Tour of Flanders Preview and Prediction

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04/5/2014| 0 comments
by Gerald Churchill
Race favorite Peter Sagan (Cannondale) training on the route of the 2014 Tour of Flanders / Ronde Van Vlaanderen Fotoreporter Sirotti

Tour of Flanders Preview and Prediction

On Sunday, the peloton will tackle the Tour of Flanders, which some observers call the hardest of the classics.

On Sunday, the peloton will tackle the 2014 Tour of Flanders, which some observers call the hardest of the classics. This year’s route will be 259 km long and will take the bunch over 17 climbs, some as many as three times. The Ronde Van Vlaanderen route will consist of nine officially listed stretches of cobbles, in addition to which most of the climbs will be cobbled. It adds up to a hard day’s riding on a rugged parcours.

The race will start in Brugge. The riders will ride south to Kortrijk before turning southeast to Oudenaarde. An early break will be well ahead of the field when it reaches Oudenaarde. The bunch will then head into the Ardennes and begin tackling the climbs that will decide the race.

The peloton will ascend the day’s first significant climb, the Oude Kwaremont, at 109 km. The riders will then take on the Kortekeer (119 km), the Eikenberg (127 km), the Wolvenberg (130 km), the Molenberg (142 km), the Leberg (163 km), the Valkenberg (171 km), the Kaperij (181 km), and the Kanarieberg (189 km).

On the second Ardennes circuit, which will not replicate the first, the riders will make their second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont (205 km) and will follow it up by climbing the Paterberg (208 km), the Koppenberg (215 km), the Steenbeekdries (220 km), the Taaienberg (222 km), and the Kruisberg (233 km). On the second circuit, or slightly before its beginning, what remains of the break will be reeled in. The speed of the peloton will shell riders and reduce the bunch to perhaps no more than three dozen riders.

A man who is a master of the long break, such as Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), might make a bid for victory from as far away as the Koppenberg. The race’s finale will consist of a third ascent of the Oude Kwaremont and a second climb of the Paterberg. If the winning break has gone clear by then, one of the riders will surge away from his companions, as Cancellara did last year. The victor will likely ride solo to the finish at Oudenaarde.

Who will win? Looking at form and record, the A list of potential winners consists of three riders—Cancellara, Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Peter Sagan (Cannondale). Two-time champion Cancellara and three-time winner Boonen have experience that matters in this race. They understand the climbs, the winds, and the echelons. Both have good form, with Cancellara finishing second at Milan-San Remo and Boonen having won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and two stages of the Tour of Qatar. For his part, Sagan has won E3 Harelbeke and a stage of Tirreno-Adriatico. The Slovakian, however, does not always display tactical sharpness. For that reason, either Cancellara or Boonen will win, and Sagan will finish second or third.

Two riders are on the A- list: John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). The German has form to burn, as evidenced by a stage win at Paris-Nice and victory at Gent-Wevelgem. In addition, he has a strong team to help him. Degenkolb has downplayed his chances, saying that victory might be a few years away, but a win at Gent-Wevelgem puts you on the radar for victory in the Tour of Flanders. The Giant-Shimano man might be trying to divert attention from himself, but his form is obvious.

Kristoff is coming off of victory in Milan-San Remo and a stage win at the Tour of Oman. The Norwegian finished fourth last year, so he knows the race and how to excel in it. The competition underestimates him at its peril.

The B list has Stijn Devolder (Trek Factory Racing) on it. Devolder won the race in 2008 and 2009 when he rode as Boonen’s right-hand man. If Cancellara is heavily marked, the Belgian could get clear and win again.

Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) finished second to Sagan at E3 Harelbeke.  The Dutchman has won the Tour of Qatar and the Dwars door Vlaanderen, and he was runner-up to Sagan at E3 Harelbeke. If Boonen is closely marked, Terpstra might get a chance to win.

Geraint Thomas (Sky) showed good form at Paris-Nice and Gent-Wevelgem, but he crashed in both races, with the Welshman abandoning the former. Thomas can be a factor in the race, but only if he stays rubber side down.

Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) is a man for the classics. He has four top-five finishes this season, and he was runner-up to Cancellara at Paris-Roubaix last year. At 25, winning might be too much to ask, but the Belgian could wind up on the podium.

With teammate Philippe Gilbert out of the race, Greg Van Avermaet will have the BMC Racing Team at his disposal. The Belgian has decent form, and a good day could put him on the podium or close to it.

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