Preview: Tour of Flanders 2024

The 10th round of the Women’s World Tour in 2024 is the mythical Tour of Flanders, or Ronde van Vlaanderen – affectionately ‘De Ronde’ – the one-day Classic that’s one of the most highly anticipated races of the Spring, and the most prestigious of the Belgian spring Classics.

A combination of twisting, narrow roads, bone-shaking cobbled segments and arduous ‘hellingen’ (hills) makes the Tour of Flanders one of the hardest races to ride, and even harder to win, and with the potential for inclement weather conditions, there are numerous ways in which the race will challenge the bunch. Strategy will be key, with positioning of utmost importance as the cobbles and bergs provide multiple launchpads for attacks.

The women’s race has been held since 2004, on the same day as the men’s race. Part of the WWT since 2016, the race has been gradually extended over the years and the difficulty increased; the first edition was just 94km in length – this year, the race is 163km long.

 

The Route

The women’s route begins and ends in the East Flemish city of Oudenaarde. This year, the course adds just 5km to its overall distance, increasing to 163km in length. The women will tackle 12 ‘hellingen’ – one less than last year – but notably, they tackle 8 cobbled sectors – three more than last year.

Heading south-west out of Oudenaarde, the peloton will traverse three cobbled sectors before they tackle the first climb of the day, the Wolvenberg, 72km into the race. The first half of the route is far less challenging than the second half, and after two more cobbled sectors, the climbing begins in earnest,  with the cobbled Molenberg the first major challenge with 74km remaining. The climbs come thick and fast after that and the names are all legendary in their own right – the route passes over the Berendries, Valkenberg and Kapelleberg, tackling arguably one of the toughest uphill challenges in the Koppenberg 118km into the race. 600m long and with an average gradient of 11.6%, the Koppenberg has pitches of up to 22% and will really test the legs ahead of the final challenges of the race.

The final 45km of the race is exactly the same as the men’s route. The cobbled Taaienberg and Oude Kruisberg climbs precede the formidable duo of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterburg, upon which the race will likely be decided, if an early attack has not already been launched.

2.2km in length, the fearsome Oude Kwaremont will be rocking – perhaps one of the most unique arenas in our sport, the climb will be lined with fans whose cheers will accompany the riders up the ascent and onto the shorter but more vicious prospect of the Paterberg. With gradients of up to 20%, it’s the final chance for whatever remains of the leading group to attack, if indeed the race is not already decided by that point.

From there, the chase to the finish line, comprising 13km on flat roads. The race leader or leaders will have to dig deep to hold on for this final segment if they wish to etch their name into cycling history.

 

Riders to Watch

Few would argue against the claim that the Tour of Flanders represents the biggest race on the women’s calendar so far this season, and as such, the start list is packed full of headline names, as the top riders from the women’s peloton compete to add a Monument to their palmares.

Reigning World Champion and defending champion Lotte Kopecky will come into the race as favourite once again. She has proven herself to be in great shape so far this season, and will be supported by the best of Team SD Worx-ProTime – Demi Vollering, Lorena Wiebes, Marlen Reusser, and Mischa Bredewold – all of whom could realistically win the race in their own right.

There are a host of teams hoping to run interference on the Dutch team’s dominance. Primary among them as usual will be Lidl-Trek. They keep the heart of their classics team the same, with options for various types of race with Elisa Longo Borghini, Lizzie Deignan and Shirin van Anrooij likely to be the team’s best options.

Canyon//SRAM’s leader Kasia Niewiadoma will be hoping to bounce back from her disappointment at Strade Bianche. The Polish rider may share leadership duties with American Chloe Dygert, and they are backed up by race animators Elise Chabbey and Soraya Paladin.

Team Visma-Lease A Bike will rely on current and former World cyclocross champions to tackle the cobbles. Marianne Vos won the race in 2013; 11 years later she returns for another attempt, following her first victory at Dwars Door Vlaanderen mid-week, and she brings Fem van Empel for company. Both of them are likely to be in amongst the action.

Fem van Empel’s off-road friend and rival Puck Pieterse is a late addition to the start list. The Fenix-Deceuninck rider has exhibited a rich vein of form so far this season, picking up podium finishes in both the Ronde van Drenthe and Classic Brugge-De Panne. In her final road race before she switches focus to mountain biking ahead of the Paris Olympics, she’s likely to be visible animating the race from the front.

Outside the main contenders other riders to watch include UAE Team ADQ’s Silvia Persico who is always at home on punchy climbs, Team dsm-firmenich PostNL’s Pfeiffer Georgi, who has had a solid Classics campaign so far but is yet to score a victory this season, Liv Alula Jayco’s Letizia Paternoster who is showing great form and made the podium at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, and Fenix-Deceuninck’s Yara Kasteijn, who has been an agitator throughout the recent Belgian one-day races.

 

Riders to watch

5-stars Lotte Kopecky, Elisa Longo Borghini

4-stars Marianne Vos, Demi Vollering, Puck Pieterse

3-stars Chloe Dygert, Kasia Niewiadoma

2-stars Lorena Wiebes, Shirin van Anrooij, Pfeiffer Georgi

1-star Marlen Reusser, Mischa Bredewold, Lizzie Deignan

 

Summary

When – Sunday 31 March 2024

Where – Belgium

What – One-day race

TV Coverage: Discovery+, Eurosport

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