Ronde Van Vlaanderen Preview

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Vlaanderens Mooiste, Flanders’ finest takes place today and arguably the only one day race of national importance. Expect big crowds, grim weather and an unusual race without local hero Wout van Aert.

The Route: 272km, the longest distance since 1998. The start in Antwerp and then a dash south-west via the Paddestraat cobbles to the hellingen, the small hills and ridges and where the race twists and turns like a tangled ball of string in an area no longer than 20km and no wider than 10km but where 170km of the racing happens. There’s no Kapelmuur this year, but the familiar “VIP circuit” via the Oude Kwaremont. Later it’s the Kwaremont again chased by the Paterberg and then the Koppenberg, arguably the hardest climb because of the gradient and the rough cobbles and if someone stalls then plenty are forced to walk. Then come more bergs leading to the final Kwaremont-Paterberg combo in the final 20km.

The Finish: left over the top of the Paterberg and the gradual descent and then that long road into the outskirts of Oudenaarde for a flat finish.

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The Contenders: you can read all the thoughts below or just skip to the chainring ratings where it’s Mathieu van der Poel vs the field…

It’s out van Aert, the pre-race pick is ill with Covid-19 and this changes everything, save for confirming the rule that nobody can win the Omloop and Ronde in the same season. He’d be one of the few riders who can bend this race to his will and has the ability to win solo or from a sprint. It leaves the Jumbo-Visma team orphaned this Sunday. If only they could synthesise Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte because Benoot has plenty of endurance and punch for the climbs while Porte has a strong sprint and can open up gaps from darting attacks. The problem is Laporte’s weakness has been races over 200km before and Benoot’s not an obvious pick for a sprint so how to win? They’ll have their plans and have a good shot.

Mathieu van der Poel is the obvious favourite now but he won’t have it easy. His Alpecin-Fenix are solid in support but no more, they’re not going to be able to control everything, nor fire Plan B riders in danger moves to make other teams react. Van der Poel’s a past winner but this will be a harder edition weather-wise and ironically sans van Aert it’s more on him to make things happen, it’d be easier for them to get away and tackle the finish again in a sprint. Plus the cold weather will make it that bit tougher for his high energy style of racing, there are only so many calories he can ingest to fuel the fires.

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Tadej Pogačar hasn’t come here for the stoofvlees. While compatriot and Tour de France rival Primož Roglič rode the GP de Denain for some pavé practice, Pogačar is Monument hunting. He was good in the mid-week Dwars Door Vlaanderen, too good in fact, missing a move and trying solo to bridge across when others would have sat up. He’s got all the ingredients needed to win, except for the experience and the UAE team doesn’t have much either so Matteo Trentin is going to be an invaluable guide.

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Quick-Step are much Belgian’s third team in the classics at the moment, eclipsed by Lotto-Soudal and Intermarché-Wanty and having their worst cobbled classics campaign… well since 2016 at least. Collectively it looks like there’s a problem as their style is to fire riders up the road and make others react and now they’re struggling to get anyone in the kopgroep. Still, all bad headlines can be banished with a win. Kasper Asgreen will like the tough conditions and has looked strong but no signs yet he’s in the storming form of last spring. Zdeněk Štybar is looking sharp, and both Florian Sénéchal and Yves Lampaert are outsiders if they can infiltrate moves.

As for Lotto-Soudal and Intermarché-Wanty, it’s much harder here. Chez Lotto Victor Campenaerts is in good form but how to win, he can often seem to be floating with 40km to go while others grimace but he’s never won a classic of any kind while the duo of Brent Vanmoer and Florian Vermeersch seem better for Roubaix than today and Tim Wellens is coming in under the radar. For Intermarché Alexander Kristoff‘s good in tough conditions but not the force he used to be while Taco van der Hoorn is always the longshot.

Ineos have a strong but maturing squad, would they sign right now for a podium? Tom Pidcock is back after illness wrote off the month of March for him but can he cope with the distance here? He’s their best hope given he’s quick on the climbs and has a punchy finish. Dylan van Baarle does well on tough days and Jhonatan Narvaez is becoming a classics stalwart for them but a win is another thing.

Trek-Segafredo have Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen and they’re used to riding together. Stuyven’s not in top condition as evidenced by him getting beaten in the sprint for Gent-Wevelgem last week but we’ll see with the distance.

Ag2r Citroën have a strong but ageing squad and surely they’d sign right now for a podium? Greg Van Avermaet did finish third last year and has been on the podium three times before always the bridesmaid. He is looking less incisive and the same for Oliver Naesen but both have stacks of experience. Stan De Wulf is on the up but a win would be a shock, first a semi-classic.

Bahrain have Sanremo winner Matej Mohorič and watch Jan Tratnik too. EF Education-Easypost have had a torrid start to the season. Still Alberto Bettiol is a past winner and Michael Valgren has what it takes.

Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) has been in great shape but how to win? You can see his moves coming from afar but if he can get a gap he’s hard to bring back and many of his best wins have come in grim conditions. Valentin Madouas is doing well but hampered by positioning problems which cost him energy.

Anthony Turgis leads TotalEnergies, sans Peter Sagan and now in-form Dries Van Gestel. Søren Kragh Andersen gets a late call-up from DSM but he’s their best rider, it’s just his focus has been on the Ardennes classics… and he’s now out, ill.

Mathieu van der Poel
Mads Pedersen
Tadej Pogačar, Tom Pidcock, Tiesj Benoot
Asgreen, Laporte, Turgis, Mohorič, Stuyven, GVA
Küng, Naesen, Van Baarle, Štybar, SKA, Campenaerts, Politt

Weather: a cold day with a top temperature of 9°C thanks to a northerly breeze. Earlier forecasts had suggested it’ll be windy but things look calmer now.

TV: live from start to finish on Sporza and Eurosport/GCN. The race starts at 10.00am CEST. You need to be in place for the OK-Paterberg-Koppenberg tripel from 3.20pm onwards and the finish is expected for 4.45pm.

Women’s Ronde: has a good preview as Annemiek van Vleuten aims for her third win. The finish on TV follows on from the men’s race.

59 thoughts on “Ronde Van Vlaanderen Preview”

        • “In these days of indigestion
          It is oftentimes a question
          As to what to eat and what to leave alone.
          Every microbe and bacillus
          Has a different way to kill us,
          And in time will take us for their own.
          There are germs of every kind
          In every food that you will find
          In the market or upon a bill of fare.
          Drinking water’s just as risky,
          As the so-called deadly whiskey
          And it’s often a mistake to breathe the air.

          Nucky Thompson, 1921

  1. He’s on 1 ring.
    Benoot’s sprint at DdV was interesting, any less blatant a mail-in job and it would have looked like he threw the race. 3 rings is generous methinks.

      • Benoot knew he had no chance of beating MVP in a sprint, and just made sure of his second place ahead of the bunch, which was in itself a great result. To say he ‘threw’ the race is ridiculous, as he had no chance of winning once they got to the final straight together.

        • It would be utterly ridiculous to say he threw the race (and even if he wanted to he’d have been less blatant) But it did look funny

          • Terpstra VS Kristoff at De Ronde a couple of years ago came to mind when looking at that sprint. Benoot chose to do a turn at the front knowing that it would be working for second place,clearly that was worth something to him.

    • Cold, yes, but not brutal – like it was in Spain yesterday. Unless the forecast is completely wrong, it will be sunny and the wind won’t play much of a part.
      I have a hunch that we’ll see an upset winner – and since I’m almost invariably wrongt itmeans the winner will be van der Poel, Pogacar or Pidcock.

  2. I’m pleased you picked out Tratnik. Ninth at MSR and looked incredibly strong at DDV despite missing the winning move.

    Flamin’ Slovenians.

    • He put in some top efforts in support last year but PCS does not rate him that highly for one day races. Will be one to watch for though.

  3. My attempt at a continental breakfast this morning was a bully beef and pickled beetroot sandwich.
    Does this tell us anything apart from a return to student eating habits picked up again in lockdown?
    Perhaps – a US / British / Scandinavian combo?
    Ergo, I’m going with Pidcock and Pederson (on the Trek), but not necessarily in that order.
    What came first, the bully beef or the pickled beetroot?
    One for the philosophers out there 😀

  4. It feels a bit like the wind has been taken out of Flanders this year with Van Aerts covid positive. He’s been floating all season. Van der Poel has been impressive in his few races too so it’s hard to look past him now. That said Pogacar might have something to say, and in a cold, long, hard race so will Mads Pedersen and potentially Trentin too.
    Re Quick Step, it feels like they’ve been on a slide towards this situation for about 5 years now. Not that long ago they could field Boonen, Gilbert, Terpstra, Trentin, Lampaert and Stybar all in the same team. They’ve got weaker every year since and now choosing not to take Alaphilippe, with Asgreen not at his best and Stybar heading towards middle age they look a bit lost. Now I’ve said all that they’ll probably win.

    • Forgot to mention Benoot too. I fancy him to do well but he’ll be doing exceptionally well to win! It’ll be interesting to see if Jumbo Visma’s complete transformation of Laporte’s physiology has improved his stamina as much as his power.
      Little shout out for Colbrelli too who probably would’ve been in the mix today.

    • One man more or less makes no difference in a war – and although we all should know not to make any kind of comparison between a bike race and a war, Ronde is Ronde even without a rider whose absence maybe doesn’t change the entire nature of the race, but quite possibly changes how it unfolds and how some teams and riders choose to try and play it.

      PS Apparently the device Sonny Colbrelli now wears is basically not a pacemaker but a defibrillator that kicks in when it detects a dangerously fast and abnormal ventricular rhythm. In other words, it doesn’t stop the heart from beating faster during hard exercise or in any other way mean the end of a normal person’s sports activity – but elite athletes are not normal people and racing at this level isn’t normal sports activity.

      But if it turns out that Colbrelli must retire, the silver lining is that he had a splendid season and ccrowned his career with a marvellous win.

    • It is a shame about WVA, and I agree with you on QS as well – at some point, they might have to spend some money on a cobbled rider. Makes Alaphilippe not being here all the stranger, in my opinion – that year, he crashed while alone with WVA and MvdP, he looked fantastic. He should learn from Gilbert and ride all the Monuments throughout his career. You’d have thought QS would want him here even more than he would want to be here – it’s surely the biggest race of their season.
      Well said on Colbrelli: I hope he can at least get back to a normal life (much like Bernal).

      • I suspect there’s no reason Colbrelli won’t have a normal life now, though it’s very likely that this will precipitate his retirement earlier than he would have liked. A lot depends on if there are other cardiac structural findings (i.e., this catastrophic dysrhythmia revealed another underlying issue which likely wouldn’t have been an issue for another couple of decades). He’s ultimately very lucky this happened at the end of a race, and not on a long training ride.

  5. Too bad for van Aert, he was floating this season and had spared energy by skipping races (strade, worlds cyclocross) in order to arrive here at his best.
    Wheather is not too bad. Cold, but not icy cold. And there is not much wind.

    • Apparently the council of Geraardsbergen and Flanders Classics do not see eye to eye and continue to agree to disagree on who pays whom and how much etc. We haven’t seen the Muur since 2019 and if I recall correctly there was a gap of several years (2011-2016?).
      The forecast I saw said 2 C at start and 7 C at finish. How cold that actually feels can depend not onlyon the speed but the direction of the wind. But as was noted, it could’ve been worse – and would certainly have been brutal enough on Saturday.

        • You’d think they could come up with a way to share the takings and include the iconic climb..but…
          How ’bout those “marginal gains” when the INEOS boyz gave Van Barle(?) a new bike…with a flat front tire? How the mighty have fallen 🙂

      • It’s not incredibly cold but it’s cold enough for a 6-7 hour race to effect how much energy you will use and increase fatigue. Plus it can bring on asthma. You’ve also got to remember that pros bundle up at anything below 20c!

    • Yes correct. It is not that cold. Yesterday was colder with fierce wind and some light snow. And on Friday no more than 1 degree and snow.
      It is still a big contrast with last week wevelgem and E3, but yesterday and mostly the day before would have been real harsch.

  6. How strange to see a cobbled monument without Sep Vanmarcke who, even if he rarely wins, would always be pushing on the front, bringing breaks back, and never hiding.

    SKA woke up too unwell to ride. There must be lots more in all the teams feeling less than perfect yet keeping quiet – for the moment.

  7. On screen graphic just said only Bobet and Merckx have won both Ronde and Tour can anyone confirm that? Speaks volumes if true.

    • Certainly a scan down the winners list for the Ronde seems to confirm that, although possible I’m missing a more obscure Tour victor.

      Perhaps a little extra motivation for Pog today if he is aware of that stat? Good opportunity with so many riders missing today.

    • Quite possibly a pointless statistic, but van der Poel winning both Dwars door Vlaanderen and Ronde van Vlaanderen made him the first rider to do it since Johan Museeuw in 1993.
      That is an achievement even Eddy Merckx lacks 🙂
      PS I didn’t actually check it, but it would appear that there haven’t been too many double winners.

        • How did I manage to forget him?! I can now recall both races!
          PS It should perhaps be mentioned that the gap between the two races was in those days, i.e. before 2018, a week and a half. Which of course didn’t make the double any easier.

  8. Apropos of nothing, the use of the adjective “torrid” in Europe and the UK alway makes me do a double take (as in “EF Education-Easypost have had a torrid start to the season.”) It’s a common sports adjective in the US, and in my experience means “on a hot streak,” “sizzling,” “on fire,” “hard to stop,” and other indicators of being on a successful streak and in great form. Of course on the other side of the pond it means “full of difficultly” and “parched.” Now when I see the word I have to read the sentence twice and deduce the valence from the context.

  9. I think you vastly overrate Pedersen here. Dwars was very telling, he was in excellent position, but is just not good enough on the bergs. Even two rings would be generous.

    Asgreen has looked solid, if not quite like last year. I think he is second favourite after Van der Poel.

  10. Think Laporte has been oddly underrated this season. He’s obviously benefitted from being at Jumbo, but at times he’s been the only rider capable of following WVA, regardless of team, and was a strong rider last year. In terms of longer races, he was top 10 at Paris-Roubaix last year, as well as in the lead chase group at Flanders. G-W this year also indicates he can handle the distance. Reckon him and Benoot should make a great pairing, where he sits in while Benoot attacks.

  11. De Kapelmuur being out of the race means it lacks the ‘final climb’ and the set piece attacks to the finish, plus it has the most fantastic run-in across the bridge and into town.
    But I don’t blame Flanders Classics because they need control of the corporate entertainment and VIP places to fund the whole thing, and really why give these away to others who simply tried to call the organiser’s bluff with ‘geen Kapelmuur geen De Ronde’? In these circumstances the organiser has made the best of other key hellingen where they can have the tents – odd to see these empty and being erected during Dwars – and derive the income.

    Drinking game: Puncture = gulp. Wave to take turns = drink. Chain off = refill and down in one

    • Glad I didn’t take part – the amount of dropped chains today (notably Asgreen)!

      Something to do with the move to 12 speed according to recent reports?

      • Hard to believe since 12’s been available from Campagnolo since 2019 and not that long after from the others. The only thing I can think of that may have changed recently (as I wrote earlier, unless its a software problem with Shimano) might be the ditching of the various chain “watchers” or “keepers” to try to get disc-brake bikes as close to 6.8 kg as possible?
        Regarding electronic gizmo problems – seemed someone was doing the equivalent of Ctrl/Alt/Delete to a bike soon after the start of the Ronde yesterday? WTF?

        • What I find hard to believe is that someone would choose to ditch a chain catcher that weighs, what? a few grams? – knowing that the cost of a dropped chain is potentially enormous! I mean there are risks that are worth taking when you consider the reward and risks that are not.
          (A chain keeper is, I believe, something you’d use when you’re for instance cleaning a bike and wish to remove the rear wheel and don’t want the chain to hang loose.)
          Re: your WTF I have difficulty trying to picture that an equivalent of Ctrl/Alt/Delete could be like? Did someone bend down to press small buttons somewhere or what?

  12. Perhaps the “moment when the race was won” will be 800m from the line when Tadej Pogacer decided to turn it into a slow bicycle race!

    • Perhaps the final ascent of the Paterberg when MVDP stalled riding out of the gutter and Pog didn’t twist the knife. For me he was doomed from there: as the commentators were calling it, the only tactic was drop everyone and tt the run in. Great result for his debut though and chapeau Van Der Poel.

      I wonder if Alaphilippe is wishing he hadn’t given today a miss?

      • I was willing Pogacar on from the breakfast table–but wondered if he was on the limit and had no more to give. It was kind of miraculous to see van der Poel recover at that moment.

        Should pogacar have been in the gutter too?

        What a bizarre ending.

        • What I saw was a confident MVDP, astute enough in the last km to see that (1) Pog would not lead out under any circumstance, and (2) to choose to entertain us all with letting the 2 chasers get up close to him, then explode for all he was worth. You have to appreciate his head as well as his legs.

          • Agreed. The big question is WTF Pogacar was thinking? I’ve not been a fan of MVdP but he’s growing on me when he wins like this and cuts down on the post-race drama-queen antics. CHAPEAU!

      • Yeah, I think it was over on the second kwaremont when MVDP started to get dropped but got back on Pog’s wheel (probably doing 900 watts or something).

        The cynic in me would say it’s when MVDP dropped back to get a suspicious feed from the team car at 2o km.

        • “..dropped back to get a suspicious feed from the team car at 2o km.”
          What was suspicious about it? The old “atom bottle” has been around forever – are you implying there was something illegal about the contents? They say Freddy Maerten’s used to have Champagne inside.

          • “Keep you(r) head in the sand” type comments are always helpful. Imply that only YOU know the truth while the rest are just fools all you want – my only response is to ask you (and others like you) to put up or shut up. Share what it is you think you KNOW with the rest of us so we can debate it. …or STFU, OK? I have a tough time believing there’s anything that MVdP or his team know/have/use that Pogacar and UAE (or UCI/WADA, etc) are totally clueless about.

  13. Great race! Hats off to MVdP, great build-up this season, taking the pressure off after his back issues and not trying to overdo it for the entire spring season!

    Secondly, Pogacar is a beast – when was the last time we had a TdF champ put a performance in like today? He has two yellows and 2 monuments and if the only person in the race who could match his vicious attacks was MVdP, otherwise he would have a Flanders, LBL, Lombardia and 2 Yellow Jerseys… very cannibalistic.

  14. Great race in perfect (Spring, not Summer weather). Chapeau to MVDP, Pogacar bowled out of the way like some bargain hunter at the January sales.

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