April is upon us and with that, racing fans around the world are anxiously waiting for the heart of the Flemish Classics – Ronde van Vlaanderen, and Paris – Roubaix.
The 20th anniversary of the women’s Tour of Flanders will take part following tradition on the first Sunday of April. Last season it was the Belgian National Road Champion, Lotte Kopecky who posted her arms in victory; a momentous win for the tricolor jersey in front of an adoring Flemish crowd.
The last few hours of the women’s race on Sunday will be televised live, with an expected finish around 17:30 local time at the earliest.
Oudenaarde takes its place once again as the epicenter of the women’s edition, where both the start and finish will be held. The riders will depart from the Markt at 13:30 local time to begin their 158km loop to celebrate the 20th anniversary edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Waiting for them in the battle for the title will be the rolling hills and cobble sections that are the hallmark of Flanders. While the cobble sections are the highlight of Paris-Roubaix, it’s the climbs that shine as the deciding factor of Flanders. The Koppenberg will make its return for a second time, among 12 other climbs.
The Tiegemberg will be the first challenge to greet the peloton at only 10km into the race. The next obstacle is not until 40km down the road where they hit the Huisepontweg. Last year, it was in this gap where a small breakaway of four made their escape. Following the Korte Ast climb, the race will heat up as they hit the Molenberg, Berendries, and Valkenberg, all of which are also part of the men’s race. It was this trio of climbs that began the eventual fracture of the breakaway last year.
The Koppenberg waits next, to mark the final 30km of the race. The attacks are sure to come fast and furious, as this will be the final chance to reel in any riders that managed to escape. Annemiek Van Vleuten was first to make her move at this point last season, setting the pace for the field that caught what remained of the breakaway on the Taaienberg. The cobbles are done for the day at this point, with three hills remaining, including the final two – Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg where the winning move took place last year.
Once they crest the Paterberg, the field will have another 13km to go before the finish where the 20th Tour des Flanders will be crowned.
Riders to Watch
It was Movistar’s Annemiek Van Vleuten last season that had gained a slight advantage in a final acceleration on the Paterberg. The SD Worx duo of Lotte Kopecky and Chantel Van den Broek – Blaack were the only riders able to respond, in chase before the trio entered the finishing straight together. Van Vleuten was first to launch her sprint, with Kopecky on her wheel. The Belgian National Champ used her slipstream to catapult her to the line, celebrating her first win at the Tour of Flanders.
Van den Broek-Blaak is out for the 2023 season, having announced the expected arrival of her first child in May. Her teammate, Kopecky will return having begun her season once again in top form notching two wins with another trio of second place finishes this spring. Assisting her in fending off a stacked peloton will be Demi Vollering, following her Strade Bianche victory a month ago, and Marlen Reusser who finished fifth last year.
Lorena Weibes is also expected to support Kopecky. The European Road Champion has three wins to her palmarès so far this season, however she was involved in a high-impact crash at Gent Wevelgem last week that ended in a DNF. She did not seem to be injured at first sight, but the team aired on the side of caution taking her for further evaluation. The team has not yet released an update on the results and so she remains on the provisional start list for Sunday.
Annemiek Van Vleuten has had a quiet start to her season with only 6 racing days so far. The decorated veteran will be seeking a third, record-breaking win in her final season in the pro peloton. Arlenis Sierra, Liane Lippert, and Dutch rider Floortje Mackaij will join her.
Jumbo-Visma will have two past winners at the start line, the 3x World Road Champion Marianne Vos, and 2017 winner Coryn Labecki. Other riders SD Worx will be eyeing include the Italian duo Balsamo – Longo Borghini for Trek Segafredo, FDJ-Suez Grace Brown and Cecilie Uttrup who finished third at Strade Bianche, and Team DSM’s Pfeiffer Georgi following her win at Brugge – De Panne.
A dark horse in the field is the young sprinting talent of Team DSM’s Megan Jastrab. The 21-year-old was a multi-Junior world champion taking the rainbow jersey on both the track in the madison and omnium, and the road race in 2019 for the United States. She began her third WorldTour season this year with a third place on stage 2 at the Volta Comunitat Valenciana behind Elisa Balsamo in February. She followed that up with a fourth place at Brugge-De Panne before celebrating second place at Gent-Wevelgem last week.
‘Watch the Femmes’ TV Coverage: Eurosport, ESPN, RTBF (Belgium), France TV, RAI (Italy), NOS, TV2 (Norway), JOJ, Enjoy (Spain), Flosports (Canada/USA/Australia), SKY (New Zealand)
When: Sunday, 2 April
Where: Oudenaarde, Belgium
What: 1-day Spring Classic
Riders to Watch:
Marianne Vos ****
Annemiek Van Vleuten****
Demi Vollering ***
Megan Jastrab **
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By Rebecca Reza