The women's peloton has been preparing for the Tour of Flanders all spring and will take the start line on Sunday in Oudenaarde for the biggest one-day race on the Women's WorldTour.
This month has seen some of the best racing to date through the opening four rounds of the top-tier series - Strade Bianche won by Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx), Trofeo Alfredo Binda won by Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), Classic Brugge-De Panne won by Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) and Gent-Wevelgem won by Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma).
The level of the women's peloton is the highest that it has ever been. SD Worx has won six races with six different riders this spring and they can also always rely on double World Champion Anna van der Breggen. Trek-Segafredo has taken an all-or-nothing approach to racing with Lizzie Deignan and Longo Borghini, which paid off at Trofeo Alfredo Binda. Vos' new women's team Jumbo-Visma leads the Continental teams to display superior strength at Women's WorldTour races.
It has all led up to this point - the pinnacle of the cobbled Classics - at the Tour of Flanders.
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How the race unfolded in 2020
Who to watch in 2021
Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx) - Van den Broek-Blaak has firmly stated that she does not ride in the shadows of her Dutch compatriots Annemiek van Vleuten, Marianne Vos, nor teammate Anna van der Breggen. She does her own thing, is what she stated, and that means taking her own opportunities to win when they come, and she has the power to do it. Look no further than her victories at Gent-Wevelgem (2016), world title in Bergen (2017), Amstel Gold Race (2018) and Tour of Flanders (2020). She is a powerful one-day specialist and will want to defend her title in Oudenaarde.
Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx) - Van der Breggen hasn't raced since Strade Bianche, which means that she will likely be fresh and ready to tear the legs off her competitors over the final series of climbs before the run-in to Oudenaarde. She is also a former winner of the Tour of Flanders in 2018, where she soloed to victory ahead of her teammate Amy Pieters. SD Worx has lacked a bit of team cohesion at Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Gent-Wevelgem, but with Van der Breggen back in the fold, the team have a solid winning card to pay for the win.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) - Niewiadoma is coming into great form nearing the end of her cobbled Classic campaign. She didn't win her coveted Strade Bianche at the start of the month but has since been able to focus on preparation for the Tour of Flanders. She has improved with each race, and was particularly strong at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, as part of the late-race move, and again at Gent-Wevelgem while working for her sprinter Hannah Barnes. Her form appears to have upped a notch with a second place at Dwars door Vlaanderen. Watch for her to be part of the finale in Oudenaarde.
Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) - She has earmarked the Tour of Flanders as one of her biggest season targets and showed winning form at Gent-Wevelgem. She may not have the team to support her like SD Worx or Trek-Segafredo, but as long as they can take her into the final ascents in good position, the rest is up to her. She is a proven champion in both a late-race breakaway or a bunch sprint.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo) - Longo Borghini is the most dangerous rider in the peloton. Her shear strength in the one-day races this spring has been impressive. She forced the late-race winning attacks at Strade Bianche, where she lost to Van den Broek-Blaak, and again at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, where she triumphed. Her late-race attack at Gent-Wevelgem may not have paid off, but we saw her grit and determination all the way to the last few hundred metres of the race, where she was caught by the charging field on the finishing stretch.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) - She had a taste of victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen, her first win of the season for Movistar, and she won't want to stop there. Known as the dress rehearsal for the Tour of Flanders, Dwars door Vlaanderen showed who is ready for Sunday. Van Vleuten attacked over the Knoteberg and Niewiadoma was the only rider strong enough to follow. The pair succeeded to the finish line, despite a ferocious chase by Trek-Segafredo. Watch for these two riders to create a race-winning move into Oudenaarde.
Flanders Classics have put together a 152km route that will covered 13 hellingen. This year's race will certainly include the race-deciding combination of Kruisberg-Hotond, and the final two climbs over the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, before the 13km run-in to Oudenaarde.
The bulk of the flat, cobbled sectors are located at the beginning of the race, and positioning ahead of them is key to avoiding gaps or getting blocked behind potential crashes, especially if riders wanted to get to the climbs in the front group. The route has changed in its 17 editions, and now uses fewer main roads and more narrow back roads, which makes being attentive during the first two-thirds of the race more important than ever.
Flanders Classic's have released the route details and the climbs will start at the 57km mark and include many of the same famed kickers used in the previous editions of the Tour of Flanders. The race typically fires up into full force by the time the peloton reach the last set of climbs over the Kruisberg-Hotond, Oude Kwaremont, and then lastly, the Paterberg.
- Kattenberg (57km) - 0.8km at 6 per cent
- Edelare (62km) - 1.5km at 4.2 per cent
- Boineberg (67km) - 1.2km at 5.1 per cent
- Mollenberg (76km) - 0.4km at 7 per cent and max 14 per cent
- Marlbouroughstraat (80km) - 2km at 3 per cent
- Berendries (84km) - 0.9km at 7 per cent and mad 12 per cent
- Valkenberg (90km) - 0.5km at 8 per cent and max 12 per cent
- Berg Ten Houte (102.5km) - 1.1km at 6 per cent and max 21 per cent
- Kanarieberg (108km) - 1km at 7 per cent and max 14 per cent
- Taaienberg (112km) - 0.5km at 6 per cent and max 15 per cent
- Kruisberg/Hotond (125km) - 2.5km at 5 per cent and max 9 per cent
- Oude Kwaremont (135km) - 2.2km at 4 per cent and 11 per cent max
- Paterberg (140km) - 0.3km at 13 per cent and max 20 per cent
What to expect
Teams have been previewing the route this week to test tire pressure and gauge wind speeds and directions, although this could change before Sunday. As of mid-week, the forecast is calling for party sunny and 12 degrees Celsius, so there may not be seasonal rain or slippery roads with which to contend.
The peloton, including both WorldTeams and Continental teams, is racing at an exceptionally high level this year and we have seen team tactics play a crucial role in the outcome of the four previous Women's WorldTour events at Strade Bianche, Tofeo Alfredo Binda, Brugge-De Panne and Gent-Wevelgem, in addition to lower-level events such as Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Dwars door Vlaanderen, which fielded strong teams. We can see more of a tactical game at the Tour of Flanders this year, and watch for teams like SD Worx and Trek-Segafredo to have multiple winning cards to play toward the final in Oudenaarde.
We can expect fireworks from a few key riders over the key selection of late-race climbs Kruisberg-Hotond, Oude Kwaremmont, and the Paterberg. These locations are the final and most profitable places to launch an attack, so expect to see protected riders like Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), Anna van der Breggen (SD Worx), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo).
It's never all about the climbs and the race could end in small but decisive group on the final run-in to Oudenaarde. If this happens, and if there are teams with multiple cards still to play, we can expect to see riders like Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), Chantal van den Broeck-Blaak and Amy Pieters (SD Worx), Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) and Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) in the mix for a late-race move or a small group sprint for the victory.
Tour of Flanders date: Sunday April 4, 2021
Start: Oudenaarde, Belgium - 1:35pm CET
Finish: Oudenaarde, Belgium - 5:35pm CET
Cyclingnews live coverage: 1:35pm CET - 5:35pm CET
Live streaming: Eurosport, GCN+ (Europe), Flobikes (North America), SBS (Australia), Sporza, RTBF (Belgium) - starting at 3:45pm CET
- SD Worx
- Liv Racing
- Movistar Team
- FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope
- Team BikeExchange
- Alé BTC Ljubljana Cipollini
- Canyon SRAM Racing
- Team DSM
- Trek-Segafredo Women
- Lotto Soudal Ladies
- Team Jumbo-Visma Women
- A.R. Monex Women's Pro Cycling Team
- Aromitalia - Basso Bikes - Vaiano
- Bingoal Casino - Chevalmeire Cycling Team
- Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling
- Ciclismo Mundial
- Doltcini - Van Eyck Sport
- Drops-Le Col
- Team Coop - Hitec Products
- Massi - Tactic Women Team
- Multum Accountants LSK Ladies Cycling Team
- Parkhotel Valkenburg
- Team TIBCO - Silicon Valley Bank
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