We've got bergs for breakfast as the best women riders in the world take on the cobbled climbs of west Belgium. Not quite the last big race of the season but neither of the final few will attract a line-up quite this strong. No fewer than three world champions - including the current rainbows-wearer - can count themselves among the contenders, as well as three more former winners.
The 119 riders will take on 11 stubborn hills before the 14km run-in to Oudenaarde. In recent years the race has seen everything from long solo breaks to big bunch sprints, making it a challenging one to call. There are no safe bets but certainly some long shots among our panelists' picks. The Cycling Mole has a different idea entirely.
Eat 'em up.
Lotte Kopecky - Lotto Soudal
A bit of an outside bet perhaps, but the young Belgian has looked in good form over the past few weeks' races in her home country.
Lizzie Deignan - Trek-Segafredo
The women’s Flanders is apt to be even more action packed than the men’s since they have squeezed a ton of climbing into just 135km. The frequent bergs will allow for almost no recovery between climbs. Sadly, several entire teams won’t be on the start line due either to covid issues or funding issues. But most of the strongest will still be there. I suspect it’ll be either another long-range solo victory or a very small, select group sprinting for the win. And in both cases I see Lizzie Deignan coming out on top. With a strong team, and the excellent form as she proved at Liège, she’ll be ready to take her second Tour of Flanders victory.
Grace Brown - Mitchelton-Scott
The Australian was sensational when winning Brabantse Pijl solo, and almost pulled off the same trick at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, where only Lizzie Deignan proved to be stronger. It’s a big ask against the massed ranks of Dutch masters, but Brown is capable of causing an upset.
Ellen Van Dijk - Trek-Segafredo
The Dutchwoman still has a big engine and one more prestigious win in her, which’ll no doubt be helped by Trek-Segafredo’s strength in number.
Audrey Cordon-Ragot - Trek-Segafredo
This Trek-Segafredo squad has something of the Quick Step about it, in that it's possible to imagine almost any one of their six riders escaping to victory. Cordon-Ragot might not be the most likely of those, but that's also where I see her potentially gaining the advantage.
The Cycling Mole says...
The women’s race should be an exciting one, and it seems more open than the big races earlier in the season. It’s no surprise to see the name of Lizzy Deignan, she has enjoyed a brilliant run of form and has to start as one of the favourites. Grace Brown’s also a rider in good form, it’s not like Ian to notice things like that! The picks of Van Dijk, Kopecky and Cordon-Ragot are speculative to say the best, I don’t see any of them winning this race. Just like in the men’s race, I’m going all rainbow daft(it was my favourite show when I was a kid). I’ll take a win for Anna van der Breggan, it’ll be a double rainbow day.