With the Classics season upon us, this weekend we have the iconic Tour of Flanders. Set a week before the epic Paris – Roubaix, Flanders is a race where the riders come to prove their worth and in doing so, create a spectacle which brightens up Europe’s bleak spring landscape. You’ve all seen the images of a multi coloured peloton passing by brown and grey verges which have yet to begin their spring growth.
Starting in the 19th century (Paris-Roubaix began in 1896) the Classics mark the start of the Pro Tour season with the whole winter’s training being put into use. As one-day races go, the Classics rank as the most prestigious. Races for tough men, big ringers and the hardy Northern European riders who thrive in the often wet, windy and miserable conditions. Winning here requires grit and bucket loads of determination.
Some of the stories are quite simply unbelievable compared with today’s pampered team riders. There’s Bernard Hinault’s victory in the deep snow of the 1980 L-B-L, where he finished nine minutes ahead of the second-place rider. In similar conditions in May 1957, the race saw only 15 of its 107 starters make it to the finish line – for this to happen today would be unheard of!
For those who don’t remember what happened last year here’s Fabian Cancellara doing what he does best:
Since then we’ve seen him storm to numerous wins and close finishes – just the other week he finished 2nd to Matt Goss in Milan – San Remo and he’s also won E3 Prijs Vlaanderen and won a stage at the Tirreno-Adriatico.
So the race…Tour of Flanders or Ronde van Vlaanderen to the locals.
- This is the 95th running of the Flanders race.
- 18 climbs feature (as opposed to 15 last year).
These are the listed climbs (with K’s into the race noted):
1 Tiegemberg 70 km
2 Nokereberg 80 km
3 Rekelberg 127 km
4 Kaperij 139 km
5 Kruisberg 154 km
6 Knokteberg 164 km
7 Oude-Kwaremont 171 km
8 Paterberg 175 km
9 Koppenberg 181 km
10 Steenbeekdries 187 km
11 Taaienberg 190 km
12 Eikenberg 194 km
13 Molenberg 209 km
14 Leberg 216 km
15 Valkenberg 225 km
16 Tenbosse 232 km
17 Muur – Kapelmuur 242 km
18 Bosberg 246 km
Leaving Brugge and heading south the riders then head into the climbs with 18 coming hard and fast, the last climb is just 12km from the finish – is this too long for another solo win?
The one climb that stands out most is the Koppenberg:
It was first climbed by the Ronde van Vlaanderen riders in 1975, featured annually until 1987 and is back again! A 77m high hill in Oudenaarde, feared by many because of its steepness (22% on the trickiest parts) and because of its cobblestones. This makes the Koppenberg difficult even for the best. Quite often, riders slow to the point of losing their balance, especially those at the back of the peloton who have to dismount and scramble to the top on foot.
Italian Classics specialist, Manuel Quinziato, speaks of the Koppenberg with an almost reverence, “It’s doubtless the hardest climb in the Tour of Flanders. Above all, because it arrives after two other really hard climbs, the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg. The three climbs in rapid succession makes it really hard.”
- Wildcard entries have gone to Skil-Shimano, Landbouwkrediet, Topsport Vlaanderen, Veranda’s Willems, Cofidis, FDJ and Europcar.
- Start list highlights include: Cancellara, Thor Hushovd, Haussler, Stijn D, Boonen, Gilbert, Hincapie, Ballan, Eddy Boasson Hagen, Sagan and Pozzato for Katusha.
- It’s worth noting Pozzato has listed this as one of the season’s biggest objectives. Pozzato began his cobbled classics campaign on an unfortunate note at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, when he punctured in the finale and eventually rolled in over three minutes down on the winner Tom Boonen.
- Fabian Cancellara appears to have closed the book on Tour of Flanders betting with an ominously strong showing en route to victory at the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen.
Fail to plan, plan to fail and all that has obviously been noted in the Leopard Trek team who have been out riding the circuit this week.
The team, led by last year’s winner Fabian Cancellara, used the recovery ride after the weekend’s Dwars door Vlaanderen to ride 70 kilometres of the most crucial sections of climbs and cobbles (and were caught by HTC who were in the area!).
Basing themselves in Marke, just outside of Kortrijk, Belgium for the cobbled Classics, the team took a short bus ride to the Kruisberg before mounting up and enjoying the two and a half hour spin in the sunshine.
The PBK prediction!
So you’ve heard it here first, our tip for the race. We can’t ignore Fabian Cancellara but so that we have something else to write here we’re going to give Tom Boonen the benefit of the doubt.
His great finish this last weekend has shown he’s fit, he’s won twice (2005 and 2006) and if his team can support him (which on paper they can!) he’s in with a shout we think.
Let us know who you’re going to be cheering on below!