Cobbles, woods and VAMberg: preview Ronde van Drenthe

© Gert-jan Warrink

After an explosive start with that modern classic called Strade Bianche, the Women’s World Tour goes on with its second event. It’s time to move to the northern region of the Netherlands for a race that may look easier on paper, but there’s more than meets the eye. A lot more, actually.

Ronde van Drenthe has a well deserved reputation of being a harder race than it looks. Even in decent weather, as in the 2017 edition, it can end up being pretty selective. It’s almost totally flat, yet big sprint finishes are rare. How’s that?

The course

The answer is… Dutch racing. And Drentse keienstroken. The combination of bad weather, and the unique, extremely uneven cobbles placed on these roads make it a real challenge. And it’s long: 165.7 km, slightly above the usual race distance limit of 160.

The iconic VAMberg, the short but sharp manmade hill, is now harder because it’s cobbled, too. Most of the riders who will be riding on Sunday already had the opportunity to test themselves on the revamped berg yesterday, during the very windy Drentse 8 won by Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Trek-Segafredo).

One of the classic images from the Ronde van Drenthe is the riders going across woodlands over narrow cobbled roads. Rain is forecasted for Sunday, which tends to make the surface slippery and muddy, adding to the difficulty. Some of these sections are surprisingly long, too, such as the second-to-last one called Echtenseweg, which comprises 5.6 km of cobbles something not even to be found in Paris-Roubaix.

The contenders

The unpredictable nature of the Ronde van Drenthe makes it difficult to pick clear favourites. In order to win here, a rider usually needs a combination of finishing speed, tactical smartness and good experience with the Dutch racing style. Which name comes to mind while reading this? Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) is certainly one of them. She has finally found consistency again since last summer, comes from a good cyclocross winter and showed good form last weekend in Strade Bianche.

European champion Marta Bastianelli (Virtu) is looking very strong at the moment. She’s very fast and knows how to find a good leading group. However, it’s likely she will found herself a bit isolated in the final compared to some of her main rivals. Last year’s winner, Amy Pieters, shares a similar set of skills, and can take advantage of the collective strength of her Boels-Dolmans teammates, including former winner Amalie Dideriksen and perennial classics favourite Chantal Blaak. Unfortunately Jolien D’hoore is out for a few weeks due to a collarbone fracture.

Second last year in a thrilling sprint against Pieters, Alexis Ryan (Canyon//SRAM) is equally well suited for this sort of races and can count on the support of some strong teammates, especially Lisa Klein and Alice Barnes.

Among the outsiders and breakaway artists there are riders like Lucinda Brand and Floortje Mackaij of Sunweb, Ellen van Dijk and Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Trek-Segafredo), Gracie Elvin (Mitchelton-Scott) and maybe MTB specialist Anne Tauber (NL national team) who can thrive in the expected difficult conditions.

If the more pure sprinters can make it to the finish among the strongest, there is a remarkable list, too. Kirsten Wild (WNT-Rotor), Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal), Roxane Fournier (Movistar), Lotta Lepistö (Trek-Segafredo), Lorena Wiebes (Parkhotel Valkenburg) and Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini) know how to perform in one day races, too.

How to watch the race live

As usual, the race will be shown live by RTV Drenthe, starting from 13:45 CET, so the last third of the race is expected to be on tv and streaming. You can also follow the action via Twitter with the hashtag #RondevDrenthe.

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