Tour of Flanders 2024 women: preview, contenders and prediction

With SD Worx looking less assured than they did this time last year, there promises to be a fierce fight for victory on the Flemish cobbles this Sunday

The Tour of Flanders arrives this weekend with the peloton in a fascinating state of flux. The team that has dominated the sport in recent years, SD Worx-Protime, no longer exercise a vice-like grip on the rest of the peloton, and they’ve found themselves in the unusual position of being outnumbered and outgunned by other teams. They may still be winning plenty of races, but whereas last year victories often felt like inevitabilities, now they look vulnerable and exposed to attacks. Problems have mounted for the team, too, with ongoing speculation that star rider Demi Vollering is set to leave the team, a distraction that appears to have affected her form on the bike this spring.

By contrast, Lidl-Trek have been in the ascendancy, often having the most numbers at the business end of the biggest Classics, and winning both Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Classic Brugge-De Panne with Elisa Balsamo. It’s too early to talk of a changing of the guard, but Lidl-Trek have so far this spring looked the equal of their rivals.

SD Worx-Protime’s dominance over the past few seasons has been especially apparent at the Tour of Flanders. Lotte Kopecky and Demi Vollering’s one-two here last year continued a successful streak that has seen them both win and place a rider at three of the four editions since 2020. This is still arguably the most prestigious race of the spring, and one for which all the team’s top stars assemble, joining forces to unleash the full might of their roster.

It’s a race that their leader Lotte Kopecky has made her own. Last year, she became the first rider in nearly two decades to win two successive Tour of Flanders titles, and now has the chance to attain the record for most ever victories here, in the rainbow stripes no less. As a star Belgian rider in a peloton that has been dominated by Dutch riders in recent years, she’s beloved by the Belgian public, who have celebrated wildly at her two victories. She remains the rider to beat, but hasn’t been quite as unstoppable this spring as last year — both she and her SD Worx-Protime team will be desperate to reassert their supremacy.

The route

What sets the Tour of Flanders apart from the cobbled Classics raced so far this spring is just how much more difficult it is. Not only is it significantly longer than the others (at 163km, it’s the only cobbled classic other than Gent-Wevelgem to exceed 150km), it also features much more severe climbing. So far this spring the Classics have been characterised by how unselective they’ve been, with each of the last four WorldTour races ending in large group sprints, with fast finishers Elisa Balsamo and Lorena Wiebes sharing the spoils. That’s unlikely to be the case here.

In total there will be seven cobbled sectors and 12 climbs, among them some of the hardest and most notorious in Flanders. The first of these dozen climbs, the Wolvenberg, does not come until 72km, almost halfway into the race, but from there they can thick and fast with an intensity sure to make for thrilling racing. The Molenberg comes next, followed by Marlboroughstraat, Berendries, Valkenberg and Kapelleberg, all tackled within less than 25km of each other.

Things start to get really serious with the next climb, the Koppenberg. This is the one with the fiercest cobblestones and the most agonising gradients, and unlike anything the riders have tackled so far this spring. The race will be in pieces by the summit, but there’s still another 45km and five climbs to ride, including some of the very toughest of the race. The Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg and Oude Kruisberg are up next, followed by the famous final double-header of Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. The long, drawn-out demands of the former followed by the short, sharp shock of the latter has become the race’s signature, and it’s on these two climbs that the race’s final attacks will be made, prior to the 13km run-in to the finish

The contenders

Lotte Kopecky

It’s not every year a Belgian gets the chance to win their nation’s biggest race while wearing the famous rainbow jersey as world champion, so Lotte Kopecky will be desperate to make it a hat-trick of successive Tour of Flanders victories on Sunday. That rainbow jersey will make her very visible in the peloton, and all eyes will be on her, but if she attacks with the same power that saw her win Strade Bianche and Nokere Koerse already this spring, nobody will be able to stop her. She does seemed to have lost a bit of sprinting speed, evidenced by her being out-sprinted into second-place by Marianne Vos at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Elisa Balsamo at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, and was isolated and worked over in defeat at Dwars door Vlaanderen, so will probably want to strike out alone at some point — something she did to devastating effect last year, when she went solo on the Oude Kwaremont.

Marianne Vos

Thirty-six-years-old and still looking as good as ever, Marianne Vos (Visma-Lease a Bike) has only raced twice in Belgium this year, but on both occasions she has won. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Dwars door Vlaanderen were, by some counts, the 249th and 250th wins of her career, and all of her experience and expertise was on display as she covered the right moves and timed her sprints to perfection to win both. The only question mark is whether she can cope with the extra climbing demands of the Tour of Flanders, a race she has struggled at in recent years: in her five appearances since last winning here in 2013, her highest finish is a mere 12th place. But she has certainly been climbing very well so far this spring, and can so often be relied upon to rise to the occasion.

Marianne Vos Dwars door Vlaanderen

Elisa Longo Borghini

This has been one of Elisa Longo Borghini’s best build-ups to the Tour of Flanders in years. She arrives at the Ronde off the back of podium finishes at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche, plus victory at Trofeo Oro, and has looked especially good on the cobbled climbs, always present at the front. It’s been many years since her sole victory here in 2015, but she’s a consistent performer here, making the top 10 on five occasions since, including third-place last year. The difficult parcours of the Ronde suits her, and in this kind of form nobody can afford to let her get up the road.

Shirin van Anrooij

Together with Elisa Longo Borghini, Shirin van Anrooij has this spring formed the double-act that has animated the classics this spring, forcing the selections at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Dwars door Vlaanderen and putting the formerly unflappable SD Worx-Protime under pressure. The Lidl-Trek pair ride perfectly in sync with one another, and together both made the top six at the aforementioned Classics and Strade Bianche. As the junior of the two riders, Van Anrooij lacks Borghini’s experience and career credentials, but she can’t be underestimated by her rivals, or be allowed too much leeway to up the road. The 22-year-old may be without a win so far this season, or, for that matter, any at WorldTour level for over a year, but she’s been on the verge of a major, star-making victory — and Sunday’s Tour of Flanders might be it.

Lorena Wiebes

No rider has put together a better string of results going into the Tour of Flanders than Lorena Wiebes who has won three times (Gent-Wevelgem, Ronde van Drenthe, Altez GP Oetingen) and once finished runner-up (Nokere Koerse) in all of her previous four races. In the past, the extra climbing of the Tour of Flanders relative to these races has proven too much for the Dutchwoman, but she has developed much as a rider and can now stick with the best on the climbs — as was the case at Gent-Wevelgem, where she was just two riders along with Pfeiffer Georgi to initially stay with Kopecky’s attack on the Kemmelberg. Kopecky will still be SD Worx’s main woman, but Wiebes provides a deadly plan-B.

Other contenders

SD Worx-Protime might not have been at their peak so far this spring, but for the Tour of Flanders they’re bringing their a-team. As well as Kopecky and Wiebes, Demi Vollering and Marlen Reusser will be lining-up, both capable of either launching their own dangerous attacks, or controlling the race and dragging back attackers, depending on what’s required of them. Neither has reached peak form so far this spring, but will be game-changers if they do so in time for Sunday.

As for Lidl-Trek, their other option after the aforementioned duo of Borghini and Van Anrooij will be Elisa Balsamo. The Italian has been their star of the spring so far, winning both Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Brugge-De Panne, and looks the match of anyone in a sprint. However, the Tour of Flanders is rarely decided in that manner, and the climbs here have proven too much for her in the past, and she’d never before finished higher than 15th here.

Better suited to the race is Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM). The Pole can always be relied upon to be in the thick of things at the Tour of Flanders, making the top 10 in here in all but one of her last seven appearances, and, based on her devastated reaction at the end of Strade Bianche, appears to be growing ever more frustrated at her failure to land a big win in recent years. She’ll lead a strong Canyon-SRAM team also featuring Elise Chabbey and Chloe Dygert, who can be relied upon to make the race aggressive.

While Niewiadoma has spent the weeks since her fourth-place finish at Strade Bianche training rather than racing, Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck) and Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM-Firmenich)-PostNL have been among the most impressive races in the cobbled Classics preceding the Tour of Flanders. The former has taken to the Classics like a duck to water in what has been her first full road spring campaign, featuring at the head of proceedings in virtually all of the races she’s competed at and claiming podium finishes at Ronde van Drenthe and Trofeo Alfredo Binda, while Georgi has been one of the best on the climbs, impressing on the Kemmelberg at Gent-Wevelgem, and finishing fifth at Trofeo Alfredo Binda.

Silvia Persico was one of the standouts from last year’s Tour of Flanders, finishing fourth having been the last rider to stay with Kopecky before she went solo. The Italian will lead UAE Team ADQ, for whom Chiara Consonni provides another option as a fast finisher having improved on the climbs this year. In-form riders worthy of note include Thalita de Jong (Lotto Dstny) and Letizia Paternoster (Liv Alula Jayco); the Movistar duo of Emma Norsgaard and Arlenis Sierra would be dangerous in a sprint; and Alison Jackson (EF Education-Cannondale) shouldn’t ever be discounted again after her surprise Paris-Roubaix triumph last year.


If the pattern of this spring is to continue, then Lidl-Trek could be able to outnumber SD Worx-Protime, and overcome even the might of two-time Ronde winner Lotte Kopecky. In such an event, Elisa Longo Borghini will be especially dangerous, and has the terrain here to do what she couldn’t in previous races this spring, and drop fast finishers like Marianne Vos to go solo. Three of the last four Tour of Flanders have been won by a solo attack, and Borghini looks like the rider best equipped to do so this year.

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