The Spring classics season is shifting into high gear and attention turns to Belgium this Sunday for the second of the five monuments of cycling, the 100th edition of the ‘cobbled classic’, the Tour of Flanders.
In Flemish it’s the Ronde van Vlaanderen (or simply De Ronde) and personally I prefer the Flemish over the English – I just love the way the words roll of the tongue.
At 255.9 kilometres, comprising 18 categorised climbs and 17 stretches of cobbles, the race makes it way from Brugge to Oudenaarde in the Flemish Ardennes.
Roads are frequently narrow and the climbs short and steep, the kind of hilly parcours that suits puncheur riders. The key to winning this race is like real estate. It’s all about position and this means being ahead of the pack to successfully launch an attack on the climbs.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky)
The former world road race champion (2014) went head-to-head with current world champion Peter Sagan to win last week’s E3 Harelbeke to notch up his first win of the season and his first win since last year’s Spring classic Amstel Gold Race. If he can find the form of E3 Harelbeke, he’ll well and truly be in the mix.
Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha)
The Norwegian goes into this race as defending champion. He was favourite to win the first monument of the season Milan–San Remo, which he finished in sixth place. A bout of illness forced him to withdraw from last Sunday’s lead up race to De Ronde, Gent–Wevelgem, but came back fighting to win the opening stage of Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde on Tuesday.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)
Greg Van Avermaet is the only Belgian to appear on this shortlist of favourites and historically this race has favoured Belgian riders. They have won no less than 67 occasions in its 99 editions. He’s in fine form having won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Tirreno–Adriatico and finished in fifth place at Milan–San Remo two weeks ago.
Van Avermaet has come close to winning this race. He was runner up in 2014 and finished third last year. Will this be the year Greg makes it win number 68 for Belgium?
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)
The reigning world road race champion has had a solid start to 2016 with second overall in the Tirreno–Adriatico. More recently he finished second to the world road race champion of 2014 Michal Kwiatkowski at E3 Harelbeke and finally broke through for the win at Gent–Wevelgem.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek – Segafredo)
This is the final year of racing for Spartacus who’s already notched up a sweet win in the ‘northern classic in the south of Europe’, Strade Bianche. Fabian Cancellara won that race three times and at the Tour of Flanders he’ll be aiming for victory number four and the record for the most wins.
In last Sunday’s Gent–Wevelgem, Cancellara finished fourth behind Peter Sagan in first, the reverse of the Strade Bianche result. Can Spartacus flip those results for a win today?
It would be remiss not to mention the passing of two young Belgian cyclists this week – Daan Myngheer (Roubaix Lille Métropole) from a heart attack after pulling up in the first stage of the Criterium International in Corsica and Antoine Demoitié (Wanty–Groupe Gobert) who was hit by a race motorbike after he went down in a crash during Sunday’s Gent–Wevelgem.
The cycling world reacted to the deaths with shock and sadness. The death of Demoitié in particular was met with anger but also with concerns from riders, fans and cycling journalists over the growing list of accidents involving riders and race vehicles in recent years, leading to calls for improved safety standards.
Let’s not forget last year’s Tour of Flanders was marred by two nasty crashes involving neutral service vehicles involving Sébastien Chavanel (FDJ) and Jesse Sergent (then rider for Trek Factory Racing and lines up this year with AG2R La Mondiale) that put the Kiwi in hospital with a broken collarbone.
Here’s hoping for an exciting and safe 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders.
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