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The top sprinters in the women’s peloton will descend on the Netherlands this weekend for the Ronde van Drenthe, the sixth round of the WorldTour.
For the first time this season, Lorena Wiebes and Elisa Balsamo will face off against each other for the race win. The sprint duo has been in the same bunch in 2023, but Drenthe should be the first time we see them duke it out in a dash for the line.
Unfortunately for the neutral fan, Team DSM will not be bringing the newly freed-up Charlotte Kool to the race after she fell ill recently, leaving us waiting a little while longer to see if the 23-year-old can continue the brilliant run of wins she started at the UAE Tour last month.
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The Ronde van Drenthe has been on the women’s calendar since 2007 but its roots go back a little further through the Novilon Damesronde van Drenthe, which started back in 1998. It’s part of a weekend of racing with most of the same riders also competing in the Drenthe 8 van Westerveld on Friday.
Both races can be won by sprinters but the parcours means that it’s not a straightforward day out on the bike and solo winners have been known to get the jump on the fast women, particularly at Friday’s race.
Saturday’s Ronde van Drenthe is the star of the show and it has a route that befits that status with cobbles and climbs mixed in together. The 152.7km features 11 sectors of pavé and three visits to the no iconic VAMberg, a climb that was built over a former garbage site.
That is one less visit to the VAMberg than last year’s edition, but almost double the number of cobbled sections. It remains to be seen what impact the changes will have on the complexion of the race.
The VAMberg is the highest point in the region at just 44 meters up, but it still packs a punch with gradients of up to 21 percent. It’s here where the key race splits usually happen, but with almost 40 kilometers from the final ascent to the finish line, it will be hard to stay away from a determined chase.
Last season saw solo attacker Anouska Koster reeled back in on the finishing straight with Wiebes coming back from a late puncture to take the win in a sprint. There were less than 20 kilometers between the last climb of the VAMberg to the finish in 2022.
Wiebes has dominated the race in recent seasons with two consecutive victories under varying circumstances. In 2021, she won from a group of 10 riders that had gone up the road, while last year saw her take the honors in a far more regulation bunch gallop.
Balsamo was the runner-up last year while fellow Italian Elena Cecchini (SD Worx) had that prize the previous season.
With their form this season, Wiebes and Balsamo will be the big favorites this weekend and it will be interesting to see how they shape up against each other a few weeks into the season.
After some strong rides at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, Balsamo has been slightly underwhelming since the classics started at the opening weekend. Meanwhile, Wiebes put in a massive ride to finish second behind her teammate Lotte Kopecky at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and put in a very tactically astute ride at Omloop van het Hageland the following day.
Balsamo rode a quiet Strade Bianche last weekend, while Wiebes hasn’t raced since that bumper opening weekend. SD Worx has some serious momentum at the moment, while Trek-Segafredo is searching for a return to the top after a strong start at the UAE Tour in February.
Of course, there are more than just these two riders on the start list for Saturday and there will be plenty in the mix looking to get an upset victory.
Up-and-coming Belgian Shari Bossuyt (Canyon-SRAM) continues to make progress as a rider and will be one to watch this weekend, as will Tour Down Under stage winner Daria Pikulik (Human Powered Health), and Le Samyn podium finisher Vittoria Guazzini (FDJ-Suez).
American racer Coryn Labecki will be hunting for her first win in Jumbo-Visma colors at the race, while Lotta Henttala (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step) is also on the hunt for her first win since returning to the peloton after nearly two years away.
Others to keep an eye on will be Sandra Alonso (Ceratizit-WNT), Marta Bastianelli (UAE Team Emirates), Letizia Paternoster (Jayco-AlUla), Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Uno-X), and Audrey Cordon-Ragot (Zaaf).