De Hoogmis, the most sacred day in cycling, the most anticipated date in the calendar, is finally here. We are on the eve of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Until we get to see the birth of the women’s Paris-Roubaix (dreaming is for free), De Ronde is indisputably the one day race of the season. And this year, at least on paper, it promises to be better than ever. But more on this later.
The Tour of Flanders is a moderately old race in the women’s calendar, 2019 being its 16th edition. Only two riders have been able to win it more than once: Mirjam Melchers and Judith Arndt, both retired years ago, managed to do it twice. Since the finish of the race was moved from Meerbeke to Oudenaarde in 2012, every edition has seen a different winner.
Why does the 2019 edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen look so great on paper? The organisers have done a fantastic job at making it as hard and attractive as possible, especially in the last 50 km of the race. The most striking addition, compared to previous years, is the Taaienberg. Coming right after the non cobbled but long and steep Kanarieberg (a hill more akin to those of the upcoming Ardennes classics) it will likely become a key point of the race. Now the final third of De Ronde is a non stop sequence of ‘bergs’, keeping the classic Oude Kwaremont + Paterberg as the final challenge.
But Flanders is not only about the second part of the race. It’s also about the narrow roads and nervous racing that define the earlier kilometres The flat cobbled sectors are all placed in the first half of the race: Lange Munte, Lippenhovestraat, Paddestraat and Haaghoek. Together with the short hills around Brakel (Berendries, Tenbosse and the non marked Parikeberg) they’ll make the race before heading towards Geraardsbergen and the iconic Kapelmuur. From this point, the direction turns back to the west, through the Flemish Ardennes described in the previous paragraph, towards the finish line in Oudenaarde.
At 159 km it’s right at the limit established by the 160 km rule for Women’s World Tour races. It’s no doubt the hardest edition ever of the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
The weather forecast looks decent, with relatively warm temperatures and mostly dry with some chances of a little bit of rain. Some light wind is expected to blow from the east/northwest, so it will be mostly favourable from the Muur to the Paterberg, but riders will face headwind on the flat roads towards Oudenaarde.
One would think that the absence of last year’s winner and current road world champion Anna van der Breggen, who is focusing on the Ardennes after an alternative early season calendar which included more MTB, could open up the race, but such a hard parcours looks good for another very strong rider to go solo. If someone in the current peloton can do that, it’s Annemiek van Vleuten. Mitchelton-Scott’s leader already showed such power in Strade Bianche and she’s by far the most consistent performer in De Ronde. Winner in 2011, she has always finished the race in the top-10 in the present decade.
The Australian team is also arguably the strongest one. Amanda Spratt is perhaps not best suited for the cobbles, but some other climbs like the Kanarieberg should be perfect for her skills. We all know she’s a tactically smart rider, too. Gracie Elvin was 2nd two years ago and may be the best chance for the team in case of a less selective race than ends up with a reduced group sprint.
Boels-Dolmans dominated the field last year but, without Van der Breggen, they’re up for a big challenge if they intend to repeat such a success. No need to say anyway that both Amy Pieters and Chantal Blaak look more than capable of winning here. The last-hour addition of Jolien D’hoore caught everyone by surprise. Recovered from her collarbone fracture only 3 weeks ago in Drenthe she may not be at her best, but riding on home roads she will be a valuable asset for the Dutch squad.
In the form of her life, the World Tour’s leader Marta Bastianelli (Virtu) seems a very solid candidate. She has the sprint and, so far, only in Strade Bianche a few riders looked stronger than her uphill. However she might find herself isolated in the final.
CCC-Liv comes with a shared leadership. While Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio may not look like your usual cobbled classics racer, she has already shown she can perform in Flanders, and together with Marianne Vos they form a dangerous duo, complementing each other’s skills very well.
There are two former winners of De Ronde in Trek-Segafredo: Ellen van Dijk and Elisa Longo Borghini. Both, especially the former, looked sharp a few days ago in Dwars door Vlaanderen, and are very capable of holding a long range attack until the finish.
Canyon//SRAM line-up is a solid one. Without a big favourite, they arrive with several options, among them Kasia Niewiadoma and Elena Cecchini. The Polish can make the race hard on the climbs, whereas the Italian is a fast finisher with the ability to survive these short, sharp Flemish hills.
Sunweb can rely on former Ronde winner Coryn Rivera. However, on such a hard course, it’s likely that Lucinda Brand has a better chance of a good result. After a successful cyclocross season, Brand is still trying to find her road form. Her performance in Dwars door Vlaanderen looked promising.
Some additional outsiders are Sheyla Gutiérrez (Movistar), Lisa Brennauer (WNT-Rotor) and maybe Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Bigla) provided she’s able to attack and make a difference uphill.
How to watch the race live
We’re getting spoiled, but here’s another race that we’ll get to watch live almost from start to finish. Turn on Eurosport Player from 12:30 CEST or, alternatively, go to the Facebook page of Proximus Sports from 12:00. The finish is expected between 15:09 and 15:35.
The official hastag on Twitter is #RVVwomen.