Race preview – Tour of Flanders

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Belgium takes centre stage this Sunday with the second monument of the season Ronde Van Vlaanderen or, as it’s also known, the Tour of Flanders.

The third of the season’s four ‘cobbled classics’, the Tour of Flanders is known for its breakneck climbs, the raw passion and tradition the race enjoys in the Flemish region, and the fact that it is so tough that Eddy Merckx only had a 1 in 4 win ratio. Staggering.

Last year’s race was won by a goliath Fabian Cancellara, who peaked at the perfect time to scoop the Flanders and Paris-Roubaix double, only the ninth man to do so and only the second to win both races in the same year twice.

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Defending Ronde Van Vlaanderen winner Fabian Cancellara

Cancellara is a safe bet to defend his title, but he’ll have to overcome to the only other man to win the double twice – Flanders’ own Tom Boonen.

After an injury-hit 2013 campaign, Boonen will be determined to have a strong 2014 classics campaign, which is already off to a good start after victory in Kurne-Brussels-Kurne. If he can get anywhere near the form of 2012 or 2005, he will certainly pose a threat.

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Tom Boonen has won the Tour of Flanders three times.

But arguably the favourite to prevail in Sunday’s race is the mercurial Peter Sagan. Now I know I wrote of how he was at risk of becoming the Slovakian, classic-riding equivalent of Raymond Poulidour not so very long ago. But he is a maturing rider and will be determined to prove that he can carve a legacy worthy of note on the one day circuit that will stand the test of time. And I think Sunday could be the day.

His form is good. A tactical masterclass at E3 Harelbeke and a strong ride at Strade Bianchi are testament to that. He also accidentally won a stage of the Three Days of De Panne yesterday. He won a stage accidentally.

Admittedly Milan-San Remo wasn’t his finest hour and tenth will have been a disappointing result for Sagan and his Cannondale team. But if he finds himself in the lead group a kilometre from the finish, the chances are at Ronde Van Vlaanderen the winning group will be considerably smaller than the one at Milan-San Remo. And if so, few would fancy their chances of beating Sagan in a sprint.

 

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Peter Sagan will look to put a disappointing Milan-San Remo behind him on Sunday.

Who else could spring a surprise? It’ll be interesting to see how Bradley Wiggins goes on the cobbles, and while physiologically he could be suited to this terrain, his form is all over the shop. The way his 2014 has gone so far, and Team Sky’s for that matter, one of the safest best for Sunday’s race is on Wiggins recording a DNF.

The likes of Sep Vanmarcke, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Stijn Vandenbergh, Marcus Burghardt, John Degenkolb, Geraint Thomas and Sylvain Chavenel are all capable of springing a surprise. But if anyone is to beat Cancellara, Boonen or Sagan, they will have to ascend the devilish Koppenberg, the tricky Kruisberg and the spiky Paterberg (other adjectives are available), and recover well enough, to make the killer move.

While it is nigh-on impossible to accurately predict a top 5, I’d feel like I’d let you down if I didn’t include one. But this top 5 should perhaps be treated as a ‘top 5 most likely to win the Tour of Flanders’. Or perhaps I’ll just let them get on with it and make my excuses in the Race Review.

Tour of Flanders predicted top 5:

  1. Peter Sagan
  2. Fabian Cancellara
  3. Tom Boonen
  4. Niki Terpstra
  5. Zdenek Stybar

Answers on a postcard (or email):

Name the nine riders to win the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the same year. I’ve been kind enough to give you their first name. And include two of them in the article.

  1. Heiri —–
  2. Romain ——–
  3. Gaston —–
  4. Raymond ——-
  5. Fred — ——
  6. Rik — —-
  7. Roger — ———
  8. Peter — ——-
  9. Tom ——
  10. Fabian ———-
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