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The Koppenberg awaits the women’s peloton at Tour of Flanders – Preview

Koppenberg
The Koppenberg awaits (Image credit: Getty Images)

Flanders Classics is on a mission to equalize its six men's and women's Spring Classics, and for the Tour of Flanders, that means two things: a €50,000 prize purse and the iconic Koppenberg.

The two additions to this year's Tour of Flanders women's event are part of the organisation's bold plan for equality – Closing the Gap – with a specific aim to offer live TV, same race classifications and prize money. Still, they also want to showcase the same historical route features.

"We wanted to make the women's courses as close to the men's courses as we could, for example, adding the Koppenberg to the Tour of Flanders and adding the difficult part of the Kemmelberg Gent-Wevelgem. We wanted the races to be very similar to the men's races," Flanders Classics SEO Tomas Van Den Spiegel told Cyclingnews.

 The Tour of Flanders marks their fourth event after Omloop Het Nieuwsblad won by Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), Gent-Wevelgem won by Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) and Dwars door Vlaanderen won by Chiara Consonni (Valcar Travel & Service) and there are two more events at Scheldeprise on April 6 and De Brabantse Pijl on April 13.

However, the Tour of Flanders has traditionally been the epitome of the cobbled Classics for the women's peloton ever since it was launched alongside the men's race 18 years ago. The first edition of Paris-Roubaix added to the prestige of the women's calendar last fall, and the Hell of the North returns to close out the cobble Classics season on April 16 in France.

Russia's Zoulfia Zabirova captured the inaugural edition of the Tour of Flanders in 2004. Notable champions include Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel, Nicole Cooke,  Judith Arndt and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg. Surprisingly, Grace Verbeke is the only Belgian to have ever won the race back in 2010, although that could change as Belgian Champion Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) lines up this year as one of the favourites to win.

More recent winners include the likes of Marianne Vos, Ellen van DijkElisa Longo Borghini, Lizzie Deignan, and Coryn Labecki, the only American to have ever won the Tour of Flanders. Anna van der Breggen, Marta Bastianelli, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak have also won the event, while Annemiek van Vleuten lines up as the defending champion.

Triple threat: Koppenberg, Oude Kwaremont, Paterberg

Tour of Flanders Women 2022 - Map

Tour of Flanders Women 2022 – Map (Image credit: Flanders Classics / Tour of Flanders Women 2022)

The women's field will race a slightly longer version of the Tour of Flanders than in previous years at 159km, and has become one of a handful of one-day races that edges closer to the 170km maximum distance permitted by the sport governing body.

The route will start and finish in Oudenaarde but take a different approach to the sequence of cobblestone sectors spread across the opening 119km. The peloton will cross six cobble sectors, one more than last year, which begin at the Lippenhovestraat (45km), Paddestraat (47km), Kerkgate (72km), Jagerij (75km), Mariaborrestraat (118km and 119km). The route will skip the back-to-back Holloweg and Karel Martelstraat from last year.

There are 'only' 11 hellingen included in this year's route, two less than last year. Still, Flanders Classics have made up for that loss with the addition of the famed Koppenberg that has traditionally been the showstopper in the men's race only. 

The climbing start after the second cobbled sector and feature the Wolvenberg (69km), Molenberg (81km), Marlboroughstraat (85km), then the Berendries (89km) and the Valkenburg (95km). 

The Koppenberg, a 77-metre high climb in Oudenaarde first introduced to the men's event in the 1970s, is positioned mid-race at the 114km mark, and although it's only 600 metres long, it boasts pitches as steep as 22 per cent along rough cobblestone. 

In previous editions of the men's race, riders have forced to walk up its slopes, and while it was excluded from the race at times, it has remained a staple at the Tour of Flanders since 2008.

The Koppenberg will undoubtedly mark the beginning of the late-race fireworks in the women's race, located just 45km from the finish line. 

However, the race will be far from over at this point because riders must also tackle five more climbs; Steenbeekdries (119km), Taaienbberg (122km), Kruisberg/Hotond (132km), and then back-to-back Oude Kwaremont (142km) and Paterberg (145km, before the 14km run-in to Oudenaarde.

The Hellingen

Tour of Flanders Women 2022 - Map

Tour of Flanders Women 2022 – Profile (Image credit: Flanders Classics / Tour of Flanders Women 2022)
  • Wolvenberg – 0.65km at 7.9 per cent and max 17 per cent
  • Molenberg – 0.4km at 7 per cent and max 14 per cent
  • Marlbouroughstraat – 2km at 3 per cent
  • Berendries – 0.9km at 7 per cent and mad 12 per cent
  • Valkenberg – 0.5km at 8 per cent and max 12 per cent
  • Koppenberg – 0.6km at 11.6 per cent and max 22 per cent
  • Steenbeekdries – 1.1km at 3.1 per cent and max 7.5 per cent
  • Taaienberg – 0.5km at 6 per cent and max 15 per cent
  • Kruisberg/Hotond – 2.5km at 5 per cent and max 9 per cent
  • Oude Kwaremont – 2.2km at 4 per cent and 11 per cent max
  • Paterberg (140km) – 0.3km at 13 per cent and max 20 per cent

The favourites

World Champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo)

World Champion Elisa Balsamo (Trek-Segafredo) (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

"The Koppenberg is the Tour of Flanders," were Annemiek van Vleuten's remarks after finishing 21st at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday. At that race, a block headwind prevented her from clearing the field on the main climbs, and she said she preferred a more formidable challenge; a longer race with more climbs - the Tour of Flanders.

Van Vleuten also recently arrived at sea level after spending time on Tenerife training specifically for the difficult challenge in Flanders. She said, the way the race played out, Dwars door Vlaanderen became the training that offered her a chance to 'wake-up' her legs.

And with that, we can expect the Dutchwoman to go full-throttle over the most challenging parts of the parcours on Sunday to win Tour of Flanders for the third time in her illustrious career. If a long-range solo attack doesn't pan out, let's not forget the short-range solo attack that won her the title last year.

However, it's never a one-woman show, and others could feasibly foil Van Vleuten's plans. World Champion Elisa Balsamo has had a remarkable run of success with three back-to-back wins at Brugge-De Panne, Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Gent-Wevelgem. All bets will likely be on Balsamo to take a fourth straight win this season because of her impeccable form, fast sprint, and powerful Trek-Segafredo team that includes the likes of former winners Elisa Longo Borghini and Ellen van Dijk.

SD Worx's Lotte Kopecky has admitted that her targets were at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. There is no doubt that she faces enormous pressure to perform on home soil as the national champion and one of the race favourites.

She matched Van Vleuten on the steep slopes of the Via Santa Caterina and beat her in a sprint in the Piazza del Campo to win Strade Bianche. That win won't soon be forgotten by anyone in the peloton, certainly not by van Vleuten. And Kopecky, arguably, has the stronger team with Demi Vollering and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak.

Those are the three hot favourites, but let's not forget the depth of the field at the Tour of Flanders, because when Marianne Vos is on the start line, she is always a contender for victory. She had a slower start to the season, only racing Strade Bianche before Gent-Wevelgem last weekend, where she took second place behind Balsamo. She last won the Tour of Flanders in 2013, and she lines up with another former winner and new teammate, Coryn Labecki - this is a tough-to-beat pairing of experience and speed.

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Grace Brown form another duo for FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope that could be a winning combination, while Canyon-SRAM’s trio of Kasia Niewiadoma, Elise Chabbey and Soraya Paladin could surprise us all in Flanders.

How to watch

Tour of Flanders date: Sunday April 3, 2022
Start: Oudenaarde, Belgium - 1:25pm CET
Finish: Oudenaarde, Belgium - 5:45pm CET
Cyclingnews live coverage: 1:00pm CET - 5:45pm CET
Live streaming: Check our live streaming guide here
Distance: 159km

24 Teams

  • FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope
  • UAE Team ADQ
  • Movistar Team
  • Canyon-SRAM Racing
  • Team DSM
  • Trek - Segafredo
  • Team SD Worx
  • Human Powered Health
  • EF Education-TIBCO-SVB
  • Jumbo-Visma
  • Roland Cogaes Edelweiss
  • Uno-X Pro Cycling
  • Team BikeExchange-Jayco
  • Liv Racing Xstra
  • Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling Team
  • Parkhotel Valkenburg
  • Valcar-Travel & Service
  • Bingoal Casino - Chevalmeire - Van Eyck Sport
  • Le Col - Wahoo
  • Lotto Soudal Ladies
  • Massi Tactic Women Team
  • Multum Accountants Ladies Cycling Team
  • NXTG by Experza
  • Plantur-Pura

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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.

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