Longest and toughest RVV yet coming up for the women, 15 obstacles and over 150km. Same run-in as the men, but the length is more reflective of the exceptional status of the race as a major event now. As a result, there's an all-star lineup with the only real top names for the race not in attendance being those who have little choice because of illness or injury (Guarnier, Vos).
Boels as ever are mighty strong given their stacked lineup. They're led by Lizzie, which is only fair given that she's kind of the defending champion. She's had a quiet start to the year, but was 3rd in Strade Bianche so she's hardly lost it - it's just she started last year alternating periods of illness with brutal dominance and stamped her authority all over the early season. The #2 option is likely to be Chantal Blaak, who was 3rd in this race last year, riding the wave of the riders trying to chase Lizzie and Emma J down to take the sprint, which Boels managed several times last year to use to get multiple riders on the podium. Anna van der Breggen missed the top 10 last year but had four in a row before that, so she's a dangerous weapon also. Amalie Dideriksen is in the rainbow jersey, but it's her first Ronde so expectations aren't as high as they sometimes are, while Amy Pieters has settled into a role of break maker and monitor using her strong sprint from that position, and Christine Majerus is one of the toughest helpers out there. Six riders who can all make a key selection makes a formidable team.
Wiggle's lineup is interesting mainly because they seem to be geared up for this one to stay relatively fast and well together. Elisa Longo Borghini is logical option A, bearing in mind her excellent start to the season and the intention of defending the WWT leader's jersey, and indeed with her punchy climbing style and strong TT skills she has won the race before, in 2015 when she escaped solo. That year, Wiggle did a 1-2, with Jolien d'Hoore making the remaining selection and outsprinting them after being fresher from not chasing her teammate (Jolien would have won the sprint of that group most times anyway, mind). That will likely be the modus operandi here as well, as Jolien transitions back to a full-time road calendar. Giorgia Bronzini is a two time former World Champion renowned for her sprinting, but ahead of Rio reinvented herself as a versatile hard-worker for all terrains; her sprint is less than it used to be, although she's always been at her best in longer races with a few obstacles to drop the specialist sprinters, and this race is long and has a few obstacles (probably too many for her to actually win, however I may be wrong). Nettie Edmondson is their third fast woman, having won Pajot Hills. A group of that size is unlikely in de Ronde but she'll give a lot of power on the flats, as will Elisa's twin, Audrey Cordon-Ragot, a popular and monstrously tough helper. Finally, Claudia Lichtenberg, who won't be anywhere in any sprint, but that's part of why she's so great. She was top 10 here last year, foraging alone with Lotto, she's good on the climbs but probably needs some more sustained ones to be able to get away from the opposition and rely on the likes of Elisa breaking up the chase.
The Vos-less WM3 will be a much less visible factor as a result of the leader's absence, and their main hope will seemingly be that the race is really broken up to enable them to use attacking weapons like Anouska Koster and Kasia Niewiadoma. Koster has been racking up top 20s in the Benelux races so far this season and has decent form; Kasia is one of the world's best, but though she's improving in that respect the fact nobody needs to fear her sprint is a problem because with the team not having the same strength in numbers in the chase, the chances of one of her characteristic attacks being pulled back are higher. Nevertheless, the more hills the better for Katie Unknown, and we know from experience that she won't die wondering, so certainly if she has the legs she'll try something. Lauren Kitchen is a useful weapon but failed to finish either Binda or Gent-Wevelgem so unsure about her form.
Sunweb are strong. Very strong. The nominal leader is Ellen van Dijk, which makes sense as she's a former winner of this race (back in 2014) and has podiumed it outside of that too. She was 6th last year while domestiquing for Armitstead and she's one of the most powerful TT engines in the péloton, and has started the season well. Lucinda Brand is their other primary weapon, and she's started the season even better, winning Omloop solo (with van Dijk running interference behind), finishing just off the podium in Strade Bianche and making 3rd in Drenthe. She is tireless, keeps coming back for more punishment, will attack tactically but still have a good sprint at the end, her biggest problem is perhaps being too all-round to specialise in any one area, but for the women more so than the men the Ronde has that mixture of features that means that may be a benefit in this particular event. Then you have the team's North American contingent - Leah Kirchmann, who came over to a permanent base in Europe last season and reinvented herself as a strong all-rounder to sprint from the group in all terrains, before re-reinventing herself as a top level puncheur by the end of the season given her showings in races like Plouay. She's had a quiet start to the year, but it's ok because Coryn Rivera has followed her lead, going from queen of the US crits to an all-terrain reduced-sprint star in the World Tour péloton, winning the Trofeo Binda which was somewhat unexpected. She's a relatively light and small woman for a sprinter which may count against her on the cobbles, but she was in the top 20 last year and if grimpeuses like Lichtenberg and Niewiadoma can make the top 10 here there's no reason Coryn can't - and if she can make the top 10, she'll have a chance to win because not many as quick as her will make it. Rozanne Slik is a good domestique and Floortje Mackaij has been poised to break out for a while, just can't stop getting hurt, which may move her down the hierarchy a bit now the team has strengthened so well.
Canyon's leader, at least nominally, is Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, but she's starting the season quietly as she eases into her new surroundings and tries to recover a bit from an absolute annus horribilis in 2016. However, this was one of her best races of the year last season, making the penultimate selection, looking strong but not strong enough in the chasedown of Lizzie and Emma at the end and scoring a top 10 finish. PFP's perhaps the ultimate victim of her own success, as if she picked a form of cycling and stuck to it she'd be unstoppable, but continued success at all has led her to take on way too much of a workload and the success and expectation hasn't been kind on her. Luckily Canyon have two other real shots at victory, with Lisa Brennauer - a former ITT World Champion with a fast sprint finish and the power to make most selections on very good form with 5th at Dwars and 3rd at Gent-Wevelgem in the last couple of weeks - and Elena Cecchini, the smartest tactical brain in the women's péloton. She's not the strongest sprinter, she's not the most powerful rouleur, she's not the most punchy climber... but she does always have the knack of making the right break, or knowing which is the right move to follow. She hasn't been out of the top 10 once in the World Tour this season. If you want to know the chance of a late move making it to the line, you can judge it based on whether Cecchini has made the group. Elsewhere Canyon have British sprint option Hannah Barnes, Tiffany Cromwell as a further option, the Australian has a long history of strong placements and can get over most terrain, and Trixi Worrack will be on the attack at some point, because Trixi is as Trixi does (and so it is written and so it shall come to pass).
Orica are the only other team with a former winner of the race, in Annemiek van Vleuten who took the win all the way back in 2011. She was in the group behind the lead duo last year too, and everybody knows Annemiek is tough as nails that have been reinforced to make them tougher. She's been all over the front page of the results sheet this year, so we can expect her to be very visible. Orica's main other weapon on paper would likely be Amanda Spratt after her great last couple of seasons, but she's been quiet in Europe this year, with most of her results coming in the Aussie mini-season. Gracie Elvin is perhaps more likely on form, having just missed the top 10 last week and having been 2nd in Dwars door Vlaanderen a couple of weeks ago.
Cervélo are the revelations of the season, having strengthened massively in the off-season to improve their position in the bunch. Lotta Lepistö is becoming increasingly persistent and a sprinter you can't get rid of is a real weapon in a race like this, because they'll always have the chance of a free ride if somebody else on the team wants to attack, nobody will want to tow somebody of Lotta's class to the line, and she just won Dwars AND Gent-Wevelgem and now ranks #1 for the year on CQ! AMP is getting closer to full strength after her injury over the winter, but this isn't a race she's especially fond of, her best result being 10th in 2015. The terrain may suit the punchy Dane Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig though - the 21-year-old podiumed Binda and won the Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana and while she's probably a couple of years away from challenging for the win here, she will want to defend the U23 jersey.
Among other teams, Alé perhaps have the most obvious threat, with Marta another of those sprinters who can get over many obstacles that the group will want to be rid of, and Janneke Ensing having been very visible through the season to date. Hosking is their other sprint option, she has better top end speed I think but less likely to get over the obstacles than Marta. Cylance have plenty of potential, but after her win in Le Samyn Sheyla Gutiérrez has been a bit more tightly marked and gone back to her placement sprinting modus operandi (though that has yielded top 10s in her last two races), while Rossella Ratto is always a question mark because of how good she was a few years ago. It really feels like the Estado de México fallout has destroyed her, though whether that's a psychological thing or if there's something physical that just hasn't come out in to the open I don't know - she still shows glimpses of the rider she was, sporadically, so she's always a threat if she's on a good day. For Véloconcept, the team is fairly small since BMS' best riders were all pilfered last year, but Christina Siggaard is promising and was 5th in Pajot Hills so she's no scrub. Olga Z will probably be on the move for BePink, while Sanguineti is a former winner of Brétagne so bumpy rolling-to-punchy terrain is her thing. Hitec aren't as strong as they have been in the past, but the likes of Vita Heine are aggressive racers and Nina Kessler, though unlikely to make an elite selection, is a very useful sprinter from the reduced group so if a small group gets away they could get a very nice result out of her.
For Lares, Thalita de Jong is starting to find her feet in the new surroundings, with a top 10 in Dwars, but the rest of the team is a very strange odds-and-sods collection, and surprised at no van de Ree or Rivat in their selection. Flavia Oliveira is a complete question mark, never any idea what to expect from her. The Lensworld team looks nice and strong but maybe not for a race like this - Guderzo generally needs a more hilly race and although she's been rediscovering herself of late still isn't quite the same woman that won the Worlds in Mendrisio, while Riabchenko similarly is more of a climber and Kaat Hannes, the current Belgian champion, is quick but probably not durable enough for this race in this field. And FDJ have some strong and tough legs for the race with Roxane Knetemann and Shara Gillow.
Other names spread among the teams you'd expect to play minor roles in the race would be Bujak (winner of Plouay last year of course) for BTC, Kopecky in a sprint or Élise Delzenne on the attack for Lotto, the in-form Sierra for Astana, Alice Barnes for Drops who's getting stronger all the time, Rasa Leleivyte for Aromitalia, and any one of Team Druyts (aka Sport Vlaanderen).