While the Ronde van Drenthe often comes down to a bunch gallop for the line, there are various challenges along the way to the finish in Hoogeveen which could split the race – including four ascents of the brutal VAMberg. This year, the Ronde van Drenthe will take place on the 12th of March, and there are some stand-out names on the startlist. It serves as perfect preparation for the bigger Classics coming up later in the season, such as the Ronde van Vlaanderen.
Those more suited to hilly terrain, such as Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering, will opt to miss the Ronde van Drenthe this year. They'll instead use the time to prepare for the upcoming Ardennes Classics. Vollering and some of the other SD Worx climbing contingent have been seen on a training camp in Sierra Nevada, leaving the team to send its one-day race specialists to the Ronde van Drenthe instead. Of those who line up for SD Worx, Lotte Kopecky is the stand-out name. Her recent win in Strade Bianche, the first round of the Women’s WorldTour, showed she's in fantastic shape and will start as the hot favourite in Drenthe.
However, she’ll be challenged by Team DSM and Lorena Wiebes, who will hope to defend their title after Wiebes took a convincing win in this race last year from a seven-rider breakaway. It will therefore be up to SD Worx to make the race hard enough over the 500m cobbled VAMberg climb to drop the pure sprinters who could challenge Kopecky on the line. With the race taking place in the Netherlands, inclement weather and high winds are a possibility too, so echelons could be on the menu.
This year’s race begins in Assen, where the riders will take on a flat 20km section to the first cobbles of the day. Soon after comes the first of two sprint points, with a jersey and prize money up for grabs for the winner of the sprint classifications at the end of the race. Three longer cobbled sections follow in quick succession, then the riders have around 20km of respite before they hit the VAMberg for the first time – that is, if they don’t have crosswinds coming in from the North Sea to contend with. If the race is still together by the time they reach the climb, we can expect it to begin to splinter as they reach the summit.
Race profile (Image: ProCyclingStats)
Following the first ascent of the VAMberg – which is 500 metres long with an average gradient of 4.2% – the riders have only 14km to recover before they hit the climb again. They will ride the VAMberg for the third time with 40km remaining of the race and hit the final sprint point of the day around 15km later. The last ascent of the VAMberg with 14km remaining will be the final opportunity for teams without a pure sprinter to drop those with the fastest legs. The 14km flat run-in to the finish line in Assen could give those who are distanced on the climb a chance to get back to the front of the race. This will leave the lead group needing to maintain the pressure if they wish to avoid this happening.
Defending champion Lorena Wiebes starts this race with a strong Team DSM squad supporting her. The Dutch outfit has had an impressive start to the season, getting riders on the podium at both events in the opening weekend of racing. They'll certainly have the motivation to deliver Wiebes to the top step of the podium this time, and getting so close to success in previous races will likely only make them hungrier for the win. Wiebes looked to be climbing well at Omloop, and it will be a challenge for her competitors to distance her on the VAMberg, meaning she has a good shot at victory here.Lorena Wiebes (Image: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix)
Canyon//SRAM’s Alice Barnes had a strong showing at cobbled semi-classic Le Samyn des Dames a few weeks ago, and the British rider will relish the tough and selective course of the Ronde van Drenthe. She'll also be well looked after by her teammates such as Elise Chabbey, while the squad also have young rider Shari Bossuyt as another option if it comes down to a sprint finish.
Grace Brown of FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope will be looking to go for a solo move if the opportunity arises. Still, her teammate Vittoria Guazzini will be the team’s option for a bunch finish. Movistar starts without Annemiek van Vleuten or Emma Norsgaard, so it could be Cuban rider Arlenis Sierra who the team gets behind for this race. She finished 5th in the World Championships last year on a similarly attritional circuit.Lotte Kopecky at Strade Bianche (Image: Cor Vos/SWpix)
Following their success at Strade Bianche, SD Worx will hope to retain the Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey with another strong performance from Belgian Champion Lotte Kopecky. While she likely won’t be the fastest from a big bunch kick, Kopecky could certainly challenge in a reduced group and will have a strong lead out from the likes of Marlen Reusser to help her to the line. Elisa Balsamo (Image: Getty)
The other main team we can expect to be in contention is Trek-Segafredo. It brings World Champion Elisa Balsamo – a superb sprinter who is suited to punchy climbs. Ellen van Dijk also will start for the team, fresh from a win in the EasyToys Bloeizone Fryslân Tour, as will Chloe Hosking, who is another sprint option.
Marta Bastianelli of Team UAE ADQ and Susanne Andersen of Team Uno-X also will be in the mix if it comes down to a sprint from a group. Of the non-WorldTour teams, Valcar Travel and Service pose the biggest challenge with Italian sprinter Chiara Consonni who finished second in Le Samyn a few weeks ago.
We expect the World Champion to prove once again she is more than deserving of those rainbow stripes by taking the win at Ronde van Drenthe. Morale at Trek-Segafredo will be high following Van Dijk’s recent success, and its riders will want to get their first WorldTour win in the bag for 2022. Balsamo will be able to cope with the tough ascents of the VAMberg while still having enough in her legs to pack a punch at the finish.
The Ronde van Drenthe will be broadcast live on GCN/Eurosport at 14:10 GMT on the 13th March 2022.
Cover image: Getty