Tour of Flanders preview: Can Annemiek van Vleuten take a history-making third title?

21-year-old rising star Megan Jastrab leads big North American contingent at De Ronde.

Photo: Alex Broadway/Getty Images

Annemiek van Vleuten could make history this weekend with a third Tour of Flanders title.

The Dutch woman is riding her final De Ronde on Sunday, as she is set to retire at the end of the season, but it could give her another entry into the record books.

No woman has ever won three Flanders titles, but if anyone can do it then it is Van Vleuten. She has been one of the most consistent riders at the race in recent years, only missing the podium once in the last five years and emphatically claiming her second victory in 2021.

Even for Van Vleuten, winning a third title will be no easy feat, as last year’s race showed. Though she was in supreme form, the climbs were not hard enough for her to make a difference and she had to ride to the finish with SD Worx pairing Lotte Kopecky and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, before being beaten in the sprint.

Also read:

Though it has become increasingly challenging over the years with the route consistently one of the longest on the women’s calendar, the race is still open to a wide variety of riders. Fast finishers like Kopecky can take the title just as top climbers like Van Vleuten can.

It makes it an unpredictable affair and repeat success is hard to come by. Since the race began in 2004, just three riders have won more than once with all of them taking two titles.

Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel is the only rider to have won her two in consecutive seasons, winning the 2005 and 2006 events. Judith Arndt won hers four years apart while it took Van Vleuten a decade to score her second.

To rack up her third, Van Vleuten will need to blow away her rivals as she did in 2021. Should she get a gap, it will be hard to bring her back, but she has to get a gap.

The Dutch woman looked off her best in the opening races of the year as she missed the podium in Valencia and Strade Bianche. She’s been working hard at altitude for the last month, but without any racing before Flanders, it will be hard to gauge her form before she gets going at De Ronde.

More than just Van Vleuten

Lotte Kopecky wins the 2022 Tour of Flanders
Lotte Kopecky wins the 2022 Tour of Flanders (Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images)

The start list of this weekend’s Tour of Flanders is a veritable who’s who of the women’s cycling peloton. In recent weeks, illness and differing race programs mean that we haven’t seen a full complement of top stars on race start lines.

That changes with the Tour of Flanders.

All of the top-10 riders in the world are set to line up this Sunday and 18 of the top 20 will be there.

Along with Van Vleuten, Demi Vollering, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, and Elisa Longo Borghini are all returning to racing action this week. Longo Borghini’s absence has been due to illness after she contracted COVID-19 ahead of Strade Bianche, while Uttrup Ludwig and Vollering have been training at altitude in recent weeks.

All three are testing their legs at Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, which will give us a better indication of how their form has developed over the past four weeks away from the peloton.

Due to the March calendar featuring far more courses that favor the sprinter types, the likes of Kopecky, Lorena Wiebes, Elisa Balsamo, and Marta Bastianelli have been a bit busier this spring. Meanwhile, Kasia Niewiadoma is a rare climber that has got stuck-in on the cobbles across most of March.

Defending champions SD Worx pack a big punch with Kopecky, Vollering, and Wiebes all set to start this weekend, along with Gent-Wevelgem winner Marlen Reusser. Strength in numbers can be key at De Ronde and SD Worx is possibly the deepest for Sunday’s race.

Liane Lippert has had a strong start to her Movistar tenure
Liane Lippert has had a strong start to her Movistar tenure (Photo: David Stockman/Getty Images)

Van Vleuten will have plenty of support behind her, too, with new Movistar signings Liane Lippert and Floortje Mackaij getting a start alongside Arlenis Sierra. While Van Vleuten is the big star name, Movistar could also win with Lippert, who has been clocking up the altitude miles recently, too.

While Trek-Segafredo has been one of the dominant teams so far this spring, the team has been wounded. Key riders Lauretta Hanson and Brodie Chapman have both suffered serious injuries in the last month and will not be available for Sunday.

The team still has some serious firepower with Longo Borghini, Balsamo, Trofeo Alfredo Binda winner Shirin van Anrooij and new signing Lisa Klein. They will need all the help they can get if they want to win the race for the first time.

FDJ-Suez ripped up the race last year and it too brings a stellar line-up to join Uttrup Ludwig. Rising star Loes Adegeest looks destined to get her Flanders debut, while powerhouses Grace Brown and Vittoria Guazzini are due to line up in Oudenaarde on Sunday.

Don’t forget Marianne Vos. The Jumbo-Visma rider put in a strong return to racing at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda earlier this month. She decided to skip Gent-Wevelgem last weekend but will use Dwars door Vlaanderen to get her legs moving again before the big day.

Megan Jastrab leads a strong North American contingent

Megan Jastrab was second at Gent-Wevelgem
Megan Jastrab was second at Gent-Wevelgem (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

There will be a bumper line-up of North American riders in the Flemish countryside this weekend with up to seven U.S. riders and three from Canada.

The on-form Megan Jastrab is the headline name of those that are confirmed to be going. In her third season racing at WorldTour level, Jastrab is enjoying a big moment at the 2023 classics.

After taking a short break from road racing to travel to Egypt for the track World Cup at the beginning of March, the 21-year-old from California returned to road action at the Classic Brugge-De Panne last week.

There she set up Team DSM teammate Pfeiffer Georgi perfectly to win the one-day race and held on to finish fourth. She wouldn’t have to wait much longer to get her first WorldTour podium and she put in an impressive sprint to take second at Gent-Wevelgem a few days later.

She probably won’t be working for herself this weekend with teammate Juliette Labous returning to the bunch after a training break.

Also representing the U.S. this Sunday is former Flanders champion Coryn Labecki (Jumbo-Visma). The 30-year-old has not been at her best this spring, but she will still be a key support rider for Vos.

Chloe Dygert is currently on the provisional start list but her participation has not been confirmed by Canyon-SRAM. She has already been on a few provisional start lists so far this spring but has not yet raced in 2023 as she continues to attempt a comeback from a catastrophic injury she suffered at the 2020 road world championships.

Other U.S. starters include Kristen Faulkner (Jayco-AlUla), Lauren Stephens and Clara Honsinger (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB), and Lily Williams (Human Powered Health).

EF Education rider Alison Jackson headlines the Canadian representation, while Maggie Coles-Lyster is there for Zaaf, and Gabrielle Pilote-Fortin is in the Cofidis line-up.

The parcours

Distance: 158km
Start: Oudenaarde
Finish: Oudenaarde
Climbs: 13
Cobbled sectors: 5

The women's Tour of Flanders 2023 parcours
The Tour of Flanders 2023 parcours (Photo: Flanders Classics)

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.