Celebrating its 15th edition this year, the Ronde returns this weekend and we’re set for some great racing. In 2017 we saw one of the biggest group finishes for a long time at the race with Coryn Rivera winning the sprint, narrowly pipping Gracie Elvin and Chantal Blaak.

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For a while it seemed as if that wasn’t going to be the outcome though as a strong group of 4 escaped that included Longo Borghini, Van Vleuten, Niewiadoma and Van der Breggen. However, the latter was told by team management not to take a turn as they wanted to set up Blaak. A move that potentially cost them the win! Will we see something similar this year? First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders over the course of the day.

The Route

Shorter than in 2017, the riders will have to face 11 climbs and 5 cobbled sections over the 151km.

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@LasterketaBurua

As you can see it is a fairly intensive route with a lot of obstacles spread throughout the day. They are somewhat spread out but the majority are bulked between either 60km-90km or 110km – 140km. Expect a thinning out of the peloton, especially as we hit the first grouping of obstacles. This is where we could see some early attacks from squads where they send riders up the road so they don’t have to work in the pack behind. That section finishes with the famous Muur.

Muur_van_Geraardsbergen_profile (1)

Not overly steep at only 6.8% for 1km, it is the fact that the steepest section near the top is on the roughest cobblestones. The riders will really have to grind their way up it and we could see some surprising gaps in the field if the pace is on at the head of affairs.

The riders will then have almost 20kms to “catch their breath” (I use that term loosely as I imagine the racing will be on) before they hit the final 5 climbs of the day. The Pottelberg (1.3km at 6.5%) and Kanarieberg (1.05km at 9%) are both asphalt and give the more traditional climbers a chance to get rid of some of the classics specialists.

At just under 30km to go the riders will face the Kruisberg-Hotond. It averages 5% for 2.5kms but it is the opening cobbled section that is the steepest before it eases out on asphalt afterwards. Considering the length of the climb and what has come before, some might find themselves in difficulty.

Finally, the riders will hit one of the most famous 1-2s in region, with the Oude Kwaremont swiftly followed by the Paterberg.

Oude_Kwaremont_profile

Similar to the Kruisberg, it is the length (2.2km at 4.2%) that can be the downfall of riders on the Kwaremont. Not to mention, the steepest section comes on cobble in the opening half, and this is where we normally see an acceleration from the strongest riders. They have to continue the momentum though as the road continues to drag all the way to the top. Once over the summit, a fast descent on twisting, narrow roads means no time for recovery before the final climb of the day.

Paterberg_profile

Short but incredibly steep (13.7% for 380m), big gaps can be made here in a very short space of time. If a selection hasn’t been made on the Kwaremont, it certainly will here!

12kms of mainly flat roads then await the riders before they finish on the outskirts of Oudenaarde.

Team Tactics

With so many strong teams here this year, it is a really difficult race to figure out. Here’s an extensive list as to who might feature in different situations;

Sunweb – Rivera / Van Dijk / Mackaij

Boels – Blaak / Van der Breggen / Majerus

Mitchelton – D’Hoore / Van Vleuten / Elvin

Cervelo – Lepistö / Moolman

Canyon – Barnes / Niewiadoma / Ferrand Prevot / Cecchini

Wiggle – Cordon Ragot / Wild / Brennauer

Ale – Bastianelli / Hosking / Ensing

Waowdeals – Vos / Koster

Just to name a few…

No doubt we’ll see some early action as teams try to get their riders up the road and a group containing the majority of stronger squads could feasibly stay away after the Muur. Or, we see a race of attrition that only leaves the strongest at the head of the race after the Kwaremont/Paterberg combination and they fight it out at the end of proceedings.

Personally, I don’t think we’ll see a sprint as big as last year.

So if I was a DS, I’d make sure I had a rider in every threatening group that went up the road; easier said than done!

From whatever group (early or late attack) comes to the line we could see a small sprint, or an attack might see a solo rider take the spoils.

Contenders

Given I’ve named about half the peloton above, I’ll only pick a handful here to talk about!

Chantal Blaak.

The World Champion has started her season on stellar form with a 4th in Strade and a second in Binda. In Gent Wevelgem she worked for team-mate Pieters so I imagine that the roles will be reversed at this race. Tough enough to get over the climbs in a good position, she will be a danger in a sprint so not many will want to bring her to the line. I don’t think she could make it with the head of the race so her best chance is to attack early and wait for people to come from behind.

Anna van der Breggen.

Had her chance at going for the title taken away by team orders last year but given her seriously impressive performance in Strade, she surely will be given free rein this season. Much more than just an exceptional climber, the Boels rider is a master on almost all terrain. With the Ardennes classics just around the corner, she’ll be getting close to her peak again so a good hit out on Sunday to blow the cobwebs away will do a world of good!

Ellen Van Dijk.

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I was one race out from predicting a Van Dijk solo win but she did what she does best on Wednesday, taking out a great win in Dwars. Able to keep up with the best on the climbs that day, the Kwaremont/Paterberg combination might be a bit of a stretch for her. Nonetheless, she will be full of confidence and will race with nothing to lose. That makes her a danger! With their team, I expect to see Sunweb attacking throughout the day and we might just see Van Dijk slip away again.

Gracie Elvin.

The Australian has no qualms about it, this is the race she wants to win. Slowly building up her form throughout the classics with the aim of going well here, she will desperately want to go one better than last season. A bit like Blaak, Elvin can climb well but she won’t be able to follow the more traditional names on the slopes, albeit she is a power climber. However, if she manages to pre-empt any moves from behind by being up the road then I would fancy her to cling on over the Kwaremont and Paterberg, even if she starts with only a 10 second advantage. With a good sprint after a hard day, the smaller the group the better for the Mitchelton rider.

Pauline Ferrand Prevot.

Canyon-Aeroad-CF-SLX_Canyon-SRAM-womens-cycling-team_french-champ-Pauline-Ferrand-Prevot_Kwaremont_photo-by-Velofocus

Canyon arrive here with a stupidly strong team. Niewiadoma is apparently the leader but with their strength in depth, I imagine they’ll see how things develop out on the road. Ferrand Prevot was strong in Binda and played a good team-mates role, disrupting the chase behind to let Niewiadoma extend her lead. Given her punchy nature and abilities on all types of terrain, this should be an event that suits. We didn’t see the best of her in 2017, but she is coming in to her own again this year. A good result here will go a long way to restoring her confidence even more!

Ashleigh Moolman.

The slight South African climber has had a good start to the year, in fact it’s been rather exceptional as she has managed to finish in the top 10 in every race/stage so far! Last year she missed the orignal move and tried to bridge on the Kwaremont but she just didn’t make it and burnt a few of her matches. However, this year she looks stronger already and I think she could make a similar split. In a group of climbers coming to the line, I’d back her in a sprint.

Marianne Vos.

A steady return to racing by her standards with only a 3rd/5th/12th so far…It is a race she has done well at in the past, winning the event back in 2013, but she has not competed here since then. However, given who she is and what she can do on a bike, Vos can never be discounted. It was her performance in Binda that will worry her rivals for this race because if she can match them on the climbs there, she should be able to do similar here. With more riders on her level now, will they fear her any less?

Prediction

Pffft, it is a tough one!

I don’t think Boels will make the same mistake they made last year and Anna van der Breggen will manage to take home the spoils with an attack on the Kwaremont/Paterberg that will drop everyone before she rides solo to the finish. Very similar to her win in Strade!

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Coverage 

The race is being shown live on the ES Player from roughly 12:30 UK time. It should be shown via other channels as well so check with your regions broadcaster!

Before then you’ll be able to use #RVVWomen to follow all the action on Twitter.

Competition

Flanders weekend marks the “blogs birthday” so to thank you all for your continued support I’m going to give away a copy of The Handmade Cyclist’s Ronde print. To be in with a chance of winning it just leave a comment on this post with who you think is going to win the race, along with your Twitter handle, e.g. “Anna van der Breggen @JamieHaughey”. If we get multiple correct entries then they’ll enter the sorting hat (random.org) and someone will be granted as the winner. If no one gets the prediction correct, then it will go to second place and so on. Good luck!

Thanks as always for reading! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

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37 thoughts on “Women’s Ronde van Vlaanderen 2018 Preview

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