Sunday 3rd April
Round two of the World Cup is the women’s Tour of Flanders. This pretty much confirms everything you’ve ever read about women’s races being like the men’s but with the boring bit at the start cut out. While the men set off from Brugge and meander for almost 100km on a bit that is so dull even Belgian TV doesn’t think is worth covering, the women cut to the chase and start from Oudenaarde, right in the heart of the Vlaamse Ardennen. This year the race goes over twelve hills (up from nine last year) and 14km of cobbles (11km last year) for 130km (down from 139km last year). The first climb is the Rekelberg (3rd on the men’s race), then they skip the Kaperij, Kruisberg and Knokteberg and head straight to Oude-Kwaremont, ride the Kortekeer while the men take on the Paterberg and Koppenberg (I’ll be kind and trust there is some logistical reason – this race is only in its sixth yearso we’ll save some hope for 2012). From Steenbeekdries to the finish line in Ninove they follow exactly the same roads.
The start-list includes just about every rider you’ve heard of. Mara Abbott has gone back to the States to ride in Redlands, and if Emma Pooley wasn’t the holder of the World Cup leader’s jersey she’d be somewhere else too, but otherwise this is a weekend where slippers are won or lost. The last four winners, Grace Verbeke, Ina Teutenberg, Judith Arndt and Nicole Cooke are here, and all the top Italian teams have made the journey too, some coming in more luxury than others. Consequently there are only four National squads, and the French are one of those who miss out. And don’t forget that this is one of the few races that Marianne Vos has yet to win.