The Spin: Tour of Flanders Preview

Ronde van Vlaanderen

Easter Sunday is coming and whilst it’s church and chocolate for many in Europe, half of Belgium is preparing for the annual ritual of De Ronde.

The Tour of Flanders is one of the highlights of the cycling calendar, a manic race across seemingly ordinary countryside but where numerous cobbled sections and short wall-like climbs make for one of the hardest races of the year. Appropriately the race will have five hours of TV coverage, an endurance event even for those on a sofa. Full details below.

The Route
If the route is tweaked every year, last year saw a radical change with the finish moving from Meerbeke to Oudenaarde and crucially abandoning the Kapelmuur to use three finishing circuits. The 2013 edition is near identical to last year, the only significant difference seems to be the addition of the Jagerij cobbles before the Molenberg.

Tour of Flanders

The race concludes with three finishing circuits, each is different but shares the combo of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs where the race passes beer tents and VIP grandstands several times.

The Cobbles and the Climbs: the difficulty of each section of cobbles and every climb varies and the harder they are, the harder the racing. It’s all about positioning and everyone wants to be at the front because if a rider ahead has a problem or even slows it takes a lot of effort to overtake, accelerating on cobbles or uphill means using a lot of energy. But since these roads are often narrow, this real estate comes at a premium, so much that riders will kerb hop to use cycle paths and even the grass verge. The racing is so fierce just to reach the start of these strategic sections that it can be similar to a bunch sprint bearing down on a sharp bend with a kilometre to go. You will see riders rubbing shoulders and taking great risks. The approach is just as hard as the difficulty itself.

The Oude Kwaremont: it’s a climb but different from your usual Flemish berg at 2.2km long and a meagre 4.2% gradient. It starts with asphalt for 600m then you have 1600m of cobbles. Above all, instead of a steep ramp, the “Old Quarter Hill” is longer and steadier. It rises early to 11% and then levels out. The cobbles are better maintained too. Normally there’s a gutter to aim for on the left but it seems they’ve placed crash barriers here to force riders on the cobbles. It is tackled three times, after 182km, 219km and 239km.


The Paterberg: less than four kilometres after the Kwaremont, the Paterberg is an awkward climb. At just 400m, averaging 12% and maxing at 20%, it is short, steep and cobbled. It is also exposed with almost no cover from hedges, embankments or trees. Instead barriers and fans provide the only cover.

The Finish: the last section from Kerkhove to the Minderbroedersstraat in Oudenaarde is over eight kilometres long in one straight wide line all the way to the finish. It is the most unremarkable of roads, there are no sharp corners, roundabouts or hills and it is flat. But for one day of the year it is special, a red carpet to welcome the stars and heroes of the nation.

The featureless nature is still highly strategic. Any rider up the road will a small gap will be visible to chasers. It is also the chance for dropped riders to come back to a peloton. The final kilometre is flat and straight with the tiniest of rises to the finish line. Crucially the weather forecast says a headwind all the way.

256km: Note the distance. So many races have been cut short this year that the distance is even more significant. It’s equal for everybody – unless Team Sky have been lapping Tenerife – but it could mean a few run out of energy in the final moments, both because nobody has the race distance in their legs and also because the cold on Sunday means even more calories will be expended. More than ever riders may cope with the first 200km but the final hour will be selective.

The Contenders
Every sport loves rivalries and we have Fabian Cancellara vs Peter Sagan for 2013. It’s an obvious duel given both stood on the podium in Milan-Sanremo and each won a Belgian classic last week in the GP E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem.

But this is a classic and not a track pursuit race between two riders. As Gerald Ciolek showed us, watch two riders and someone else will win. What to make of OPQS? Sylvain Chavanel seems to be their best card with Tom Boonen have a run of injury and bad luck that sees him short of form.

It’s nearing crunch time for Team Sky. All the money spent on block-booking high altitude hotels and flying riders in and out has to start paying dividends soon. If anything their problem is too many riders want to win, will they work for each other? We have Edvald Boasson Hagen, Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard and Bernhard Eisel as contenders and I think the first two will cope with the climbing better.

BMC Racing should have the stars but several riders are absent. Thor Hushovd and Greg Van Avermaet can both sprint from a group but they are rare winners. Perhaps Daniel Oss will rock their day?

Last year Filippo Pozzato made the podium but seems less certain to repeat this although he was surprisingly good last year, coming back from a broken wrist very quickly so he could rise to the occasion again. His old team mate at Katusha Luca Paolini thrives in hard races but almost never wins, the Het Nieuwsblad was probably his chance.

Amongst the dark horses, Heinrich Haussler is looking strong and Jurgen Roelandts is a good pick if he can get a chanhce. There’s in-form Oscar Gatto of Vini Fantini. The Italian trounced Thomas Voeckler recently but the Frenchman’s coming into form and might liven up the race along with Damien Gaudin and Seb Turgot although these two are better picks for next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix. FDJ’s Yoann Offredo likes long races but has a pyromaniac tendency to burn his matches too early. By contrast one rider you might not see until the end is Alexander Kristoff of Katusha, he’s in form and remember he won a medal in the long Olympic road race last summer. Argos-Shimano’s John Degenkolb is an obvious fast finisher. Orica-Greenedge’s best hope seems to be Sebastian Langeveld whilst Astana have the tandem of Max Iglinskiy for the hills and Borut Bozic for a sprint.

A full startlist is online at, go to Wedstrijd > Deelnemers and then look for the PDF. Do it in Dutch because this seems to be updated more often than the English section.

The Scenario
Fabian Cancellara attacks. Does Peter Sagan chase? This is the big question that could define the race. If Sagan follows then he wins, if he does not then Cancellara wins. But as we saw in Sanremo if these two mark each other someone else can jump away. What chance Chavanel profits or maybe Boasson Hagen does it?

Finally there’s always the threat of a bunch sprint. We tend to think of these races as a contest for the last man standing but last year Tom Boonen got away with Alessandro Ballan and Pippo Pozzato yet a group of almost 50 riders came in after them. With a headwind it’s possible, but still unlikely, that a big group contests the win.

Another cold day where the temperature won’t get above 7°C. There will be clear skies meaning dry cobbles. A breeze from the north-east of 20km/h is forecast which is not strong enough in itself to splinter the race but it does mean headwind for the finishing sprint.

Coverage on Belgian TV starts at 9.00am Euro time with pre-race analysis if you want the full Flemish experience. The race feed starts at 11.45am and the finish is expected between 4.00pm and 4.50pm Euro time meaning five hours of live coverage.

Note the clocks change in Europe to mark, nominally, the arrival of summer time. In other words Euro time or CET = GMT + 2.

Eurosport is covering it and you’ll find the usual pirate feeds via or

Say What?
Flanders is a region of Belgium and despite being called a “Tour” this is a one day race. The race is known locally as De Ronde van Vlaanderen or just De Ronde. In fact it’s not even a tour of Flanders.
The map shows Flanders, roughly from the coast to Antwerp but the route is distinctly Brugge-Oudenaarde and the final laps hog a lot of the distance so the race doesn’t get to criss-cross the whole region.

The New Course
The change of course last year upset many, seeing as the race left the special Kapelmuur behind, swapping its sacred chapel for the Paterberg and the new VIP beer tents. The symbolism is obvious the sport ditching its tradition and losing its religion to grab money. But remember (or read below) the race was started by a newspaper to sell paper

It’s too early to tell if the racing is altered. Certainly last year’s edition with the repetitions of the Kwaremonet-Paterberg combo looked like a kermesse with its laps to TV viewers but the riders spoke of deep fatigue from the repetition of the climbs, almost to the point of being scared to attack in case it costs them energy.

Race History
First run in 1913 by Carolus Ludovicus Steyaert, a journalist who used the nom de plume Karel Van Wijnendaele. This Sunday’s event is the 96th edition since the First World War stopped the race.

Ronde Vlaanderen

It was run during the Nazi occupation of Belgium, making it one of the few races to continue during this period and it is said German soldiers help control the route. This apparent collaboration saw race organiser Van Wijnendaele banned from journalism following the end of the war but it turned out he had given shelter to fallen British aircraft crews and was subsequently cleared.

Alberic “Briek” Schotte started the race no less than 20 times, finished 16 and won twice. He died on the day of the 2004 race. Belgians Achiel Buysse, Eric Leman, Johan Museeuw, Tom Boonen and Italian Fiorenzo Magni have each won the race three times.

38 thoughts on “The Spin: Tour of Flanders Preview”

  1. Hi Inrng,
    Thanks again for the excellent preview.
    I won’t be able to follow this year’s edition live. Do you have any suggestion where can I see the whole coverage afterwards?

  2. I want to go more in detail about the ‘they don’t ride through the whole of Flanders’ thing (which isn’t that important in the light of the great preview you’ve got here). Between 800 and 1800 there was this region called ‘the county of flanders’. This county consisted of West and Eastf landers and a little part of contemporary France. Today, the term ‘Flanders’ is sometimes still used to refer to that historic part of Flanders (for instance, the football match between AA Gent and Club Brugge is called ‘the battle of Flanders’, because those two teams are the biggest teams of West and East flanders).

    So it might be possible that the original organiser of ‘de ronde’ used the word ‘Flanders’ in this context in 1913, when there wasn’t yet a real notion of Flanders as it now (the official division of Belgium into Flanders in Wallonia was only made around 1960). In that perspective they have most of it covered (the google map that you show isn’t 100% accurate by the way, as they go a bit further to the south this year, from Roeselare to Menen for sure, and I think they won’t cross Waregem because of that).

    But as i said, the preview is good and intersting enough without my boring historics lesson 😛

  3. hi Inrng,

    as flemish perhaps a small word why it is calles de ronde van vlaanderen. Yes it doesn’t cover Flanders but the parcours is only riden in 2 flemish ‘provinces’ which are called (translated in english) West-Flanders and East Flanders. People who live in the other provinces sometimes refer to these 2 provinces as ‘de Vlaanders’ or in English Flanders.

    ps: i think everybody is underestimating Langeveld, he is certainly one to follow !!!!


  4. This blog really is outstanding. Not just for the efforts of the blogger, but the excellent contribution of all!!! Learn something everyday.

  5. “…the last section from Kerkhove to the Minderbroedersstraat in Oudenaarde is over eight kilometres long in one straight wide line all the way to the finish. It is the most unremarkable of roads, there are no sharp corners, roundabouts or hills and it is flat. But for one day of the year it is special, a red carpet to welcome the stars and heroes of the nation.”

    Ahem, two days. I did the sportive last year.

  6. I think the comment on Sky is fairly accurate. They need a result. And Roubaix is a lottery. But who are they riding for, who is the team leader for this race? Does anyone hereparts know. Does the team management know?

    • Surely they’ll have to back Thomas tomorrow. Yes, Boasson-Hagen was present in the final at last year’s race but he’s been pretty invisible so far this Spring whereas Thomas (and Stannard) have been their most consistent performers. Interesting point about the distance tomorrow, maybe all those nights asleep at 2000+m will finally pay off?

  7. Excellent preview. This years race looks very open with several riders on good form. The obvious favourites are Cancellara, Sagan, and Chavanel but several other riders could take advantage of their rivallry as in Milan – San Remo. For me Geraint Thomas looks the strongest of the Sky team and I think he will make the podium this year. Husvold is also a potential winner, he rode well in Terrino Adriatico and coped with the hilly stages.

    It should be a great race.

  8. You say Edvald Boassen Hagen and Geraint Thomas might be better bets for Sky because of the climbing. Do you have a figure for the cumulative altitude gain to give some sort of a sense of how hilly it is?

    I know total height gain doesn’t fully explain the difficulty, but it helps. I reckon the terrain’s not dissimilar from where I cycle in the Peak District so I think it would be fairly meaningful for me at least.

    That it’s a cracking preview goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway.

  9. Nice preview, thanks! Here in Gent at present, we’ll transfer over to the start town tomorrow to ride the citizen event. Rode some today including, the mythical Kapelmuur under light SNOW! It’s cold, especially coming from Sicily. I would like to see Daniel Oss do something but just being here to see it is special enough, no matter who wins. PS-got Freddy Maertens to autograph one of his hats for me this afternoon. Perfect to match the Freddy t-shirt I got last year when we visited for Paris – Roubaix.

  10. Regarding the wartime edition, we’ve long known that you can always trust the Germans to keep a race strong.

    You ruled out Stannard – NEVER rule out Ultimate Ian. It’s gonna be one of them war of attrition type-dealys and he’ll do the 250 in the bastard cold and rain standing on his head. I’m be cheering for him and Chav again, although perhaps the top spot is slightly beyond both of them.

    Really there is no reason for Sagan not to win. He made a tactical error last weekend and it would be very surprising if he did the same thing on Sunday. I also think he’ll be careful not to focus too much on Cancellara – Ciolek blindsided him and we’ll have our Ciolek’s on Sunday too. I’m liking Gatto and Bozic to grind their way to the Showdown.

    But it’s all about Sagan. He has such incredible talent, but more importantly his execution and effort is on the money every time. It’s Sagan V The Field, and I’m taking Sagan all day.

    • I think Ned Boulting tweeted a new adjective “Stannardist” (or similar) meaning “to suffer for no great reward”. I fear that may be the case again this weekend: his chance is next weekend assuming he can hold his form from MSR.

      Great preview as ever. It’s going to be a late night for those of us in Australia. Thanks heavens for the clock changes on both side of the world!

      We could see a “second tier” winner this year – Cancellara is sick of towing sprinters to the finish & Sagan won’t want to burn matches chasing anyone but Cancellara. Could they cancel each other out and will everyone else just look at them to make the breaks? I think it is inevitable that OPQS and Sky will throw someone strong up the road. Perhaps it’ll stick? Langeveld, Gatto and Roelandts all look like options. I don’t know of Breschel’s form?

      It would be nice for Thomas to show his promise – I think he could jag a podium, if not the win. Sky have confirmed he is undisputed leader now. I have given up on EBH getting to the finish at the front in the classics but I hope he proves me wrong. It seems amazing that just a couple of years ago he was touted as the “new Merckx” before Sagan came along.

  11. Looks like Sky have gone all-in on Thomas, which is good as I think he is their best rider he just doesn’t seem willing to take the responsibility when perhaps he should, he had a great chance in 2010 and chose to work for a weaker Flecha. It is also good as I have money on him.

  12. Why all the talk about Thomas? Who’s best ever finish is 10th?
    I guess it is his turn for the sky “treatment”. After all, Stannard barely missed going from GB national champion to MSR victor. All in a day’s work on that team.

    • Well the Sporza commentators seem to like Thomas’ potential from their mentions of him during the races so far. He may “only” have finished 10th in 2011, but admitted he didn’t know the course did too much work as well, he has also placed well this season and on other notable cobbled races such as the 2011 Tour stage.

      The bookies have him as one of the favoured riders as well.

      I think it’s called “potential” and if you look at the field there aren’t that many stand-out riders, especially with a a strong team.

    • Thomas was 10th off no specific training, no experience amd working as a domestique for Flecha. Watch it again, he chased down the attacks and did more work than pretty much anyone in the front group other than Cancellara. I think people also remember his terrific performance in a TdF stage where he held onto Cancellara, Hushovd etc over the cobbles as a youngster. Anyway, he is only one of a number of outsiders who could pop up. He admits that himself.

      As for the other insinuation in your comment, the rise of the team as a collective is indeed remarkable but I refuse to throw rocks with no evidence. Most posters here – and the author himself – are pretty measured and respectful commentators which is (thankfully) what sets it apart from the crackpots on certain fora.

      • Interesting position to take. In cycling, as most of us know, if it seems incredible, it probably is too good to be true.

        Don’t let homerism get in the way of critical analysis………the Americans learned that with LA, remember.

  13. Personally I think the favourites have to be Cancellara and Sagan, with Boonen and Chavanel next up, but I’d put Thomas in with those two. The “outsiders”, as it were, for me are Gatto and Kristoff who showed very well at De Panne. Can’t see anyone else in the picture*

    * I am notoriously rubbish at predictions

  14. Hi INRNG, well rounded post as always!

    I think as far as Sky are concerned, they are slowly, (albeit too) slowly getting there as far as the Classics are concerned – whilst they haven’t had the wins so far they would hope for, they seem to have had more riders there or thereabouts than they would have in previous years (à la Thomas and the my namesake the Diesel engine etc.), so is that a progress of sorts? Or is podiums the only currency? Their attempts to form a Classics training group as such may help – time will tell, but with no disrespect to that group, I think there are better Sky riders that could be there.

    In terms of favourites, should be Sagan, but I think he will struggle towards the end – he has been very good and he will learn from each defeat to help with tactical awareness for each next time he rides…I just think it may be a pop too far for him. My bet, Fabian or Langeveld.

    But who knows!

  15. “Fabian Cancellara attacks. Does Peter Sagan chase? This is the big question that could define the race. If Sagan follows then he wins, if he does not then Cancellara wins”

    Called that right 🙂

    What next for Roubaix?

    • It was an obvious scenario but still a tense moment of the race especially as it happened first on the Kwaremont but then again on the Paterberg.

      As for Roubaix, I’ll do a preview in time but Sagan is not riding and it looks hard to see beyone Cancellara. Except the race is a lottery, good and bad luck can change everything.

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