Ellen van Dijk: Koppenberg climb at Tour of Flanders will be ‘big casino’

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HARELBEKE, Belgium (VN) — The Koppenberg climb at the Tour of Flanders will be a “big casino” according to Ellen van Dijk.

The brutal 600-meter cobbled berg has been included in the women’s race for the first time this year with many riders tackling it for the first time this week in their pre-Flanders recons.

Peaking at a leg-sapping 22 percent, the narrow climb will likely have a major impact on the race. However, van Dijk is not yet sure just how much of an impact it will have on the final result, but the jostling for position will make for a very chaotic moment some 44 kilometers from the finish.

“The Koppenberg is definitely a new thing in the course and it’s going to be very challenging. It will definitely break up the race, I’m sure of it,” van Dijk said in a team press conference Friday. “It’s quite early in the final. It’s hard to expect if it’s really going to make the race already, but for sure. Something will happen there. And positioning will be key, and everybody knows that, and everybody wants to be in the front. So, it’s kind of a big casino, I think.”

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Teammate Elisa Longo Borghini agrees about van Dijk’s assessment of the climb. Positioning will be very important because riders can lose a lot of time on their rivals if they get caught too far back.

She’s happy, though, that the fans will get to watch the women racing it for the first time.

“In the end, it just makes the race harder, and positioning will be the key. I think also it’s going to be nice for the spectators to see us on the Koppenberg,” Longo Borghini said. “It’s a key point in the race and you need to be upfront and you just have to be in a good position. If you’re out of position and you’ll lose time and it’s going be really hard to chase back and be back at the front of the peloton.”

Trek-Segafredo has options

Trek-Segafredo has been one of the dominant teams so far this month, thanks in part to the finishing speeds of world champion Elisa Balsamo. The Italian has embraced her move to the WorldTour and has not looked burdened by her rainbow jersey.

Her recent wins at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Gent-Wevelgem in particular have catapulted her towards favorite status for Sunday. The Tour of Flanders is a much harder challenge than what she’s had so far this year, but she’s ready to take it on.

“It’s a hard race and I think it’s also going to be very colder and maybe wet and so it is going to be harder,” Balsamo said. “I also think that a lot of teams really want to make the race full gas because they don’t want a sprint. I’m going to fight and try to survive on the last hills, and we will also have different riders that can make the race and so I don’t feel a lot of pressure about that. I only try to do my best.”

Balsamo will have the support of two former De Ronde winners in van Dijk and Longo Borghini this weekend. Longo Borghini has pulled herself out of the potential contenders’ list as she continues to recover from sinusitis, but van Dijk is a very strong “Plan A.2” for Trek.

Van Dijk has been a key part of Trek-Segafredo’s victories over the last month and she is in strong enough shape to go for glory herself. With plenty of teams hoping to form a break, van Dijk knows she and others in the team have to be ready to take their own initiative.

“Flanders is not a race where you can just wait all day long,” she said. “But we have a different team this year with Elisa Balsamo as an option. So for sure, it’s not like it’s never like we cannot do anything in a race besides bringing a Balsamo to the finish. For sure with this option you know that’s the best card to play in a sprint. But as we know Flanders doesn’t always end up in a sprint. So yeah, we will see what the race will bring us.

“But we know lots of teams want to get rid of Balsamo, but I know how strong she is so I say good luck with that.”

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