Yes, it’s that time of the year. The most iconic race in Belgium is almost here, and it feels both ancient and new, classic and forward-looking. The Ronde van Vlaanderen is slowly getting its own identity back after that almost sacrilege-like move in 2012, when the Kapelmuur was removed from the race. It took a couple of years, but now it’s again the exciting show that formerly was… almost.
Now, the Muur is finally back. It’s far from the finish line, but it’s there. Fans will love that. Hier is De Ronde thuis! But will it have an actual impact on the race? Let’s find out.
2017’s Ronde van Vlaanderen takes advantage of the new UCI rule that allows WWT races to be up to 160 km. With 153 km it’s the longest edition ever of the race. It also includes more climbs and more cobbled sections. So, on paper, it should be the hardest ever women’s De Ronde.
And the Muur is back! Yes, yes, we know it. It’s 60 km away from the finish. That’s quite a distance, even though it will, of course, add to the overall attrition of the race, and it will offer lovely, iconic images. There a problem with the Muur, though. It’s a little bit far from everything else. That makes a long section after it which is perhaps too easy. It’s 25 km from the Kapelmuur to the next really hard climb, which is the Kanarieberg. And the Kanarieberg itself is not exactly near the Oude Kwaremont/Paterberg either.
So, there’s a really tough middle section of the race up to the Muur, and then quite a few moderately easy kilometres until the Oude Kwaremont. Does it make the race feel a bit unbalanced? We’ll see. It’s Flanders, and that means exciting racing, so it will be good for sure. But how good? Only time will tell if this is a good combination of the old & new courses.
There’s been a few sprint finishes in the recent races, but it’s highly unlikely that we’ll get to see something remotely close to that in De Ronde. This is a race for the best classics specialists and all rounders. Who’s looking strong at the moment?
A number of former Flanders winners are big favourites again. Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5), the current WWT leader, is probably the strongest rider when the race goes uphill at the moment. But, as usual, she’ll need to escape alone if she wants to win. Both Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott) are well known for their aggressive race tactics, and they’re well suited for the Flemish cobbles and hills.
The other former winner, Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans), is in unknown form at the moment after missing Gent-Wevelgem due to illness. Her teammate Anna van der Breggen hasn’t had the best build up either, so Chantal Blaak may be the team’s leader this time. She was 3rd in 2016.
Jolien D’hoore (Wiggle-High5) is the best classics specialist among the sprinters and a great leader for her team if Longo Borghini is not strong enough to go solo. Will other fast riders such as Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) or Lotta Lepistö (Cervélo-Bigla) keep their options intact after all the bergs? Not likely, even though they’re showing impressive form. And what about D’hoore’s teammate Annette Edmondson? Hard to predict.
Dark horses include Elena Cecchini (Canyon//SRAM), Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb), Sheyla Gutiérrez (Cylance Pro Cycling), Gracie Elvin (Orica-Scott), Lotte Kopecky (Lotto Soudal), Kasia Niewiadoma (WM3) and Thalita de Jong (Lares-Waowdeals).
How to follow the Ronde van Vlaanderen
There will be live streaming of the race! Proximus TV will show the race in Belgium. Viewers outside of Belgium should go to either the Facebook page of Flanders Classics or the Flanders Classics website to watch the race from 13:30 CEST on Sunday, featuring commentary in English by the one and only Sarah Connolly and Rochelle Gilmore. The race is due to finish between 14:50 and 15:15 CEST, which is nearly two hours before the men’s race, making it a perfect day for cycling enthusiasts.
You can also follow the action on Twitter with the hashtag #RVVwomen.