The 122km women?s race is the second round of the nine-event UCI world Cup and climbs 11 of the keys climbs of the men?s Tour of Flanders.

Holland?s Mirjam Melchers won in 2006 but it’s Britain’s Nicole Cooke (Raleigh-Lifeforce) who is leading the World Cup after winning the opening race in Geelong, Australia. Since returning to Europe Cooke has maintained her great form after, winning two races in the last two weeks.

Cooke will face major competition from the T-Mobile team that includes Oenone Wood of Australia and Judith Arndt of Germany, although Cooke?s Raleigh-Lifeforce team is stronger than ever and will ride exclusively to help her extend her lead in the World Cup at Flanders and in the following two spring rounds of the competition.

More than just a bike race

The Tour of Flanders is much more than just a men?s professional bike race. With road and mountain bike sportifs of varying lengths, and a women?s race, that is part of the prestigious season-long World Cup, it a perfect example of how every major race should be a celebration of cycling.

15,000 riders are expected to ride the road sportif, with 2000 accepting the challenge of riding the full Tour of Flanders race distance of 259km. Thousands of others will ride the shorter 140km and 75km routes that cover the final classic climbs of the race. The mountain bike sportifs are over 75, 54 and 28kms, covering some of the climbs and the myriad of farm tracks that criss-cross the Flemish countryside.