Ronde Van Vlaanderen Preview

Friday, 30 March 2018

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It’s Quick Step versus the peloton this Sunday as the home team take on all comers, including Peter Sagan, Greg Van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke. It’s live on TV from start to finish and in front of an estimated million of roadside fans, an event of national importance to the Belgians.

Ronde Van Vlaanderen 2018 profile

The Route: 265km and not full tour of Flanders, the race starts in Antwerp and then heads south-west to reach the finish town of Oudenaarde after 97km. From here the race starts looping around the the hills of the Flemish Ardennes. Viewed on a map the route resembles a ball of wool.

The climbs of the 2018 Tour of Flanders

The Cobbles and the Climbs: the reason why the race loops around a small area is so that can take in as many of the hellingen as possible, the short climbs. These are technical, tactical points and it’s all about positioning and everyone wants to be at the front because if a rider ahead has a mechanical, crash or merely slows it takes a lot of effort to overtake as accelerating on cobbles or uphill uses so much more energy. Watch for the density of riders at key points in race, the racing is fierce just to reach the start of these strategic sections with riders fighting for place, almost a combat sport. The Kapelmuur comes with 95km to go and it shaped the race as the field split.

The Koppenberg (45km to go): “discovered” in 1976 when a local informed race organisers about a narrow cobbled climb with a 22% gradient, rough cobbles and still damp on a dry day. It was used every year until Jesper Skibby crashed in the 1987 race and a race car, with the peloton closing in behind, had to drive over his bike with the Dane’s feet still into the pedals. Now it’s made a comeback and features late in the race. It’s probably the hardest climb of the day and if it doesn’t pick the winner it thins the field. Look to see who emerges over the top and how smooth they look on the way up while behind many will wear down the infamous stones with their cleats, countless images from the past show riders running up because they could not ride.

Oude Kwaremont (145km, 55km and 17km to go): the odd one out as it’s not short, it’s not steep and it’s not all cobbled. Instead it’s 2.2km long and a meagre 4.2% average; it touches 11% midway. If 2.2km doesn’t sound like much, it’s an effort of more than five minutes of which four are spent on the pavé making it a tiring boneshaker.

Paterberg (51km to go, 13km to go): the Kwaremont is chased by the Paterberg, it’s only 400m long but is short, steep and very cobbled. It’s not a normal road, it was inspired by a local farmer who suggested laying cobbles on what was a farm track in a bid to lure the race. It works and is VIP central today, it’s lined by fans who enjoy a giant screen TV and beers – this is the final climb of the race. The 20% slope has broken many a rider with 240km in their legs.

The Finish: the last section from Kerkhove to Oudenaarde is eight kilometres long on a flat wide road all the way to the line. The most unremarkable of roads, there are no sharp corners, roundabouts or hills. The featureless nature matters as it’s long enough to allow riders to regroup and offers no ambush opportunities for a late attack. The final kilometre has the tiniest of rises to the line.

The Contenders
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Quick Step have collectively dominated the cobbled classics this year and start with several strong candidates. Philippe Gilbert looks the strongest of them all and as we saw last year he can go from a long way out. So can Niki Terpstra as we saw a week ago in the E3 (and in 2015 when he went on the Hotond with Kristoff). Zdeněk Štybar is kopgroep material but keeps seeing results slip from his grasp while local son of the soil Yves Lampaert has just won Dwars Door Vlaanderen but remember he was struggling to hold Terpstra’s wheel in the E3. So far so good but if they’ve won this year it’s been by a whisker sometimes, a victory nonetheless. Without Tom Boonen they lack a rider whom they can bank on to clean up in a sprint from a group: this forces them to attack and the smaller the group, the better. This is a problem for their rivals but could also be team’s undoing. The likes of Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet can’t and certainly won’t take turns to mark each Quick Step move which is to the Belgian team’s advantage. But Quick Step can only launch so many moves and if Sagan or GVA latches onto an attack by Gilbert, Terpstra or Lampaert then more often than not Quick Step are going to lose in a sprint to the line. Finally Quick Step’s undoing could be ambition because their riders know that once they’ve gone clear up the road their team mates have to block for them behind, which brings to mind the maxim of “attacking as late as possible, but before everyone else”, or in this case before your team mates.

Peter Sagan is in a nonchalant position, he doesn’t have to win here because he can always aim for Roubaix next Sunday. Now he need only follow his rivals and beat them in the sprint, easier said than done but if he can win this way or could just go solo like he did in 2016. Bora-Hansgrohe are stronger than previous years but only in so far as they’re able to support Sagan later into the race, they’re unlikely to set the tactical agenda in the final 40km. One doubt is his form, he stayed in Belgium this week to visit a physio.

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Greg Van Avermaet has won almost everything he can except the Ronde and it’s his big target. Only he’s looked adrift recently, chasing wheels rather than making the moves. His team are solid but miss Daniel Oss and Manuel Quinziato. Jürgen Roelandts is part support, part Plan B for them.

Team Sky bring a strong squad as usual but they’ve been a damp squib in the cobbled classics so far with Kristoffer Halvorsen’s second place in the Handzame Classic and Łukasz Wiśniowski on the Omloop podium the only results to write home about. Gianni Moscon has been an ominous presence, more than ever a muscular 21st century version of Francesco Moser and due a result soon while Sky bring Michał Kwiatkowski who can be an ace or a joker and if he’s aiming for the Ardennes classics has won cobbled classics too and has the race craft to undo Quick Step and thwart Peter Sagan too.

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Sep Vanmarcke can win but how? He’s persistent and few can match his attacks but sometimes this brute force betrays him. If he can keep his powder dry for the final ascent of the Kwaremont he’s in with a good chance of a podium.

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Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) is another outsider who was close to a podium finish last year until that crash on the Oude Kwaremont. He crashed in Dwars Door Vlaanderen and sustained a knee injury. For know we don’t know if this is good or bad news, he could be crocked for a race that requires repeated high power efforts but it could also mean he got to sit out a grim day’s racing and should be as fresh as a cone of hot friten for Sunday.

Tiesj Benoot looked strong in Dwars Door Vlaanderen which matters because he’s been on the boil since winning the Strade Bianche. Only he’s often without team mates and so has to work a lot… which makes him look strong but means there’s no result and the conditions this Sunday are not grim enough to make this a test of attrition alone.

Wout van Aert has been one of the revelations this spring. Yes we knew his cyclo-cross talent, yes he’s won on the road before and convincingly too but he’s been hanging with the best in the World Tour this spring. He packs a good sprint but being able to use this is his problem, he’s not got the team. Stijn Devolder rides too.

Edvald Boasson Hagen appeared out of nowhere in the finale of Dwars Door Vlaanderen so he’s now a name to be reckoned with for the upcoming races. He’s one of those riders who’s a firm outsider because of his erratic ways but were he to win then everyone would ex post write how the win was inevitable given his versatile talents.

2015 winner Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Emirates) has been missing the moves of late and if he packs a sprint how can he be in a position to use it? For a rider who has traditionally found Paris-Roubaix harder to cope with this could be his last shot this spring.

Mitchelton-Scott’s best hopes rest with Matteo Trentin who has had a visible spring campaign but no results yet. He packs a fast sprint and his rivals are only too aware of this. Luke Durbridge is a candidate for a long range move, to follow a Quickstepper when they try a solo bid and work with them as a ticket to the podium.

Similarly there’s a long tail of outsiders who might find their best chance is to collaborate with Quick Step. When the Belgian team launches a move they must jump and work with it knowing that if it stays away the podium awaits, perhaps the top step. Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) has stood on the podium in Sanremo and Wevelgem but the bergs could be too much for him, next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix is much more his affair. Astana have a strong team with Michael Valgren and Alexey Lutsenko as two outsiders. Trek-Segafredo have Jasper Stuyven, John Degenkolb and the 22 year old Mads Pedersen. with Stuyven surely the most reliable of the trio, he keeps making the top-10 but is still hunting for a podium. Team Sunweb’s Edward Theuns and Mike Teunissen can take turns, maybe Søren Kragh Andersen too. What about Vincenzo Nibali? Alejandro Valverde had fun in Dwars so Nibali could figure but he’s bound to be a fish out water. Still he’ll draw in plenty of interest from Italy and take the focus and pressure off Sonny Colbrelli, Heinrich Haussler and Ivan Garcia.

Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert
Greg Van Avermaet, Niki Terpstra
Sep Vanmarcke, Michał Kwiatkowski, Tiesj Benoot
Lampaert, Naesen, Štybar, Moscon, Roelandts, Boasson Hagen, Trentin, Stuyven, WvA

Weather: cool with the chance of a rain shower. A top temperature of 8°C and a 15-20km/h breeze from the north-west which could gust to 30km/h, if so then it’s enough to start splitting up the peloton.

TV: new for 2018, the whole race will be live from start to finish. The start is at 10.30am CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.00pm. Local host broadcaster Sporza/Een offers the best coverage with moto reporter Renaat Schotte’s observations, otherwise it’s on Eurosport across most of Europe, Fubo in the US and DAZN in Japan. Cyclingfans and steephill have links to schedules and streams too.

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Women’s Race: there’s an expert preview over at cyclingtips and the final hour is live on Belgian TV (Canvas).

Mike March 30, 2018 at 1:52 pm

Great write-up. Super excited. After Gilbert storming it last year, I can’t look beyond him again.

The Inner Ring March 30, 2018 at 2:25 pm

It’ll be interesting to watch, and the following Sunday in Paris-Roubaix too.

STS March 31, 2018 at 10:23 pm

I think tomorrow’s is Quick Step’s race to lose. Can’t remember a spring when they were so dominant and also so strong both as a team and individually when compared to the competition. And of those races that I saw they didn’t mess up their tactics – as they often did – except for Gent-Wevelgem. Some one day races are hard to control and the Ronde is one where a lot of things can go wrong. But if bad luck doesn’t strike them too badly tomorrow one of their four “captains” should be at least on the podium. I suppose their plan A is Terpstra despite not being a Belgian. I figure Gilbert is at least equally strong but he’s got his eyes on his next monument next Sunday. Terpstra’s performance in Harelbeke was the most convincing I saw this spring. If he stayed healthy he will be capable to go for a long solo. He will probably try so early that no one of the other big guns which might already be isolated at that point will dare to follow. And then Gilbert and possibly Stybar will make it into the group of chasers that will probably get smaller from helling to helling.
Plan B is probably Stybar launching from that group if they reel in Terpstra. And Plan C is Gilbert finishing it off after he has sat on their wheels and covered some moves if he really has to for the last hour so that he should be the freshest going into the sprint if a select group fights for the win.
For that tactic to work out the race has to be hard, fast and selective already early so that most competitors do have no more than maybe one helper when Terpstra launches at the second “beklimming” of the Oude Kwaremont giving his attempt a higher chance for success. So I’m looking forward to some interesting last 120 minutes of racing.
Keep the rubber side down boys!

STS April 1, 2018 at 5:07 pm

Plan A worked out perfectly. Chapeau!

STS April 1, 2018 at 5:15 pm

And what a ride by 22 year old Mads Pedersen!

Tovarishch March 30, 2018 at 1:56 pm

Amazed how strong Luke Rowe was in the Dwars Door Vlaanderen. If he doesn’t go on a lone break he could upset Quicksteps plans and allow Kwiatkowski to figure.

gabriele March 30, 2018 at 2:23 pm

He was surprising given he’s been long recovering from his horror accident, but was he especially strong in general terms, too?
At the end of the day, he crossed the line nearly three mins down, with the third or fourth group, along with other 20+ riders, that is, within what remained of the main peloton. I suppose he might have been resting in the final part of the race, once it was clear that there was no result anymore to chase, yet it’s hard to say where his form currently is, actually.

The Inner Ring March 30, 2018 at 2:26 pm

Good to see him back in any case but he and Stannard aren’t the picks they once were, Rowe obviously for breaking his leg over the winter. Maybe Stannard’s been saving things for later though, he skipped the Omloop.

Tovarishch March 30, 2018 at 2:55 pm

Actually, that was what surprised me. I thought he wouldn’t even bother to stay with the peleton. Sky’s normal tactic is to coast home at the back of the field once they have done heir work.

CA March 30, 2018 at 9:21 pm

Rowe definitely needs the training at race tempo so potentially that’s why he didn’t coast home with the bunch

John I April 1, 2018 at 5:47 pm

And training in how to stay on the road: “Luke Rowe of Team Sky has been DQ’d from the race for riding on the footpath. “

J Evans March 30, 2018 at 2:40 pm

To me it looked more like a rider trying to regain form and so giving himself a good, hard training session – usually, if you think you can win, you don’t go that early.

JD March 31, 2018 at 11:19 am

DDV was a much shorter race and should not be used as a clue for form heading into the Ronde.

As stated in the article Yves Lampaert couldn’t hold Terpestra’s wheels at E3 but won DDV.

Gervais March 30, 2018 at 2:07 pm

Wout is going to win.

J Evans March 30, 2018 at 2:39 pm

Quick Step’s advantage this year seems to have been that they have no leader, therefore so many of their riders’ attacks are potentially winning moves and you can’t go with them all. Catch one and the next one goes. With most other teams, you only have to watch one rider, generally speaking.

They’ve seemed almost better without Boonen, thus far, but as you say if it comes down to a small group at the end that will probably change as none of them are great sprinters.

People keep saying that Sagan doesn’t need to win races, but when it comes to Monuments, he does. And he’s never looked too good at Roubaix (please let it rain that weekend). Neither he nor GVA have looked that strong thus far – Sagan won G-W with good tactics rather than raw power.

Anyone know why Kristoff avoids Paris-Roubaix? He seems the ideal sort of rider for it.

I wish I could understand Renaat Schotte’s observations. Lacking the requisite Flemish it’ll be Eurosport’s commentary-less and advert-less feed for me.

Anonymous March 30, 2018 at 4:07 pm

Kristoff has done Paris-Roubaix every season as a pro and makes his 9th appearance this year. He has placed 9th and 10th,but still complains abot how the race does not shit him. He has more DNFs than results though.

Jim March 30, 2018 at 4:08 pm

Haha. That was me. And I am absolutly certain I wrote “suit”.

J Evans March 30, 2018 at 7:07 pm

Haha! Blame predictive text… although that would just show you type ‘shit’ a lot.
Either I mis-read what was in the article or it originally said that he avoids P-R.

Richard S March 30, 2018 at 5:45 pm

Yeah I didn’t get the Sagan doesn’t need to win because Paris-Roubaix is next weekend bit either. Surely that applies to 90% of the field. Sagan’s media team has worked wonders creating an image that all he needs to do is turn up, pull a few wheelies and walk around with incongruous green ski goggles on. There are at least 4 riders off the top of my head in the field who have won more monuments than him. He’s got work to do, Sunday included.

The Inner Ring March 30, 2018 at 6:04 pm

Personally I’d like to see him win rather than strut around with the (motocross) goggles and while a communications agency “curates” his social media feeds for him although one doesn’t necessarily stop the other. But he seems so nonchalant at times and he can afford to lose Flanders in a way that a Vanmarcke or GVA probably can’t. But miss out this Sunday and his sponsors, Specialized included, will be very nervous about Roubaix.

RQS March 30, 2018 at 9:02 pm

I thought your comments about GVA seemed quizzical. He was riding hard with Benoot, whom you’ve given a more positive write up.

Though overall I agree, he seems a yard short, a second behind or whatever, to the extent that he has not been as successful this Spring season as he has previously. It’s like younger riders are stepping up and he’s been unable to keep up with them.

What is interesting about this season is that the main protagonists do not look like the shoe-ins they have previously. It feels like the races are more open this year. Though I still think Sagan is going to monster it.

Not convinced the Phil Gil will do anything more than set a high tempo for his younger team mates, or bridge a gap as that’s what he appears to have done so far this spring.

J Evans March 30, 2018 at 10:44 pm

My thinking was that Gilbert has looked very strong and has been willing to play the good teammate in a number of smaller races, so that he can get payback in the bigger ones – we’ll see.

Ecky Thump March 31, 2018 at 12:32 am

Is there such a thing as tempo in De Ronde?
It’s like trying to follow a Keith Moon drum beat –
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aUkJYkVTITU

I think Quick Step could get mugged on Sunday, they’ve almost been too successful this Spring hitherto, and everyone is going to be waiting for them. They could drag an elite group round and get out kicked at the end.

Larry T March 31, 2018 at 1:50 pm

Geez, a lot of crap thrown at Sagan here. Do you think his authenticity is all fake? That he really has a burning, all-consuming, ruthless desire to win that’s been marketing-mavened down to where he appears to be a young man still kind of in awe that they pay him so much just to race a bicycle? “Struts around”? Really? Perhaps he doesn’t take things as seriously as you deem he should? Because if YOU had all that talent we know you’d be taking much more advantage of it via some protestant work-ethic? You’d have multiple monument victories of course. It’s almost like the poor man is Italian or Spanish! Give him a break!

RonDe March 31, 2018 at 4:32 pm

Sagan is not responsible for his fans, as someone kindly pointed out to me. But one monument is a poor return on “all that talent”.

CA March 30, 2018 at 9:44 pm

I agree, a rider of Sagan’s class “needs” to win a monument or two each year. So, he always needs to win in a way. He just appears nonchalant as a way to deflect the pressure, and he can do it in a way that not many uber-talented guys can.

However, I will qualify this statement – if you look at the big picture, Sagan has 3 Worlds (equivalent of Monument), 1 Monument, 5 (going on 6) Green Jerseys. So, it isn’t like he doesn’t win.

Cycling Craze March 30, 2018 at 11:47 pm

Sagan has too many seconds that should have been firsts. Not all of them but quite a few.
Gilbert looks to have helped his team mates this season and is now expecting full support Sunday. Last year, Gilbert’s team blocked for him to get away then Sagan and GVA crashed so he didn’t get caught. Much like Nibali winning MSR. But thats bike racing and if you take chances sometimes they pay off!

sam March 30, 2018 at 10:40 pm

Richard: spot on. best description of Sagan I’ve heard.

Oo-la-la-la-la-la-la March 31, 2018 at 1:32 pm

Try it, you might surprise yourself. Van Avermaet, Benoot, Stuyven, Roelandts are the same in Flemish as in English anyway and pronounced better. Ja, ja, absoluut. Over and out.

RonDe March 31, 2018 at 4:04 pm

A post with which I agree with J Evans and its about my favourite race too! Where I agree is that Sagan DOES need to win. Three world champs in a row (two of them won in sprints) have, for me at least, papered over the cracks of his lack of BIG wins and that means MONUMENTS of which he has won precisely as many as Matthew Hayman (no disrespect) and less than Stijn Devolder who has won De Ronde twice. A man touted by many as the greatest road cyclist needs more monuments than one He needs four, five, six, seven. Will Sagan ever achieve that?

I have him as my favourite tomorrow but should he drift anonymously out of the race or crash, stupidly, as last year, I wouldn’t be surprised.

PS I don’t believe for a second he can wait for Roubaix either. He has always found that a hard race to master.

STS March 31, 2018 at 6:53 pm

No matter who wears that nice jersey year round, for a lot of die-hard cycling fans tomorrow’s race is the real World Championship race. And yes it’s also my favorite race and I’m rarely more excited.

In order to win tomorrow Sagan has to come up with a performance which really deserves that win like he did in 2016. But I think a) he is probably not capable of doing that right now also because b) the level of the competition is somewhat higher and we have actually a lot of riders who are at least in terms of physical performance on the same very high level.

Raff March 30, 2018 at 2:57 pm

Regarding Team Sky’s cobbled classics, don’t forget about 2nd place for Wiśniowski in Omloop.

The Inner Ring March 30, 2018 at 3:05 pm

You’re right, will add him to the piece above.

JT March 30, 2018 at 4:33 pm

1. Vanmarcke
2. Terpstra
3. Benoot

You heard it here first ! But seriously, this is a very open field. And for that reason Sagan is favourite because of his sprint. I would love to see Vanmarcke win, he has been so unfortunate thus far. Wouldn’t mind seeing GVA win also.
I’m hoping Gilbert keeps his powder dry for next Sunday.

Mats March 30, 2018 at 5:35 pm

That looks a lot like my list. I’ve been a fan of Vanmarcke for many years and I think he is finally ready for a big one.

RonDe March 31, 2018 at 4:08 pm

Vanmarcke, Mr Close But No Cigar? What possible set of circumstances could engineer a win for him? He can’t outsprint anyone and he has proved himself unable to drop everyone. Hope you haven’t wasted currency on that.

Anonymous March 31, 2018 at 8:00 pm

GvA was always mr second and then the flood gates opened. Fingers crossed for Vanmarcke

Tim Mitchell March 30, 2018 at 4:36 pm

Highlight of the year for me. TV, Crisps and beer and get rid of the kids.

Can’t wait. Sep Vanmarke will finally pull it off I think.

Whatever happens it will be ace.

The GCW / Strictly Amateur March 30, 2018 at 5:39 pm

JT & Tim & INRNG,

Sep Vanmarke shows fight & heart. He’s gotta also be learning through all of it.

With fight & heart with a little added school and that dry powder at the last climb it may be His time.

We’ve seen Him show so many times… He comes to race, helps make it exciting.

J Evans March 30, 2018 at 7:17 pm

Vanmarcke’s looked better than anyone else on the cobbled climbs this season, but he can probably only do it if he’s brave and chooses the right tactic: he has to go from reasonably far out. I’ve no particular favourites, but I would like to see him win a Monument.
He doesn’t have the sprint so he has to go on one of the final two climbs (if not before) – is he stronger on a longer climb, so the Kwaremont? I think he could go there, then hold his lead over the Paterberg and to the end.

SilverSurfer8 March 30, 2018 at 5:07 pm

Flanders is my favorite, because it’s won with brute strength. Who is the strongest this year? Tiesj Benoot!

Richard March 30, 2018 at 5:08 pm

Missing Dylan van Baarle? Outsider with 4 stars I think

The Inner Ring March 30, 2018 at 5:34 pm

With Moscon and Kwiatkowski I thought he might be on team work duty, we’ll see. One to watch, especially ahead of Paris-Roubaix as he’s suited to that.

RQS March 30, 2018 at 11:47 pm

He may be on team duty, but I cannot say that he has look too strong this Spring. Sometimes riders target a race, but I’m not convinced that Sky are priming him for a lead role.

Grant March 30, 2018 at 5:32 pm

Benoot for me. Looks super strong.

Andrew March 30, 2018 at 6:59 pm

Any idea how to watch this from the US?

MRJ March 30, 2018 at 7:07 pm

Two options for us:
1. Buy a subscription to fubo.tv.
2. Surf on over to cyclingfans.com; find the link to Tour of Flanders LIVE; then scroll down on that page to the live stream links. You’ll likely have a variety of languages to choose from (none of which will be English).

Anonymous April 1, 2018 at 1:59 am

Unfortunately, steephill.tv has not been very consistent with providing working live streams of late. I worry that Fubo’s sponsorship of the site has created a conflict of interest. Steephill now has every incentive to steer you away from its own site and to pay for Fubo, which gives steephill a cut. Often, steephill’s “live coverage” consists of an ad for Fubo and a bunch of dead links.

John I April 1, 2018 at 5:50 pm

I watched through their Luxembourgish link this morning, which was quite solid.

J Evans March 30, 2018 at 7:12 pm

If Sporza is showing it online free in Belgium, get a VPN, tell your computer it’s Belgian and then you can watch?
Or try something like zorrostream?

Andrew March 30, 2018 at 7:57 pm

I did that, it drank all my beer and keeps telling me to “harden the f**k up”. Now what do I do?

Tom March 31, 2018 at 11:43 pm

@Andrew’s Belgian computer… Nice one : )

I think this is old news, but just in case it helps– one option for US people to watch good euro cycling coverage is to pay for a fast VPN service, then tell your computer it is in the UK (and guard your beer…) and then pay for a UK Eurosport month-to-month subscription. That is what I do and it works well– includes both live coverage and no-spoiler on-demand streaming.

Joe 90 March 31, 2018 at 11:16 pm

Try http://tiz-cycling.stream/
I’ve had very good luck.

Gordo April 1, 2018 at 1:25 pm

Live streaming on youtube right now
https://youtu.be/8geHgJx1kKg

Jim April 1, 2018 at 4:01 pm

Many thanks Gordo. I’d been looking awhile when I saw your link.

sam April 1, 2018 at 5:31 pm

google search “Eurosport live stream free” and take your pick. or the tried and true cyclingfans.com, but their English language links have dwindled.

I used one of the various free live streams and watched the whole race in HD without interruption.

Andrew April 2, 2018 at 12:41 pm

I signed up for the FuBo free trial. Watched several hours of it- excellent quality. Now I need to cancel my free trial…

AK March 30, 2018 at 7:38 pm

It will be interesting with the Quickstep bunch, Vanmarcke and a few others who have an interest in going from afar because they can’t win in a sprint, vs Sagan, GvA, BoHa, Trentin who can sprint but may run out of team mates before the final Paterberg ascent. Let the fun begin!

Michael B March 30, 2018 at 8:05 pm

Totally agree that SVM, Benoot and Terpstra look the strongest classics riders this season, the obvious problem being none of them can beat Sagan, GVA or Gilbert in a sprint. I’d love to see Benoot or SVM do it but think it might be Terpstra’s year as Gilbert will soften things up for him and Terpstra to return the favour at Paris-Roubaix.

This year is also interesting for wildcard outsiders like Van Aert and Nibali. It is a stretch to imagine Nibali winning such is the specialisation at Flanders but once a generation a GC man with one day capabilities does it (Merckx/Bugno).

Different times though and can’t see it happening again although I think Van Aert is good for a top 10 and who knows what might happen if he makes it to the finale in a reduced group. Suspect he has a bigger sprint than expected although he seems too happy to sit in the wind, possibly a legacy from cyclo-cross where it doesn’t matter so much?

Can’t wait for Sunday, stocked up on the Belgian beers already…

Mike March 30, 2018 at 9:18 pm

Van Aert had a super campaign so far but I think De Ronde will prove too much for him. He cramped at the end of Strade Bianche and that was “only” 180 km (his average HR of the race was impressive – 162 bpm! But he is still young:)) I don’t think he will make it to the select group at the end. I am very curious too about Nibali. He is a rider with a monstrous engine and the harder and longer the race, the better he gets. Adding the predicted harsh weather conditions and he may indeed surprise quite a few on the road. Although I agree that a top placing would be a big upset, because he is not suited to these explosive intervalls on the cobbles. Having said that, nobody predicted his performance at THAT stage of the Tour back in 2014…

Michael B March 30, 2018 at 9:47 pm

Agreed. I think if Nibali is to pull off a shock result it’ll have to be a 50-60km break with an incident behind that gifts him some time. Like last year but maybe more extreme. Even if gets to a group on the Paterberg 13km from the finish I just don’t see him having the raw power to stay with the classics guys over the top. He’ll lose 50m and it’s game over. I think that happened to Kwiatkowski the year Sagan won? Similar scenario. It’d be amazing if he pulled it off though! I’m all for Nibali having a go.

Cycling Craze March 30, 2018 at 11:51 pm

Agree about Nibali. Valverde would do much better on Sunday but still not win. Podium, maybe.

Michael B March 31, 2018 at 12:55 am

It’s a shame Valverde has chosen not to race Flanders. He’s obviously focusing on LBL and Flèche but what does that mean to his Palmares, really? Whereas a De Ronde win would be phenomenal. Maybe he’ll win RVV in 2028 or something.

gabriele March 31, 2018 at 12:36 pm

@Michael B
Allegedly, it’s a team decision (as during most of his career). There was a report on El País lately about the special relationship that Movistar’s management has got with the GP Indurain, former GP de Navarra, former Campeonato Vasco-Navarro de Montaña, known by most simply as “the Estella race”. This year, it will be a celebration for José Miguel Echávarri, who created the team as Reynolds nearly forty years ago. Thay always tried to support the race bringing in as many star riders as possible, this year it’s even more true.

That said, I agree that such attitude is a real shame. He’s never raced here because the management was obsessed with him getting injured and losing more realistic options of winning something big later in the season. Ex post, that’s just absurd, given the extremely long career Valverde pulled out. And even a podium in Flanders would probably add to his palmarés more than one or two further Liège’s victories (yeah yeah, Merckx’s record… but you don’t get any closer to Merckx just winning as many Lièges as him). The obsession with GTs didn’t help either. Valverde himself always thought that stage racing mattered the most, he famously commented that he’d rather win a Vuelta a Murcia (when it was a stage race!) than a Milano-Sanremo. Similarly, he admitted quite openly that he always suffered from the fact that Contador won the TdF, which actually was Valverde’s main cycling dream.

Truth is that what really limits Valverde’s profile as a Classics champion is that he only ever won one Monument (and podiumed just once in any of the rest). His strong point is, of course, being decently competitive in the GTs, too, and an impressive short stage racer, but when Classics are concerned you don’t need to go very much far back to find a better palmarés… IMHO, Bettini and Bartoli can already be preferred (not to speak of Argentin). He looks more like a stronger version of Di Luca, which was also a decent stage racer. But the shame is that Spaniard could really (have) be(en) way, way better.

AK March 30, 2018 at 10:21 pm

I can definitely see Terpstra winning this if Quick-Step can make the race hard enough such that they still have at least two on the front while the sprinters don’t have helpers left. He needs to get to the line alone because he’s a terrible sprinter but he’s hard to bring back once he gets a gap. Plenty of other scenarios to consider, though.

RQS April 2, 2018 at 10:02 am

Prophetic words indeed. I must admit that I had written Terpstra off though he and Stybar are two of my favourite riders.

Due to his middling performances last year in the Classics and the strength of the Quick Steps Team (a bright light amongst many bright lights does not shine brighter) I did not see him as strong possibility. I think that in some ways there are quite a few riders coming through who have the pedigree to win this sort of race.

So kudos to him, he picked his moment and went. The pack assumed he was going too far out and underestimated his strength.

I think a big shout-out to Perdersen. Quite an astonishing ride to get second. If the chasing pack had shut Terpstra down he may well have won. Regardless, second after being in the break for most of the day was a remarkable feat.

Louis le Blanc April 2, 2018 at 8:09 pm

And Mads Pedersens debut in the race. Chapeau !! 🙂

osbk67 March 31, 2018 at 4:42 am

Van Avermaet, Benoot and Vanmarcke in that order. Because the race is selective enough to separate them, they’d work together, and Sagan and Quickstep may not cooperate. I think Sagan is short of form, in spite of Ghent-Wevelgem, and Gilbert would prefer to save himself for Roubaix than support Terpstra. Perhaps.

Richard S March 31, 2018 at 8:14 am

It’s hard to see a scenario that doesn’t involve Quick Step sending someone up the road fairly early. Maybe not as early as last year but I’d be surprised if Terpstra or A N Other hadn’t had a go by the second time up the Kwaremont. I’m not sure it’s true that Quick Step have no one for a sprint. Everyone would consider Kwiatkowski a decent option for a reduced bunch sprint after a hard day, but he was out kicked by Gilbert at Amstel Gold last year. I think it’ll be his job to mark the big guns whilst Terpstra, Stybar and Lampaert create a bit of chaos. I’m very interested to see what Benoot can do. He looks as strong as anyone right now, but lacks support and an obvious method in this type of race. It’s perhaps not quite hilly enough for him?

Fred March 31, 2018 at 10:04 am

Any of your top 4 could win, and it may be the tactics of others rather than direct tactic that pulls out the eventual winner. The weather looks like it could be miserable for the roadside fans but make it more of a hard mans spectacle. To me GVA looks a little puffy in the cheeks this Spring!

Adrian Holman March 31, 2018 at 12:17 pm

Why are some hellingen red and some green in the profile?

The Inner Ring March 31, 2018 at 12:21 pm

It’s to do with the map of the race when they do different loops around Oudenaarde, a big red loop and then the smaller green circuit.

RonDe March 31, 2018 at 4:17 pm

May I be bold? Were I an accountant (turf) I’d back Sagan. But I actually think that Nibali will win. Some above are saying he’s not strong enough. Well he’s been strong enough to win Lombardy twice. He was strong enough to hold off the peloton at MSR. He’s been strong enough to win grand tour stages and also (at least) four grand tours. Different races you will say. But Nibali can climb, he can do one day races and he has race craft few others can match. He knows who to steal away off the front and should he get lucky with one of those 25 meter breaks that no one chases believe me they will find it hard to catch him.

Forza Nibali!

PS If Nibali does win he’ll be the only person besides Merckx to win 3 monuments in a row.

sam March 31, 2018 at 5:51 pm

nibalis big advantage is that he seems to know exactly when others will look around at each other after he attacks and when they will chase. his unknown quantity will also factor in, everyone knows to chase Sagan or GvA or SvM, but no one really knows what Nibali is capable of other than he seems capable of it all.

it’s a lot like Kwia, when he pounces it will be deliberate and well timed, the X factor is whether he will have the strength to take it all the way.

I can see him going with someone like Benoot or a similarly comprised small group of B level favorites, then riding away on the Kwaremont.

either way, I seeh being very involved in the finale. if anyone can put together that kind of surprise win, it’s Nibali.

Ecky Thump March 31, 2018 at 9:45 pm

Seriously guys?
Nibali will do well to get top 15 for me.
Wouldn’t be surprised to see him DNF too.

gabriele March 31, 2018 at 10:27 pm

I’m quite a fan of Nibali as a rider, but I’d tend to agree with Ecky this time. The guy weighs very little above 64 kgs. It’s a tough ask. I might make something good, precisely because he’s *really good*, if he tries it 2-3 times before (to say the least). I think that this is the point, he’s there to start practicing. I couldn’t be happier if RonDe proved right this time, anyway 😀

The GCW / Strictly Amateur April 1, 2018 at 7:05 am

Nibali’s surprised a number of people a number of times. Don’t think He’ll win but I’ll no longer be surprised.

Remember the cobbles Tour stage a few or so back…

John I April 1, 2018 at 6:00 pm

When Nibali and Terpstra were off the front of the chasers, I thought “well this is something you don’t see everyday”. He faded, but Nibali definitely was a factor at a few key points. I love that he’s mixing it up.

Mike A April 1, 2018 at 7:07 pm

+1 re the Nibali comment. His comments pre-race centred around being there to take part and see what happens. When he went with Terpstra it surprised me. He gave it a nudge but didn’t have it today. Good on him for having a go.

Larry T April 3, 2018 at 8:22 am

Who is this person impersonating RonDe? I can’t argue with this fellow!!! 🙂

Morten Reippuert April 1, 2018 at 5:56 pm

young Mads Pedersen was a Flanders debutant at 21 with an impressive 2nd.

Last year he was a neo pro and rode hid first and only Monument in Paris Roubaix and his first GT in the Giro. I have a feeling that he is a future Flanders or Roubaix winner. (In 2013 he won the juniors Paris Roubaix)

MJJensen April 1, 2018 at 7:08 pm

What a heroic effort to hang on for 2nd. And another strong effort from Valgren.

Mike A April 1, 2018 at 7:26 pm

Outstanding effort to hold on. I would have bet he would be caught. Great prospect (if you can call someone who just came 2nd at Flanders still a prospect!)

Tim Mitchell April 1, 2018 at 8:07 pm

Good call on Terps Mr Ring. Niballi looks great. I wish more GT riders rode classics and GTs had stages suited to classics men really mixing it up. Would a full PR stage work on the Tour? I think it would and it would shift the skills needed to win GC in a positive way.

My call Vanmarke? Good rider bad tactics. If you cant sprint you have to go long. Roll on Roubaix.

Great race and my t-shirt is on its way.

poab April 1, 2018 at 9:17 pm

A real pleasure to devote a few hours to watching the Ronde today. And interesting to see one of the entirely predictable potential possibles – Tetpstra off the front and the group can’t pull him back – play out, enlivened by a Tifosi pleasing assist from Nibali.
Fair play to Terpstra for pulling that off.

My enjoyment of this event has been enhanced so much by the build up here from inrng and the community. Thanks everyone.

CA April 2, 2018 at 2:36 pm

Great race and congrats to Terpstra, really well done. Inrng really close to picking the top-10. Could have put 4-star favourites as Sagan and “QuickStep”.

Need to say how solid a race Nibali, Van Aert and Pedersen had. Those three (in any order) were really impressive. Nibali could be the dark horse favourite to repeat his 2014 performance at the Tour this summer… he surely has the potential to put time into other GC favourites on the Paris-Roubaix stage.

J Evans April 2, 2018 at 6:48 pm

Well done to Terpstra – and also to Mads Pedersen.

And Nibali again launches the winning move!

The other big riders are going to have to learn – and quickly – to work together to combat QS. Letting Terpstra go away was not smart – and it’s not like there had been multiple QS attacks to counter before that point.

Van Aert should focus fully on the road: he’s clearly a prospect and doesn’t seem to be as good as Matheiu VDP in the cyclocross anyway (over a season – not including World Championships), although that could just be this season (I don’t follow it closely enough to know).

They were right to disqualify Rowe, in my opinion (although that is a judgement made from only the one viewing), even if he didn’t mean to do it – it was dangerous – but wrong not to do so more often and with other riders who use the pavements. Even earlier in this same race there was another near miss when riders went onto the pavement and nearly hit a spectator. Consistency is so often a problem, it seems, when it comes to upholding rules in cycling.

StevhanTI April 3, 2018 at 11:06 am

Not a lot of pre-Terpstra QS attacks but quite a few crashes and insanely hard pulling by the QS gregari-trident-from-hell: Keisse-De Clercq-Sénéchal. Most other team leaders were at least half-cooked when Niki and Nibali took off.

Joe K. April 3, 2018 at 2:19 pm

Terpstra’s winning move looked actually like a reaction by Terpstra to Nibali’s move. Terpstra was either looking to breakaway with Nibali or he felt forced to chase him down, and when Nibali slowed down refusing to pull any further Terpstra looked disgusted and spit in his direction. Terpstra looked cooked and probably wouldn’t have gone for it alone from so far out if it wasn’t for Nibali. In hindsight, Terpstra should thank the man that allowed him to tear up the Quick Step pre-game plan, whatever it might have been.

Magicreme April 3, 2018 at 9:05 pm

Little question regarding Tepstra, any ideas why he isn’t winning major TT’s because he does seem to have quite the engine ! My guess is that he doesn’t work his TT’s position.

Richard S March 31, 2018 at 6:30 pm

Must be a Spanish thing. I’m sure I read somewhere that Flanders isn’t even on TV in Spain. They’ve always been more about the stage races whereas the Italians and to a lesser extent the French have been able to appreciate both. The Belgians being the opposite end of the scale.

Michael B March 31, 2018 at 7:37 pm

Thanks for the background info Gabriele, interesting, and agree with all of your points.

Michael B March 31, 2018 at 7:39 pm

Thinking about it actually it’s a surprise Valverde has never won Lombardia. Maybe a consequence of him racing so hard early in the season?

gabriele March 31, 2018 at 10:24 pm

@Michael B
Re: Valverde & Lombardia
Well, I think that what people might sometimes forget (in Sagan’s case, too) is that it isn’t easy to win a Monument. Valverde raced the Giro di Lombardia 7 times, one as a neopro, and one was a DNF. The remaining results are: 12, 2, 2, 4, 6.

I mean, let’s take Tom Boonen – whom I’d argue was probably the strongest specialised rider ever on the cobbles – and have a look to his beloved Flanders he started 15 times, finishing all of them bar one. 3 wins, 1 podium, 2 top ten, 4 top 20, 4 (+1) worse results. That’s what you might expect by the best ever in one of his favourite races…

At the end of the day, Valverde started Lombardia half of the times, more or less, he started Liège or Flèche. A big factor, here, is that when the OP, Torri, CONI thing happened Valverde was afraid of racing in Italy, then he was legally prevented from doing that and finally he didn’t want to for a year or two.

He’s normally able to face a very long season; in 2017 it wasn’t possible and 2016 was a peculiar year (3 GTs), but in 2015 he finished strongly enough, and even more so in 2013 or 2014. I think it’s more about the Lombardia being slightly less favourable to his qualities than, say, the Liège (reverse effect for Nibali). Anyway, a factor in Lombardia is also its ever-changing course…

@Richard S
Yeah, no Flanders on any Spanish public / free TVs. Just Eurosport. Fans are on fire, but truth is that short stage races make better audience here, while, as you point out, it’s pretty much the other way around in Belgium. It’s an old struggle of mine… *at least* the 3 GTs and the 3 Monuments should be available on a free TV in every main cycling nation. It would be great for the sport and the institutions should try hard to get there. Currently, we’re still surprisingly far from that objective.

Michael B April 1, 2018 at 9:01 am

Yeah, I appreciate the difficulty of Monuments (as much as you can without riding them!) but he’s come close a few times and usually he finishes those things off, although I can’t recall the way those races played out now. I seem to remember Joaquim Rodríguez going solo a couple of times so maybe the cards just didn’t fall for him. It is a very good point about the changing course though as Valverde really does seem to gain from the predictability of LBL and Flèche in particular.

gabriele April 2, 2018 at 1:41 am

Correction to mine above… TDP in Spain broadcast Flanders this year. Pleasant news.

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