Ready for De Ronde

With our two champions, Alberto Bettiol and Coryn Labecki, at the start, our squads know what it takes to win cycling’s Super Bowl

March 27, 2024

On Sunday, the people of Flanders will head for their hills to celebrate De Hoogmis, high mass, which is the name they give to their great bike race, De Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Alberto Bettiol, Stefan Bissegger, Owain Doull, Jonas Rutsch, Harry Sweeny, Michael Valgren, and Marijn van den Berg will start De Ronde for EF Education-EasyPost.

Kristen Faulkner, Letizia Borghesi, Alison Jackson, Nina Kessler, Coryn Labecki, and Noemi Rüegg will race for EF Education-Cannondale.

For over a century, De Ronde has surged across the Flemish countryside in spring, whirling up steep cobbled climbs lined by hundreds of thousands of fans and down windswept descents. This year’s race is 163 kilometers long for the women and 270.8 kilometers long for the men. The peloton will whoosh through old brick villages, past industrial parks and into cities, rattling over sector after sector of pavé. Crowds will gather around the entire course.

With two Ronde van Vlaanderen champions at the start, our squads know what it will take to win. De Ronde is a tremendous challenge that will demand all of our strength, cunning, skill, and desire. On Sunday, spurred on by the Flemish fans, we are going to race our hearts out.

“If you have the privilege to win this race, then you really understand the importance of it,” says 2019 winner Alberto Bettiol, who has recovered from his crash in the E3 Saxo Classic. “It is a masterpiece of cycling, something holy and sacred for the Flemish people. I love the passion that they have. They wait for one year for this race, and I feel a sense of responsibility to do my best for them, because of the history, because they write my name on the asphalt. I am one of the few guys in the peloton who have seen what it means to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen. After my win five years ago, I got from the Flemish people even more passion, even more excitement, even more desire to race here in this countryside. The Flandrians grew up with this mighty Ronde van Vlaanderen. Now, I am a part of their history. This is a feeling you only have here in Flanders and in a few other parts of the world.”

When Coryn Labecki won her Ronde van Vlaanderen, she wrote American cycling history as well. In 2017, Coryn became the first, and to this day only, US rider to earn a victory in the Flemish classic. Her love for the race has only grown since.

“It is just a cool frickin’ race,” Coryn says. “Not only is it one of the hardest and most prestigious races in the world, but the fans take it really seriously too. I feed off of that energy. When you are just absolutely suffering on the cobbles and everyone is drunk and cheering for you it gives you a boost and kind of reminds me of some die hard fans of sports in America. It is the kind of race where you don’t line up thinking you want to get third.”

Kristen Faulkner hopes to join Coryn and become the second American to win De Ronde van Vlaanderen. In 2021, she finished tenth in just her second year as pro. She is bringing the form of her life to Belgium.

“Flanders was one of the first big races that I did in Europe when I first came over here,” Kristen says. “Finishing in the top ten in 2021 was really affirming for me that I belonged in Europe, so I have always seen it as a race that I could do well at and a race that I want to come back to and win one day. If I could win one race on the calendar it would be the Tour of Flanders. In this part of the world, bike racing is so big and it is such a cultural phenomenon. It is like what the Super Bowl is in America. De Ronde is the one monument that I really want to win.”

Coryn will go all in to help her. Every monument comes down to legs in the end, but teammates have a crucial role to play to make sure the contenders arrive in the final kilometers with as much strength in theirs as possible. The run ins to the bottom of every climb are like bunch sprints. To avoid splits in the pack, hitting them at the front of the peloton is vital.

“I love this race. I know the course on the back of my hand with my eyes closed,” Coryn says. “We have a pretty special talent in Kristen and we will try to get her as far as possible into the race and give her the best chance to perform well. I know what it feels like and what it takes to pull off a win here and want to share the knowledge that I have in the race with my teammates. Once you have won it, you have always won it. I hope that is also motivation for the girls. I have done it before. That means you can do it too. Why not?!”

Alberto will start De Ronde van Vlaanderen with the same optimism. The Italian is expecting a very open race on Sunday. After his win at Milano-Torino and stellar performance at Milano-Sanremo and Dwars door Vlaanderen earlier this spring, he knows he is strong. He believes in his teammates and is excited to go toe to toe against the favorites.

“I love to surprise people,” Alberto says. “For me, it doesn’t really matter how the people consider me, as long as I have the consideration of this team and my teammates and myself and my friends and family. That is the most important thing. Now, I have won Flanders already, people expect a little bit more from me, but I am older and have more experience, so these things don’t really touch me. Racing now is so exciting. You have to be really prepared. You have to adapt to this new cycling. You have to be open minded. You have to be ready to see the contenders attacking two hours before the finish, when before that was something crazy. I am excited. I am ready.”

We hope you are too. It’s going to be one heck of a bike race this Sunday.

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