Canberra Cycling Club member and two-time Australian Road Champion Gracie Elvin-Shaw says she is the best prepared she has ever been for this Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen voor vrouwen (Women’s Tour of Flanders), arguably the biggest Belgian classics race on the WorldTour calendar.
After a quiet start to the season, Elvin-Shaw has shown she is coming into form with each of the first four rounds of the 2017 women’s WorldTour. After placing 2nd at last weekend’s Dwars Door Vlaanderen (“across through Flanders”), Gracie is hoping to go one better this weekend. The newly-categorosed UCI 1.1 race, is somewhat of a mini-Flanders, featuring many of the same climbs, such as the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg, but is shorter in length, at 114km. That race looked to be playing into Gracie’s hands, having made it over the short steep cobbled climbs, and after reeling in a late breakaway, when she was narrowly outsprinted by Finnish rider Lotto Lepistö for the win.
- The 2017 Women’s Tour of Flanders will be the longest women’s edition of the race ever held. At 153km, with 12 climbs including the Muur van Geraardsbergen (1.1km @ avg. 9%, max. 19.8%) and the Paterberg (360m @ avg. 12.9%, max. 20.3%), the longer, tougher course is something which Gracie is feeling confident of her preparation for. To put the climbs in perspective, take the Paterberg for example. In length, it is equivalent to one lap of Narrabundah Velodrome, but climbing two-thirds of Red Hill in vertical meters, and all the way on cobbles! For many, simply getting to the top without walking is an achievement, let alone doing so after 140km and 11 climbs. From there, it will be a 13km flat run into the finish.
CCC: What’s the strategy going into Flanders this weekend?
Gracie: Our team plan will be to get myself and a few other team mates through to the last 30km of the race as fresh as possible and then we can decide how to play the game once the bunch has been worn down. Our domestique riders are also in great form and I think our team will be one of the strongest.
CCC: How do you think Flanders will play out on Sunday with the extra distance and climbs?
Gracie: The race can be looked at in three sections. The first is more about conserving energy and staying out of trouble. The middle section is where the race will start to blow up and positioning is crucial throughout the climbs and cobbles. The last third of the race gets very hard as everyone gets tired and the last few climbs are tough. It’s a race of attrition but you have to be alert for the right attacks that could stay away. The extra distance and climbs this year will have a lot of riders scared, but I have done my best to prepare for this.
CCC: How is the feeling in the team at the moment?
Gracie: It has been a great vibe in the team all year following the success in Australia. Everyone has hit the ground running here and improving at every race. We are all very supportive of one another and each have our own goals that we help each other achieve at different points of the season. For me, Flanders is my biggest goal of the year and I feel grateful to have everyone behind me for this race. Annemiek Van Vleutenand Amanda Spratt are also targeting this race so the weight of pressure will be nicely shared among us.
CCC: What is the atmosphere like over in Belgium in the lead up to Flanders this weekend?
Gracie: You have to see it to believe how big it is here, this is their biggest sporting event of the year. The cycling culture and excitement around this race gives you goosebumps! I’m very lucky that my parents are here to see it for the first time, so I hope I can get out there and do my best!
The Women’s Tour of Flanders Favourites
Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott), is likely to be in the mix. The experienced classics rider, a former Tour of Flanders winner, and winner of this year’s Cadel Evans Road Race is also known to be targeting her third win at Flanders this weekend.
Amanda Spratt (Orica-Scott) is card which Orica Scott will certainly keep up their sleeve to play in the final 30km. As a former Australian Road Champion, she has shown her capability at the highest level. Canberrans also know she can go the 153km Flanders distance – afterall, she was the fastest woman at this year’s 153km L’Etape Australia in Jindabyne.
Ellen van Dijk (Team Sunweb) is the likely team leader for one of the stronger women’s WorldTour teams, and as a former ITT and TTT world champion one of the better breakaway chances.
Lizzie Deignan (nee Armitstead) (Boels-Dolmans) can never be ruled out and will be the one to watch as last year’s winner.
Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) will also be watched closely having placed on the podium in Flanders last year, and bringing a strong team to this year’s race. She showed some early season form at Omloop Het Niewsblad,
Elisa Longo-Borghini (Wiggle-Honda) won Flanders in 2015 and has won Strada Bianchi on home soil.
Chloe Hosking (Alé-Cipollini / Canberra Cycling Club) can never be ruled out if the race comes down to a sprint. If you race the Hedley Property Investments CCC Summer Criterium Series around December each year, you probably already know that. And with a relatively flat final 13 kilometers, that could be a possibility.
Marianne Vos (WM3 Pro Cycling) can seemingly win almost any race, be it on the road, track, cyclocross or MTB, but she is yet to acquire a big result on the road this year.
How to Watch the 2017 Women’s Tour of Flanders on Sunday Night (2nd April)
According to the official Ronde van Vlaanderen website:
Podium presentation – Antwerp
The traditional podium presentation, where the riders sign the start sheet and all the teams are being presented to the crowd on the Market place, will be livestreamed for the whole world via www.facebook.com/Proximusbe (Dutch and French commentary)
Tour of Flanders for Women’s Elite
As from 13.30h CET the Tour of Flanders for Women’s Elite will be streamed as well for all people outside of Belgium. You can follow it live with English commentary via the official Facebook page of Flanders Classics (https://www.facebook.com/FlandersClassicsofficial/) and the Flanders Classics-website: http://www.flandersclassics.be/en