to be part of this team," said Van Vleuten, who is set to move to Movistar in 2021. "My wrist is still painful, but the pain is getting less every day. So, all good signs with this that my wrist is ready for some cobbles!"
Trek-Segafredo will be competing with three former title winners of the race; Lizzie Deignan (2016), Elisa Longo Borghini (2015) and Ellen van Dijk (2014). Deignan is currently leading the Women’s WorldTour after securing victories at GP de Plouay, La Course, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. They will be a tough trio to beat, but more importantly, the team has shown strong tactical performances this year that make them arguably the strongest team on paper.
FDJ Nouvelle-Futuroscope line up with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, who finished third at the Tour of Flanders last year, and third at Trofeo Binda and La Course last year, and she was second place at Flèche Wallonne this year. She has yet to secure a Women’s WorldTour victory and the Tour of Flanders could be her last opportunity at victory this year, should the season come to another halt before Brugge-De Panne on Tuesday.
Other riders to watch are Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-Sram), Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg), Grace Brown (Mitchelton-Scott), Coryn Rivera and Liane Lippert (Sunweb), Amy Pieters and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (Boels Dolmans), Lotte Kopecky (Lotto Soudal Ladies), Lauren Stephens (TIBCO-SVB), and Lisa Brennauer (Ceratizit-WNT), whose team was also forced to pull out of Gent-Wevelgem after a positive COVID-19 test.
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