Tomorrow sees the greatest one day race of the year, the Tour of Flanders. Organisers say 600,000 to 800,000 people will line the roads, L’Equipe even says one million could turn out, making one tenth of the Belgian population.
This does not mean that the race will have you perched on the rivet of your armchair for hours as like many events, sometimes anticipation can exceed reality. But ahead of tomorrow’s race here are a few things to consider.
Rest day: those racing tomorrow will have had an easy if not boring day today. A short ride this morning. Studying the route. Massage. Lunch. Studying the route. Maybe surfing the internet and a phone call home. If Sunday is the traditional day of rest for “civilians” in the Western world, Saturday is the cyclist’s day off.
No sleep? I wonder if race boss Wouter Vandenhaute will sleep tonight. With the Kapelmuur gone from the route if the race doesn’t deliver a theatrical final hour then many will be blaming him. There’s already a “I hate Wouter Vandenhaute” Facebook group. In reality races are like fine wines, some years deliver vintages that delight but you can also get a few sour editions too.
Ronde Durand: many cyclists were in action today. The Tour of Flanders has a cyclotourist event where thousands and thousands of people can ride the route the day before the professionals do it. Belgians love their cycling and all sorts come out on the roads, from ambitious racers to seniors dusting off their vintage ride. 1992 race winner Jacky Durand was amongst the crowd, he managed 6h40m when he won and did it in 8h30 today. When Johan Museeuw won the race in 1998 he revealed afterwards that he phoned one of the cyclos to ask for information on the course. Museeuw knew the roads of course but gleaned extra information on the wind direction and more.
Early movers: when the race is on tomorrow look to see who is in the early breakaway. It will suit several teams to place riders in the move. Often you expect the smaller teams to stick some men in the move knowing they will be invisible during the final hour of the race. Their only way to show the team jersey is to go in the doomed move, a rational decision. But with everyone talking about Boonen and Cancellara I think some squads will aim to place a few half decent riders up the road. Like a poker game, if you start playing some good cards early then things can get even more lively towards the end so watch to see if the big squads place riders in the early move.
Spare a thought for Philippe Gilbert: almost invincible in 2011, he’s almost invisible this year. If it wasn’t for the distinctive Belgian champion kit he’d hardly be noticed. Then again note he was out-sprinted in Milan-Sanremo, failed in an attack in the Tour of Flanders. And if he was winning in the 2011 early season his winning streak only really took off once the cobbled classics were finished so he still has two weeks to prepare for the Amstel Gold race.