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5th Women's Ronde van Vlaanderen - CDM

Belgium, April 6, 2008

Cobbles and Bergs for World Cup's next stop

By Ben Atkins

Emma Pooley (Specialized) will wear the World Cup leader's
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
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The fifth running of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen will take place once again on the same day as the men's race, starting in the town of Oudenaarde. The race will be run over a 114km course that starts with a circuit based around Oudenaarde, then follows the same final section as the men to finish in Meerbeke.

The course features three long flat cobbled sections: Paddestraat (2400m), Mater-Kerkgate (3000m) and Haaghoek (2000m), and also 10 of the famous climbs - the hellingen - that pepper this area of Flanders. The women will tackle the Molenberg, Wolvenberg, Berg Te Stene, Leberg, Berendries, Valkenberg, Tenbosse, Eikenmolen, Muur-Kapelmuur, Bosberg; the first one and last two of those being cobbled.

Just like the men's version, the Ronde for women's course suits powerful riders and those whose teams are able to control things on the twisting lanes and crosswinds of northern Belgium. It will be tough from start to finish, and if anyone's on a bad day there's no hiding in the bunch when the hammer goes down.

Nicole Cooke will return to defend her crown
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Ordinarily we should be looking forward to another chapter in the epic battle between last year's winner Nicole Cooke (Halfords Bikehut) and Marianne Vos (DSB Bank), but with both riders looking to preserve their form for this summer's Olympic road race in Beijing this looks unlikely. On top of this Vos is currently only listed as a reserve by her team, and so may not ride. Third last year, the 2006 world road race champion has been concentrating on the track for the early part of the season including a victory in the World Championship points race last week in Manchester, England.

Aside from these two, any number of riders could be the first to Meerbeke this year. 2005 and 2006 winner Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel (Team Flexpoint) returns after missing last year's race while recovering from injury, and the other former winner Zoufila Zabirova (Team Bigla) will be keen to better her second place behind Cooke last year. If Zabirova is not on top form - she had to miss the Alfredo Binda, the previous World Cup round due to an ear infection - she has any number of team-mates ready to step in, most notably Nicole Brandli and Noemi Cantele, who was in winning form in Italy last weekend.

The women's teams enjoyed a few preparation events
Photo ©: Davide Tricarico
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Team High Road will be smarting from the Trofeo Alfredo Binda where it failed to chase down a lone Emma Pooley (Team Specialized Designs for Women). It will be led by veteran Judith Arndt, but riders like Chantal Beltman and Australian Road Champion Oenone Wood cannot be discounted on this course.

Likewise, the Cervelo-Lifeforce team were very strong in Cittiglio and will be looking for a result here. Karin Thürig, Priska Doppmann and Sarah Düster all finished well here last year after working hard for Cooke; and Christaine Soeder was second in 2006. Cooke's replacement, American Kristin Armstrong, is also capable of a result.

Second in 2005 behind team-mate Melchers-Van Poppel - and sixth last year - Suzanne Ljungskog (Menikini-Selle Italia) now has a team working for her, including strong Australian pair Natalie Bates and Rochelle Gilmore. Suzanne De Goede will lead a strong Equipe Nürnberger Versicherung that includes Regina Schleicher and last year's fourth placed Trixi Worrack. De Goede is also only one point behind Pooley in the World Cup standings, which will give the Dutchwoman an extra spur to do well.

Italy's Noemi Cantele and her Bigla Cycling Team
Photo ©: Davide Tricarico
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If Vos doesn't ride, the DSB Bank team will be led by 2007 Ronde Van Drenthe winner Adrie Visser. AA-Drink's Kirsten Wild won last month's Omloop Het Volk over a very similar course and so should go well here too. Not far behind her - and the first person to make a move at the Alfredo Binda - was Martine Bras (Vrienden Van Het Platteland), who will look to continue that good form.

Other riders deserving a mention include multiple - and current - cyclo-cross and time trial World champion Hanka Kupfernagel, riding here for the German National Team. Listed as a reserve on the Team Pro Feminin Les Carroz list is, incredibly, Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli, just six months shy of her fiftieth birthday!

World Cup leader Pooley - and winner of the Alfredo Binda - isn't particularly well suited to the course, but the young Briton has determination in spades and will be riding with the extra energy a leader's jersey provides. If she slips up, or fails to finish, Katheryn Curi-Mattis will be there with the USA National Team to try to get back the jersey she took in Geelong, but hasn't yet got to wear yet.


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Davide Tricarico/www.ladiescycling.net

Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net

Images by AFP Photo

Images by Ben Atkins/Cyclingnews.com