Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team head to Oudenaarde as red hot favourites for Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) on Sunday. World champion Lizzie Armitstead has named the iconic spring classic is one of her two main targets of the 2016 season.
Armitstead isn’t the only Boels-Dolmans rider capable of winning the fifth round of the UCI Women’s WorldTour come Sunday. Ellen van Dijk won in Oudennarde in 2014 and Chantal Blaak, who will line up in the UCI Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey, has had a stellar spring including victories at Le Samyn, Ronde van Drenthe and Gent Wevelgem.
The trio will be joined on the start line by American champion Megan Guarnier, who finished second at the Pajot Hills Classic on Wednesday, Luxembourg champion Christine Majerus, who sprinted onto the podium at Drentse 8 earlier this month, and UCI Hour Record Holder Evie Stevens. These six riders line-up as the winningest team of the European spring.
“It brings added pressure, which isn’t a bad thing,” said Armitstead. “I like the pressure. I think most of the girls on the team like the pressure. It means we’re the team to beat, but I think that’s a better position than the opposite way around.”
“It’s always easier when the team is so well bonded and racing together so instinctively,” she added. “Things flow easier, and the wins come easier. Being in a team where everyone trusts each other and has committed to goals make things easier.”
Easier yes but certainly not easy. The 13th edition of the women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen, run on the same day and over the same roads as the historic 100th edition of the men’s race, covers 141.2 kilometres and dishes up plenty of challenges. There are 10 classified climbs and five categorised cobble sectors. Climbing begins with the Wolvenberg at 46.1 kilometres and ends with the legendary one-two punch of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg. The Paterberg tops out 13.3 kilometres from the finish line in Oudenaarde.
“It’s a war of attrition really,” said Armitstead. “It’s as interesting watching the front of the race as it is the back. Something is happening the entire day. It’s a nervous race with lots of crashes because everyone wants to be at the front on the corner before the cobbles or before the climbs, which makes it very tactical.”
“It’s always a hard race,” continued Armitstead. “You never get an easy win. The winner is always someone who is on top of their game who has managed to handle tactics, weather, form, everything. You’re never going to get a lucky winner. I like that about Flanders.”
For the first time in the history of the women’s race, cycling fans will get to watch the best women in the world do battle over Ronde van Vlaanderen’s infamous roads. The race begins at 11:00 CET with live streaming expected to start at 12:45. The finish is projected to be sometime between 14:45 and 15:10.
“You’ll be able to see through the TV just how much it means to the Belgians,” said Armitstead. “It’s their national sport. It’s crazy for them. Normal people come out and watch, not just cycling fans, and I think that’s what makes it different to other classics.”
“It’s one of the most prestigious races on our calendar,” Armitstead added. “There are no official ‘Monuments’ for women, but surely, if there were, Flanders would be one.”
And what needs to go right for Armitstead to win the unofficial Monument of women’s cycling?
“Everything,” she said. “I need to have very good legs. I need to have very strong teammates. I need a little bit of luck, no mechanicals, and I need to make the right tactical decisions.”
Follow Ronde van Vlaanderen live on the team twitter account (@boelsdolmansct), head mechanic Richie Steege’s twitter feed (@richiesteege) and using the official hashtags #RvV and #UCIWWT. Make sure you tune into to watch the race (live!!) around 12:45pm. This guide by Sarah Connolly of Pro Women’s Cycling explains the various ways you can watch (and why it’s such a milestone for women’s cycling that you can).
Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team for Ronde van Vlaanderen:
Ellen van Dijk