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4th Women's Ronde van Vlaanderen - CDM

Belgium, April 8, 2007

Women's Ronde to start without reigning champ

By Laura Weislo

Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel (Buitenpoort-Flexpoint)
Photo ©: Jeff Jones
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Only in its fourth year, the women's Ronde van Vlaanderen once again takes place on the same day as the men's Ronde, and the ladies will go over many of the same roads and 'bergs' as their male counterparts as they tackle the 122km course from Oudenaarde to Meerbeke.

Differing slightly from last year's route, the course will still go over three difficult flat cobbled sections: Paddestraat (2400m), Mater-Kerkgate (3000m) and Haaghoek (2000m) with the 1200m Lippenhovestraat thrown in for good measure. The women will also face eight paved bergs and three cobbled climbs, the Molenberg, Muur-Kapelmuur and Bosberg, but the site of a major crash in the 2006 edition, the Eikenberg, was removed from the route.

The start in Oudenaarde will take place without the winner of the past two editions - Mirjam Melchers van Poppel - who is still recovering from injuries she sustained in the Euregio Ladies Tour last year. The Flexpoint team will instead count on former world champion Susanne Ljungskog and Dutch rider Loes Gunnewijk who took third in the 2006 Ronde.

The pair will have to keep a close watch on World Cup leader Nicole Cooke, who is clearly on stellar form after winning the Geelong World Cup, Geelong Tour, day two of the GP Costa Etrusca and the Trofeo Alfredo Binda. But Cooke will have to contend with a reinforced T-mobile squad. Powerful sprinter Ina Teutenberg and former World Champion Judith Arndt are joined by two-time World Cup winner Oenone Wood and 2006 Omloop Het Volk winner Susanne de Goede, forming an imposing squad.

The winner of the first women's Ronde, Zoulfia Zabirova, will once more toe the line alongside Bilga team-mate Nicole Brändli. Other noteable names in the 160+ rider field are mountain bike sensation, World Champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå (Safi-Pasta Zara Manhattan), reigning World Road Champion Marianne Vos (Team DSB Bank), 2005 World Road Champion Regina Schleicher and 2006 Worlds silver medalist Trixi Worrack (Equipe Nürnberger Versicherung), Olympic gold medalist Sara Carrigan (Lotto-Belisol), Russians Svetlana Bubnenkova and Olga Slyusareva (Fenixs-HPB) and Italian champion Fabiana Luperini (Menikini Gysko).

With plenty of cobbles and bergs, and wind and maybe even rain, the Ronde van Vlaanderen will favor the women who can put out loads of power and who can fight for position at the front. Only the strongest will be at the head of the bunch when the race hits the Bosberg, and only the best will cross the line first in Meerbeke.