The ORICA-AIS squad scored an enormous win at Ronde van Vlaanderen last year when team captain, Judith Arndt, outsprinted Kristin Armstrong to the line. Thinking of nothing else than another win in Oudenaarde, the team will once again bring its heavy hitters to the start. In almost every race so far this season, the team has placed a rider on the podium, and they will once again line up with high expectations on Sunday. In her own words Tiffany Cromwell previews the third round of the World Cup series – the most prestigious race on the World Cup calendar.
Say the name Flanders and everybody knows this race. To put it in Australian sporting context, it has the prestige of an AFL Grand Final – it’s got that sort of capacity. It’s a race that is so well known and has so much history. The women’s history isn’t as deep as the men, it just started in 2004, but the spectacle remains the same.
People know the Tour of Flanders for being gruelling. Tough. It has cobbles. It usually has terrible weather. There are hard climbs – short and punchy. It’s a race dominated by strong riders. A tough person, someone who is strong enough on cobbles, flat sectors and in the wind, wins this kind of race. It’s about being crafty, too - knowing when and where to be at all times. Knowledge of the course is imperative because so much can go wrong with one simple mistake. Hitting a cobble section a few wheels too far back can mean race over. The race is known to be cruel like that.
Just inside the first 40 kilometres after leaving the start town of Oudenaarde, we run into our first challenge, the Molenberg. New this year the short, steep climb has been added ahead of the cobbles of Paddestraat. With the Molenberg coming first and putting a sting into some legs, the race could start to split up over the Paddestraat. The same famous climbs and cobble sectors that the men do then come in quick succession – Rekelberg, Berendries, Valkenberg, Haaghoek, Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg. We must be alert the entire race because it’s a fight from beginning to end.
There will be some small changes made to my bike to help get more power going over the cobbles. I will lower my seat a couple of millimetres and will also run thicker tires so I don’t get caught in the gaps in the cobbles. Because of the cobbles on the climbs, I will have to slightly change my style of riding. I am an out of the seat kind of climber but for Flanders I will have to ride in the seat on the climbs. My hands hold tight to the bars and my arms are loose to act as shock absorbers. Being a small rider means I get bounced all over the place. As long as I have a firm grip on the bars, I can let my body move with the vibrations of the cobbles to float over them instead of getting stuck. It’s all about finding momentum. If you get stuffed up, it’s hard to get started again.
We haven’t yet had a sit down to talk about the race leader. We’ll certainly go in there with several cards to play. I doubt we’ll have any one specific leader. Like with any of the classics, so much can go wrong so suddenly. If you lose your main rider, you’re starting from scratch. The team has multiple options because so many of us are going strong right now. Emma [Johansson] especially has good form and good results.
To win this race would be incredible. You win and everyone knows you’ve arrived. You’re known as a hard rider. You’re someone in cycling. I’m the kind of rider who likes it when you have to be switched on the entire race. With Flanders you’re always on, always thinking. You get through one section and you look at the 20cm on notes on your stem to see what’s coming next. There’s so much going on. You have to think all the time.
The amazing atmosphere helps as well. It gives me motivation to race hard. I love to ride in front of a climb. I’m a bit of a performer. If there’s a good crowd, I somehow manage to put in a little extra effort. It’s just a special race. That’s what it comes down to – massive history. It’s a World Cup. It’s a goal of mine to win a World Cup. To win Flanders? That would be incredible.
One of our favourite journalists/women's cycling advocates has written a piece on how to follow our race (sadly, no live television). Before you tune in, read this.
ORICA-AIS for Ronde van Vlaanderen:
Amanda Spratt [@amandaspratt]
Emma Johansson [@emmaprocyclist]
Gracie Elvin [@gracieelvin]
Jessie MacLean [@aussiejessmac]
Loes Gunnewijk [@loesgunnewijk]
Tiffany Cromwell [@tiffanycromwell]