De Ronde van Vlaanderen is arguably one of the most important one-day races on the cycling calendar. Its legendary status in Belgium and notoriously tricky parcours make it a spectacle year after year. In 2022, the women will take on the cobbles and bergs of Flanders on the 3rd April, the same day as the men’s event. Their race will finish one hour after the men’s on the iconic run-in to Oudenaarde.
Last year, Dutch superstar Annemiek van Vleuten took victory at De Ronde, crossing the line alone ahead of the chasing bunch after a blistering attack on the Paterberg climb. She held off the seven-rider group behind, which included the likes of Lisa Brennaeur and Grace Brown, with time to sit up and celebrate as she reached the chequered flag. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak won De Ronde in 2020 in a similar style to Van Vlueten, taking victory one minute ahead of the chasing group.
Van Vleuten wins Tour of Flanders 2021 (Image: Alex Broadway/SWpix)
In fact, since its inception in 2004, the race has seen a variety of scenarios at the finish line. On occasion, a large group has sprinted for the win, other times it has finished in a reduced bunch sprint and quite often we see a solo victor. It’s the unpredictability of The Tour of Flanders which makes it such an enthralling event, and 2022 will be no different. With the addition of the Koppenberg and the growing strength and depth in the women’s peloton, the race could be more of a battle than ever. It’s going to take masterful tactics as well as strong legs to take home the trophy.
For the first time, the female peloton will take on the mighty Koppenberg. With a maximum gradient of 21.6% and rutted, worn cobbles that are greasy in both the wet and dry, it's one of the most challenging climbs in the whole of the Flemish region.
In the words of Bernard Hinault: "It's hard to explain what the Koppenberg means to a racing cyclist. Instead of being a race, it's a lottery. Only the first five or six riders have any chance: the rest fall off or scramble up as best they can."
The Koppenberg forms part of a 158.5km route which starts at the Markt in Oudenaarde. After a flat opening which includes the usual cobbled sections such as the Paddestraat and Lippenhovestraat, the riders will hit the hills of the race. The short, steep climbs come in quick succession, with the Koppenberg as the main event. However, despite its legendary status, it's not the only climb that will sting legs along the route. The Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg and Kruisberg will all be thrown into the last 45km of the race.
As is tradition, the duo of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg will be the last two climbs of the day. With a maximum gradient of 20%, the cobbled Paterberg is the final springboard for attacks and we can likely expect fireworks here. However, if a rider goes solo at this point, they will need to have enough in the bank to hold on to the finish. The flat 12km run into the Minderbroedersstraat in Oudenaarde is suited to time trial specialists, and the wind conditions will decide how easy it is for a lone rider to stay away. Should it be a headwind, the odds will be in the favour of the chasing group behind.
Of those on the start list so far, Annemiek van Vleuten goes into the race as favourite. Twice a winner in Flanders, the Olympic Champion is well-suited to the steep climbs and challenging terrain. However, Van Vleuten is a teammate of Emma Norsgaard, a young Classics specialist who had some impressive results in 2021. The opening weekend races will likely decide who Movistar will ride for at De Ronde. If Norsgaard is on a good day, she could win from a reduced bunch, but Van Vleuten will be the best bet for a solo move.
Anna Henderson, Marianne Vos and Jip van den Bos (Image: CorVos/SWpix)
From Jumbo-Visma, Marianne Vos should not be counted out. Her results in the cyclo-cross season prove that she’s on stronger form than ever, and, thanks to her exemplary bike-handling skills, she can finesse the cobbled climbs. Supported by the likes of Anna Henderson, Vos should have a strong team around her to fight for the win.
As always, Team SD Worx will enter the race with plenty of options. Lotte Kopecky will be the home favourite, and it will delight the Belgian crowd if she can raise her arms in the air in Oudenaarde. Chantal van den Broek-Blaak is another big contender from the Dutch squad, she’s won this race solo in the past and has been vocal about targeting the Classics again this year. Demi Vollering’s fast legs give Team SD Worx another opportunity if the race comes down to a reduced bunch sprint.World Champion Elisa Balsamo (Image: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty)
Winner of the World Championships in Flanders last year, Elisa Balsamo could be Trek-Segafredo’s best shot at victory. The Italian rider can make it over climbs with the best and also pack a punch at the finish. Should Balsamo be on a bad day, however, Elisa Longo-Borghini and Ellen van Dijk could both be back-up options for Trek. While they could lead out Balsamo for a sprint finish, both riders also have the strength to go for long-range attacks themselves.
Lisa Brennauer impressed last year, finishing second behind Van Vleuten from the chasing bunch. Riding for Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling, the German rider won’t have as strong a team as some of her competitors, however. Grace Brown and Cecilie Uttrup-Ludwig form a powerful duo for FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope, both well-suited to the terrain of Flanders.
Kasia Niewiadoma at La Course 2021 (Image: Getty)
From Canyon//SRAM Racing, Kasia Niewiadoma will be the protected rider – she’s performed well in De Ronde before, finishing 6th in 2019. It was UAE Team ADQ’s Marta Bastianelli who won the race that same year, and she’ll be riding again in 2021. If the race comes down to a sprint from a small group, Bastianelli will be the favourite to win.
Team Uno-X’s Susanne Andersen is an outside bet, and from Team DSM it could be Lorena Wiebes who takes victory if she can make it over the steep climbs.
We’re going to go with our heart here and predict Lotte Kopecky to take the win. Spurred on by a home crowd and having grown up riding on Belgian roads, it would be a perfect story if the SD Worx rider could cross the line first. Supported by an incredibly strong team, there’s every chance that 2022 could be Kopecky’s year.