The Tour of Flanders has been a highlight of the women's calendar since its inception in 2004, and this year's race on 4th April looks to be no exception.
The cobbled bergs of Flanders have always provided an excellent stage to showcase some aggressive and savage racing. The ten short, steep climbs that litter the route mean that the De Ronde is always one of the most difficult and iconic races of the season.
The flat, cobbled sections earlier in the race will cause early selections. Teams such as SD Worx will likely want to split the race so they can create a small group which they will hope to be well represented in. If they follow the tactics that worked well for them in Het Nieuwsblad, we can expect to see them sending attacks up the road and controlling any responses from the peloton.
The steep climbs such as the Kwaremont and Paterberg that follow later will be a challenge for some of the pure sprinters. Teams without big contenders for a bunch kick will be approaching these climbs fast, hoping to reduce the chances for riders with such fast legs making it to the line.
Canyon SRAM Racing will be working hard to position Kasia Niewiadoma well going into the late climbs. She was second at Dwars door Vlaanderen to Annemiek van Vleuten earlier this week so is on good form at the moment. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig will also be hoping to use her climbing talents to get away in a small group towards the end of the race.
The big names such as Van Der Breggen and Van Vlueten may use the Kapelmuur as a springboard for some trademark long range attacks. Coming at 60km to go, they will hit the climb at a perfect point to launch any surprise moves early on in the race and whittle the group down to a select few.
Trek Segafredo have a few options, with either a long-range attack from Elisa Longo Borghini – who has made her mark in the World Tour races so far this season – or a quick finisher from a reduced bunch in the form of Lizzie Deignan if she has the legs. Deignan might have current Women's World Tour classification leader and all-round legend of the sport, Marianne Vos, to contend with, however, (although that didn't stop her at last year's La Course).
Sprinters like former winner Marta Bastianelli, however, could spoil the fun for the climbers. If a bunch comes to the flat run towards Oudenaarde, there could be some dangerous riders still left to contest a sprint finish. Someone like Emma Norsgaard will need to dig deep to make it over the steep climbs, but if she does, she has every chance going one better than her second place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
So, perhaps this race is best suited to riders who can hold the wheel on shorter climbs and make it over the crest, but also pack a punch at the finish. Third and fourth in last year’s edition of the race, Lotte Kopecky and Lisa Brennauer are good examples of riders with these strengths.
The weather could also be a crucial factor, rain and wind will make the race hectic and perhaps increase the probability of a smaller group coming to the finish. If we see milder conditions, the race will be harder to split.
As with all the best cobbled classics, the unpredictability is part of the appeal – and so we look forward to being surprised at what Flanders has to throw at us.