The peloton is heading to Flanders on Sunday for the first of cycling’s two cobbled giants, the Ronde van Vlaanderen. It is the historic race’s 98th edition, and fireworks are expected.
- The race is a brutal 259km from Brugge to Oudenaarde, featuring 17 nasty hellingen, with cobbled sections either on or between the hills.
- The route has been slightly tweaked this year, with a reduction in the number of flat sections. This will hopefully encourage more aggressive racing, and give the stronger teams a headache in trying to control the racing.
- It’s likely the decisive moves will still be on the last couple of climbs. The terrifying Oude Kwaremont is 2km of uphill cobbled hell, and is quickly followed by the marginally less tortuous Paterberg shortly before the finish.
- The last 13km are flat, but it’s likely that the winner will cross the line alone, as Fabian Cancellara did last year.
- Five riders have won the race three times, with two-time winner Fabian Cancellara looking to join that elite group and Tom Boonen hoping to become the only rider in history to take a fourth Flanders crown.
- Belgium has traditionally dominated this race, winning 68 of its 97 editions.
- Should Fabian Cancellara win this race, Switzerland would jump above France, who have only three Flanders wins.
- Britain have won the Ronde once, with climber Tom Simpson taking victory back in 1961.
Who to watch
The pre-race favourite is Fabian Cancellara (Trek), who heads in as defending champion. When on form he’s almost certainly the best cobbled classics rider in the world, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him turning on the power and accelerating away from his rivals on the Kwaremont on Sunday. His form appears to getting better and better, with his second place at Milan-San Remo a better indicator of his current shape than last week’s 38th at Gent-Wevelgem, in which he was held up by a crash.
However, despite a season marred by tragedy, you should never count out Spartacus’ old classics nemesis, Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). The local fan favourite, Tommeke has won this race thrice before, and is also looking to be in pretty mean form. He won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne early in March, and finished fifth at last week’s Gent-Wevelgem. Ably assisted by a strong team containing cobbled specialist Zdenek Stybar and the versatile Niki Terpstra, Tornado Tom’s in with a good chance.
Last year’s runner-up Peter Sagan (Cannondale) has had a solid start to the season, and seems to be coming into form at just the right time. Able over all kinds of terrain, he should be right in the mix. Whether he has enough to match the powerful Boonen and Cancellara over the final hellingen remains to be seen.
Outsiders to keep an eye on include Greg van Avermaet (BMC), two-time winner Stijn Devolder (Trek), Pippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), Milan San-Remo winner Alexander Kristoff and the in-form Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin).
Eurosport will be showing live coverage of the Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday. For other race coverage check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website