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James Moultrie

Can Marianne Vos deny Lotte Kopecky a historic Tour of Flanders hat-trick?

Marianne Vos celebrates securing her 250th career road win at the 2024 'Dwars Door Vlaanderen'.

Marianne Vos (Visma-Lease a Bike) is aiming for a second Tour of Flanders title this Sunday, some 11 years after she took her first as a 25-year-old World Champion in Oudenaarde in 2013. And it’s current World Champion Lotte Kopecky’s dominance that Vos has unsettled since her return to top form after multiple iliac artery surgeries last year.

The Belgian looked set to headline the Flemish races again after her career-best season in 2023, but Vos’ refound power on the cobbles is yet to be dealt with by the best team in women’s cycling, SD Worx-Protime.

Despite coming in the top six of her first six appearances at Flanders, it hasn’t been Vos’ best race since she took victory in 2013. She hasn’t been back to the podium since or even cracked the top 10, but her current shape has pushed her right up alongside Kopecky as a major contender for this Tour of Flanders. 

Vos again seems to be back to the form that brought her a palmarès so illustrious that she is considered one of the greatest of all time. This title would become further undeniable if she added another Ronde victory to the list at 36. 

New races have found their way onto her seemingly never-ending list of achievements at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Dwars door Vlaanderen in 2024, for example, and with the absolute best riders present. 

Notable on both mentioned days was the presence of the current one-day master Kopecky. The reigning World Champion was in the sprint directly against Vos at Omloop, but she had no answer to the Dutchwoman’s finishing power. A similar feeling enjoyed at some point by each and every rider that has challenged her since she turned pro in 2006. 

At Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen, Kopecky was forced into bridging to the lead group on her own, but after she had, the Belgian could only watch Vos’ yellow jersey disappear up the road as she jumped to the back wheel of Shirin van Anrooij on the attack, taking the victory with her.

But perhaps it couldn't have come at a better time for the dominant SD Worx-Protime squad, serving as a wake-up call before one of the biggest cobbled Classics of the year at Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

“It’s just sometimes good that this happens before a very important race. On Wednesday, we were a bit annoyed or angry at ourselves, and that just keeps us sharp for Sunday,” Kopecky said at SD Worx’s pre-Flanders event. 

The Belgian was respectful of the Dutch icon, stating, “She’s in very good form, and it impressive how she is riding at the moment.” But Kopecky did say she isn’t concerned if her opponents on Sunday gained any confidence from the poor Wednesday performance, knowing that a rider can only win Flanders if they have the shape to do so.

“Of course, it’s hard to race against her [Vos], but at the same time, I have a lot of respect for her, so it's nice to see her on this level,” Kopecky said.

“For me, it doesn't matter if they [her opponents] have a lot of confidence or not. I just want to race on Sunday. In the end, it’s the legs that speak.”

'I expect them to be ready' - Vos sees Kopecky as the woman to beat

Lotte Kopecky and SD Worx-Protime at Dwars door Vlaanderen (Image credit: Getty Images)

On the occasion of Vos’ first and only Flanders triumph, she won in a small group sprint ahead of Ellen van Dijk, Emma Johansson and Elisa Longo Borghini. The Swedish rider is the only member of the quartet who has retired, with the latter - also a winner of De Ronde - set to take the start again tomorrow. 

Longo Borghini is part of a very strong Lidl-Trek team mounting a huge challenge to Vos and Kopecky. She’ll be joined by another former winner, Lizzie Deignan, former World Champion Elisa Balsamo, and Dwars door Vlaanderen runner-up Shirin van Anrooij.

When asked if she would rather be alone at the finish again, Kopecky said she was confident in her sprint. Her teammate and 2023 Flanders runner-up, Demi Vollering, did identify Vos as a real threat due to her versatile abilities.

"Marianne [Vos] showed herself already a few times that she is really in good form," Vollering told Cyclingnews and GCN.

"She can handle all the small climbs really well and also has a really strong sprint, so she’s someone we really need to watch.”

As mentioned, Kopecky and Vos couldn’t have had more contrasting pre-Flanders experiences at Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen. The World Champion uncharacteristically missed the race-winning move, and Vos took her 250th professional road race win. It was frustration and disappointment for one and elation for the other. 

SD Worx's sports manager, Danny Stam, put his team's performance down to a lack of focus speaking to Cyclingnews after the race, and Kopecky agreed that they needed to be more on the ball for the big test at De Ronde. 

But the ever-experienced Vos wasn’t taking the Dutch team’s poor pre-Flanders performance for granted, knowing just what a challenge Kopecky presents at the Tour of Flanders as the defending two-time champion. 

“Obviously, they [SD Worx] have really strong riders and showed how strong they are. I expect them to be ready and maybe even extra sharp for Sunday to do well,” said Vos at Visma-Lease a Bike’s pre-race press conference in Gent. 

“Lotte [Kopecky] has been very dominant in the last two years. That will be no different on Sunday.”

On the last two editions of the Tour of Flanders, Kopecky has delivered in front of her home crowd in Belgium. In 2022, she won her first title ahead of Annemiek van Vleuten after Chantal van den Broek-Blaak led her out. Last year, she dominated the race, scorching up the Oude Kwaremont away from Silvia Persico to win solo, with Vollering finishing second, Longo Borghini third and Persico fourth. 

Vos admitted Kopecky was still “the woman to beat, but there is more.” She went on to highlight how Lidl-Trek’s overall team strength poses another threat to both herself and Kopecky.

The American outfit had the numbers in the break at Vos’ two cobbled victories this season, with Van Anrooij and Longo Borgini both finishing in the top six of both races. If they were to come out on top, they would be preventing both Kopecky and Vos from breaking more records.

History not a motivator for Kopecky with Roubaix in mind

Paris-Roubaix Femmes 2023 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Kopecky would become the second-ever person to win Flanders three times in a row across the men’s and women’s peloton. 

The first and only time it was done was between 1949-51 when Fiorenzo Magni achieved the feat. However, Kopecky said that she wasn’t interested in making history, honestly stating that there is an ever-bigger goal coming next weekend at Paris-Roubaix. 

“I'm not really like, 'I want to win this race three, four, five times' or whatever,” Kopecky told Cyclingnews and GCN on Thursday.

“At this moment, I'd prefer to win Paris-Roubaix instead of winning the Tour of Flanders for a third time. But when people say this, a hat trick in the Tour of Flanders, of course, would be really nice, but it's not my biggest goal, let's say.”

For Vos, it would be the biggest gaps between Flanders victories for both men's and women's events, with Walter Godefroot having a 10-year gap between his wins between 1968 and 78 and Annemiek van Vleuten with a 10-year gap between her victories in 2011 and 2021.

A lot has changed in women’s professional cycling since Vos’ Flanders win but her roar over the line in celebration has remained a true constant. She’ll be hoping for more glory and win number 251 come Sunday.

“The sport has become more and more professional over the years, and a lot of aspects have changed. Back then, Flanders was one of the biggest races, and the competition was big. In the years before, I took a couple of podium spots, so taking the win was a big victory for me,” Vos said.

“Actually, that hasn’t changed. It’s still one of the biggest races on the calendar. Everybody wants to do well there, but the media attention has got bigger, the fan base has got bigger, and that’s fantastic to see how big these changes have been over the last 10 years. Hopefully, we have a great race on Sunday and move this forward.”

Get unlimited access to all of our coverage of the Spring Classics- including reporting, breaking news and analysis from the Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders and more. Find out more.

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