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The end is nigh for the Women’s WorldTour, well at least for 2021.
Usually, the women’s peloton would be off in full vacation mode by the end of October, but the coronavirus pandemic has made this season an extra-long affair.
Traditionally one of the earliest races in the season, the one-day Ronde van Drenthe is the curtain closer for 2021, and the final chance for many teams to get a big win in the bank before winter sets in.
Also read: FDJ withdraws from Drenthe
It is part of a back-to-back series of two races, which includes the 1.2 categorized event, Drentse 8 van Dwingeloo. There’s also a men’s Ronde van Drenthe, and this is one of the few occasions where the women’s event gets much more hype.
The organizers will be delighted to get this one off the start line after the race had to be canceled altogether, with Marta Bastianelli the winner of the last race in March 2019.
📊 #RondevDrenthe 📊
Tomorrow is the penultimate race of the 2021 season for our women’s team. Here’s our small but mighty team line-up.
— Team BikeExchange (@GreenEDGEteam) October 21, 2021
Cobbles and climbs
Riding from Assen to Hoogeveen, this is a race that favors the sprinters. Don’t expect it to be a straightforward affair, though.
If you enjoyed your fall fix of cobbles with Paris-Roubaix earlier this month, then get another fix with Drenthe.
The 158km race features no fewer than 10 cobbled sectors. While they’re not quite as treacherous as the riders would have faced in the “Hell of the North”, the pavé sectors — or keienstroken in Dutch — will start whittling down the bunch early on.
The first comes after 38km with the final one at just over 14km to go, a sector that could prove hugely decisive.
In between the sections of cobbles, the peloton must also tackle the “VAM berg” four times. A short, but challenging ascent that was built over a former landfill site. At 44m, the top of the climb is one of the highest points in Drenthe and formed an integral part of the Dutch national road championships last season.
What it lacks in altitude it makes up for in gradient with an average of 17.5 percent and a maximum of 21 percent. For anyone who doesn’t want to go to the line in a group, the final ascent inside the last 20k is a great opportunity to escape the bunch.
The October date also adds the risk of wind and rain, which will only increase the challenges faced by the riders.
“This is very annoying. I only just heard about it. We can only have five large WorldTour teams start tomorrow in the Drentse Acht van Westerveld. If we had known earlier, another team could have started in their place,”
— Mathew Mitchell (@MatMitchell30) October 22, 2021
A long season takes its toll
While the peloton is usually quite fresh when it arrives at the Ronde van Drenthe in its usual March slot, the seven-month delay to the 2021 edition means it is a very different prospect.
Before the peloton has even hit its first cobble sector, the bunch has already been diminished with both Movistar and FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope both citing recent injuries for pulling out of the race.
That means WorldTour leader Annemiek van Vleuten won’t be in attendance, though she will still be crowned series leader by the end of Saturday’s race. Defending champion Marta Bastianelli is also absent.
A very strong peloton will still be on the start line with some big-name sprinters searching for a win.
SD Worx brings a team that is one rider short of the maximum of six, but it still packs a big punch with two former winners in Amy Pieters and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak. Elena Cecchini also lines up for the team as does Christine Majerus and Lonneke Uneken — who won stage 3 of the Healthy Ageing Tour this year with a solo break over the VAM berg.
Chloe Hosking leads the line for Trek-Segafredo with Ellen van Dijk — who returns from a concussion at Paris-Roubaix — another serious contender. Meanwhile, Australian champion Sarah Roy comes to the race looking for her first victory in the green and gold as the leader of Team BikeExchange.
Others to keep an eye on are Canadian Alison Jackson, DSM’s Susanne Andersen and Lorena Wiebes, and Canyon-SRAM’s Elise Chabbey, to name but a few.
Want to watch it? GCN will have about two hours of live coverage as well as a highlights show.