Tour of Flanders 2023: Five men and five women to watch on Sunday

Taking a closer look at the favourites ahead of this year's Ronde van Vlaanderen

Wout van Aert, tadej Pogacar and Mathieu van der Poel at E3 Saxo Classic 2023
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The centrepiece event of the Belgian Spring Classics takes place this weekend, and some of the biggest names in the men’s and women’s WorldTour are set to do battle once more. Taking place on Sunday, the 107th edition of the men’s Tour of Flanders is widely anticipated to be a scrap between the trio who largely stole the show at the recent E3 Saxo Classic.

'De Ronde' is undoubtedly one of the biggest one-day races on the planet, with swarms of cycling fans gathering on the race's iconic cobbled climbs, including the Oude Kwaremont, in their thousands to watch the riders take on the brutal course in Belgium. The men’s race is due to start in Brugge for the first time since 2016, before finishing on the outskirts of Oudenaarde 273 kilometres later.

First established in 2004, the women’s race starts and finishes in Oudenaarde and includes the same hellish climbs as the men’s edition. Lotte Kopecky captured the victory while wearing the Belgian national champions jersey last year, and the thousands of local fans lining the course will be screaming her name once more on Sunday.

Here’s Cycling Weekly’s five men and five women to watch when the racing gets going. 

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck)

Mathieu van der Poel wins Milan-San Remo

(Image credit: Getty Images)

With the way that Mathieu van der Poel has begun his spring campaign, it’s hard to bet against him completing the Flanders hat-trick on Sunday.

After his scintillating Milan-San Remo victory, Van der Poel lit up the E3 Saxo Classic in his final racing appearance before the Ronde and Roubaix. The flying Dutchman was as aggressive as always, rampaging up the Taaienberg in the first of a series of brutal attacks that drew Wout van Aert and Tadej Pogačar out into the open.

While Van Aert ended up snatching the win from his grasp, Van der Poel made him work for it, every second of the way, and will do exactly the same again when the Ronde gets underway on Sunday.

Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers)

Tom Pidcock

(Image credit: Getty Images)

After winning Strade Bianche in early March, Pidcock suffered slight misfortune when a crash at Tirreno-Adriatico left him with minor concussion.

The Yorkshireman was forced to sit out Milan-San Remo, although made his return to racing with a respectable 11th place at Dwars door Vlaanderen. Before his injury, Pidcock would have been widely expected to contend for the San Remo title, and on his day, is more than capable of matching the trio of Van Aert, Pogačar and Van der Poel.

Now that Pidcock has managed to get another race day under his belt ahead of his third appearance in Flanders on Sunday, the Ineos man will be full of optimism on his chances of competing with his aforementioned rivals. 

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)  

Wout van Aert wins the E3 Saxo Classic

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Coming into the Ronde, Van Aert will be bursting with confidence after already getting one over on Van der Poel and Pogačar last week.

The Jumbo-Visma man could follow every single move from Van der Poel at E3, and was even able to put his long standing rival on the ropes on several occasions during the race. After losing out to the Dutchman in final sprints on previous occasions, beating his rival in last week's final dash to the line will have provided Van Aert with a timely feather in his cap ahead of the Flanders cobbles.

However, Van Aert’s biggest weapon will be his reliable, and fiercely loyal right hand man Christophe Laporte. Last weekend, Van Aert and Laporte memorably dominated Gent-Wevelgem before the Belgian handed his teammate the victory. As a result, Laporte will undoubtedly be right by his friend's side on Sunday, backing him all the way in the scrap for victory in the Monument. 

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)  

Tadej Pogacar on the attack at the E3 Classic

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Since he was outfoxed by Van der Poel in the closing stages of last year’s Ronde, Pogačar will be determined not to let lightning strike twice on Sunday.

The Slovenian was in the thick of the action at the E3 Classic, and was largely able to match each acceleration from Van der Poel and Van Aert, even making his own big attack on the Oude Kwaremont as he looked to stretch things.

Similarly to Jumbo-Visma, Pogačar’s team is full of solid Classics riders including the likes of Tim Wellens. Pogačar is also undoubtedly the best climber of the three favourites.

If he brings his climbing legs to the cobbles once again on Sunday, and the likes of Wellens are able to stick with him until the final phase of racing, then the two-time Tour de France winner may well add yet another Monument to his palmarès this weekend. 

Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma)

Christophe Laprote celebrates winning Dwaars door Vlaanderen

(Image credit: Getty Images)

After winning two-major Classics in a matter of days, Christophe Laporte firmly deserves his place in the top five overall contenders for Flanders.

Taking victory at both Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen in such quick succession is no mean feat, proving what many already knew; Laporte is yet another fearsome weapon in the Jumbo-Visma arsenal of talent.

Moving to the Dutch team from Cofidis has provided the Frenchman with an opportunity to really raise his level. He took an excellent stage victory at last summer’s Tour de France, and is a rider equally as formidable as the likes of Wout van Aert. As was well documented, the Frenchman was largely handed victory in Gent-Wevelgem by his Belgian teammate, although that shouldn’t take away from his own capabilities whatsoever.

After his Dwars victory, Laporte reiterated that he would be firmly in the service of Van Aert on Sunday. However, should things go wrong for Van Aert in some way, expect Laporte to be given the nod to push on and challenge at the sharp end of the action.

Demi Vollering (SD Worx) 

Demi Vollering wins Dwars door Vlaanderen

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Coming into the Tour of Flanders, the strength in depth at SD Worx is somewhat terrifying. Vollering is one of four riders at the Dutch team potentially capable of winning, and showed she’s in strong form with victory at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday.

Earlier this year, the team’s strength was no more evident than when Vollering and Kopecky both found themselves together going into the last 500 metres of Strade Bianche. The duo sprinted for the line, with Vollering eventually coming out on top. The Dutchwoman has won two of the three one-day races she’s started this season, and on paper is her team’s most in-form rider.

Her best result in Flanders was fifth in 2021, but she certainly has the strength and power to do better this time around. The only barrier to Vollering winning Flanders could well come from within her own ranks.

Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) 

Marianne Vos

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Earlier this year, Marianne Vos underwent major pelvic artery surgery to correct a long-standing injury. However, that didn’t stop Vos on her return to racing action earlier this week.

In only her second race of the road season at Dwars door Vlaanderen, Vos was one of a select few who could compete with the SD Worx duo of Marlen Reusser and Vollering. When Vollering launched her final attack, Vos was the only rider who could match her, although her compatriot ultimately rode her off her wheel.

Nevertheless, third place was a highly respectable result for Vos and an impressive sign of her fitness given her recent surgery and recovery. The Jumbo-Visma rider won the Tour of Flanders back in 2013, although she then didn’t return until five years later.

With that said, and her form she showed this week, it feels like you certainly can’t count Vos out on Sunday.  

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Suez)

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig sips a Fanta at Strade Bianche 2023

(Image credit: Getty)

Earlier this week, Uttrup Ludwig showed she’s gradually building form ahead of the Ronde, putting in a big attack on the cobbles as part of the front group at Dwars door Vlaanderen.

Ultimately, it would come to nothing, but proved that the FDJ Suez rider definitely has the legs to make a difference. In early March, the Danish puncheur took a solid third place behind the SD Worx duo of Vollering and Kopecky. She’s yet to win in 2023, but comes into the Tour of Flanders with a solid team behind her.

Uttrup Ludwig has regularly been in contention in Flanders, finishing sixth last year. Her best placed finish was third in 2019. With the power of Grace Brown in support on Sunday, she could well hit the podium again this time around.

Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar)

Annemiek van Vleuten

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It seems inevitable that whatever race Annemiek van Vleuten signs on for, she’s then instantly considered a favourite for the win. Although with her absolute domination last year, it really is no surprise.

Van Vleuten has won the Tour of Flanders on two previous occasions in 2011 and 2021, and has achieved four podium finishes in between her two victories. The Movistar rider had a difficult start to her current campaign, with an untimely mechanical ruling her out of contention. She made amends for her bad luck on Opening Weekend, going on to take fourth at Strade Bianche.

Since that race, Van Vleuten has been out of the spotlight, training at altitude ahead of her wider goals later in the year. However, despite her absence from other races this spring her rivals certainly won't underestimate her.

As she proved in 2022, Van Vleuten on her day is undoubtedly the best female bike racer in the world. If she turns up in her best shape on Sunday, it could well be game over the moment some of the trickier climbs begin.
 

Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx)

Lotte Kopecky

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The reigning Tour of Flanders female champion returns for another stab at victory. If Kopecky is able to muster up a race-winning performance on Sunday, she will become only the second woman to ever win consecutive editions. Unsurprisingly, the only rider to win two editions in a row is Movistar’s Van Vleuten.

Kopecky is in lightning form, and has already won on the cobbles in 2023 at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. As well as her win on Opening Weekend, she won Nokere Koerse and took second behind teammate Demi Vollering at Strade Bianche.

The SD Worx rider has the power and tenacity to launch a move and make it stick on climbs like the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg. Kopecky also possesses a powerful enough final turn of speed to win a reduced bunch sprint back in Oudenaarde. With that in mind, she’s our out-and-out favourite for the win.  
 

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