Ronde Van Vlaanderen Preview

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Welcome to Flanders where millions this Sunday will be hoping for home win from Wout van Aert but he’s got to deal with Mathieu van der Poel, Tadej Pogačar, the rest of the field, the course and forecast crosswinds.

The Course

A start in Bruges and then 273km. A dash south-east 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 with three climbs of the Oude Kwaremont, a long drag of a climb that’s rarely steep and part tarmac, part cobbles and it’s where the pavé begin that the slope kicks up. Later it’s the Kwaremont again chased by the Paterberg, much shorter but a wall of cobbles that hits 20% and begins with a sharp right turn.

The Koppenberg is a crucial climb, arguably the hardest of them all because of the gradient and the rough cobbles and if someone stalls then plenty are forced to walk and it’s often where a crucial selection happens over the top and it’s used sparingly, just once. Then come more bergs leading to the final Kwaremont-Paterberg combo in the final 20km. It’s not all about the climbs though, the portions in between are suitable for attacks as riders catch their breath and where those who lose the race often hesitate as rivals slip away.

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.

The Contenders
Which of the big three, or the Grote Drie in Dutch? At the time of the Milan-Sanremo preview Mathieu van der Poel had won 23% of the races he’d started, Tadej Pogačar 22% and Wout van Aert 17% so picking another rider was going out a limb. And now their combined percentage win rate has gone up a point between them.

Mathieu van der Poel has won the Ronde twice already, is in form, packs a big sprint and can make all the right moves. So far so good but his Alpecin-Deceuninck team aren’t formidable, they’ll help him but he will be isolated when rivals can have strength in numbers, and Søren Kragh Andersen is more a joker to play than a workhorse. Also his sprint saw him beaten in the E3 last week, will this worry him? Probably not, it’ll come down to who has the most energy in Oudenaarde and he’ll back himself.

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Wout van Aert doesn’t have to win but all the same, the two big lines missing on his prolific palmarès are the Ronde and Roubaix. It wasn’t long ago his problem was being isolated in the finale of a race but Jumbo-Visma have been on a shopping spree and now his team are so strong that they won’t just carry him, some have got a shot at winning themselves. He looked a little short on the climbs in the E3, an off-day or is he still chasing top form after illness interrupted his training and race schedule? Of course he won but Sunday’s course is more selective. The team will miss Dylan van Baarle because of illness but Christophe Laporte is an obvious outside pick and his finishing speed gives the team more options while Tiesj Benoot is strong but not such an obvious winner, he might be best deployed sapping the others.

Tadej Pogačar is the third of the Grote Drie because in a sprint with the two above, how can he win? We saw this when he finished fourth in a two man sprint last year. He’ll have to hit the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg as hard as he can with the hope of taking five metres on the Paterberg because if the likes of MvdP and WvA are just behind, which of them wants to lead the chase? Easier said than done but just as he refined his tactics in Sanremo, he should be smarter here. His UAE are strong but even Matteo Trentin and Tim Wellens seem to be workers for their leader.

Mads Pedersen has a potent sprint and can get over the climbs, plus he’s backed by a strong Trek-Segafredo team but how will they race, do they gamble on going early or back Pedersen to match the top favourites?

Tom Pidcock is back after concussion in Tirreno-Adriatico. Able to dart up the climbs and with strong team support he’s a contender but how to win? As mentioned before, he’s been beaten in cyclo-cross because he lacks the brute force of the two “Vans” although at least here he can draft them better. Ben Turner and Magnus Sheffield give Ineos more options.

Valentin Madouas was on the podium a year ago and was strong in the Strade Bianche this year but fell ill after Tirreno-Adriatico but is back in form and was kopgroep material in the E3. Groupama-FDJ team mate Stefan Küng is always strong and would be hard to pull back if he can get away solo but it’s this that’s hard, many will want to follow and he’s not explosive enough to barge clear.

Matej Mohorič could place although he’s not thrived in this race in his previous two attemps, but how to win? For him some kind of sneak attack could pay off when the others are watching. Not for him a “burn all the matches in one go” attack, instead he could drift away during a lull late in the race, much like Bahrain team mate Fred Wright did last year.

Soudal-Quickstep come with a stacked team. They maybe struggling for results this year but between the seven of them they’ve won more spring classics than many rival teams combined. Julian Alaphilippe is having a run of bad luck. Compared to last year it’s not so bad but illness here, a mechanical there means he’s not had a clear run at things. But the form seems ok and he was looking lively in Dwars Door Vlaanderen. The problem is many can shine on a climb or two, it’s sustaining this to the finish and we saw this with Kasper Asgreen on the Stationsberg in the E3 who briefly looked strong. Yves Lampaert will always struggle in a sprint so Roubaix looks better for him.

Neilson Powless has been one of the best riders of the season so far. We might wonder if he can keep this up but he made the podium in Dwars on Wednesday and has ambitions to win here and in the upcoming Ardennes races too. EF-Education will miss Alberto Bettiol so it’s all for Powless.

Then there’s everyone else. Almost everyone else knows they can’t sit tight and hold on, many will want to get ahead of events. The tactic of anticiperen isn’t new but this time it’s crucial to so many teams and riders which creates a self-fulfilling momentum where if more teams try to take on the race early and fire riders up the road as late as possible but before the Koppenberg then they can get an option on the finish. Here Ag2r Citroën and Lotto-Dstny come to mind, firing riders like Oliver Naesen and Caleb Ewan forward.

Anthony Turgis (Total Energies) has plenty of stamina but few wins. Movistar sometimes beat expectations because we all think of them as a squad for the summer stage races but Ivan Garcia Cortina was 5th in the E3. Sep Vanmarcke (Israel-PremierTech) is in form and not on many radars but his problem is the climbs, maybe next weekend’s Roubaix suits more, with Dylan Teuns perhaps with an eye on the weekend after that. Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) started the season well but hasn’t weighed on the classics yet, sometimes seeming to talk himself out because of bad weather but this Sunday’s dry weather should help. Michael Matthews (Jayco-Al Ula) has the pedigree but has he got the hustle?

Mathieu van der Poel
Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogačar
Pedersen, Laporte, Powless, Madouas, Pidcock
Benoot, Alaphilippe, Mohorič

Weather: dry and sunny, a top temperature of 10°C and a northerly breeze of about 20km/h but which could gust to 40km/h which makes the weather a factor. The course twists and turns this wind direction means a headwind for the long finishing straight.

TV: live from start to finish, 10.00am CEST with the finish around 4.30pm CEST. Get settled by 3.00pm to catch the Koppenberg.

Women’s Ronde: it starts at 1.30pm and the finish is for 5.30pm CEST. You’ll find a good preview over at

65 thoughts on “Ronde Van Vlaanderen Preview”

  1. Thanks, as always, for the preview.

    Hard to look past the two vans – but anything can happen. Am I wrong In thinking Pogačar is very unlikely to beat them? It would be great to see him win – it’s great to see anyone win, actually – but I don’t see how he drops them on the hellingen, or out sprints them in the final.

    • I was going to add this to my other comment, but I’m in agreement with you. I too can only see MvdP or WVA winning – Pogacar probably can’t drop them and very probably can’t outsprint them. WVA looked weaker than the other two in E3 on the climbs, but he has the stronger team. If it comes down to a sprint between the MvdP and WVA, it’s a coin toss. I think it’ll be MvdP, and I think he might come to the line with just Pogacar again (having dropped WVA on the one of the final two hills).

      • Other teams will have to be a bit more clever in their tactics and work together to catch the ‘big three’ when they inevitably attack. That has been very much lacking this year – e.g. in Dwars Door Vlaanderen when both Trentin and Wellens from UAE pinged off the front of the chasing group in an obviously doomed-from-the-start attempt to catch the front group on their own.

    • Pogačar could treat the top of the Paterberg as his finish line, go all in just to get a few metres’ advantage. As outlined above if the others are just a few bike lengths behind they could start to mark each other.

      • I imagine that MvdP and WVA would have the sense to work together, knowing that they can bring Pogačar back pretty easily between the two of them, and then have a near-50% chance of winning the sprint.

        • That’s what I’m thinking – and maybe WvA won’t do another “Poggio” effort and we’ll see MvdP is prepared to close.

          For what it’s worth, I reckon in a two up finish between them I’m backing WvA – just a hunch sprint.

    • Last year only one rider could follow him and probably only just. Therefore he can drop them given all the same condition. If only one or a few rider can follow all it takes is a moment’s hesitation or that rider out of position and he is away.
      But jumbo every year buy more riders and crucially give them proper training support so at the moment Jumbo is very hard to beat if your a one great rider team.

    • Normally yes but if the race is very hard I back Pog to maintain his normal sprint, which was enough to beat WvA at the Olympics. VdP also lost to Asgreen in a sprint after a long hard edition.

      • Van Aert beat Pogacar at the Olympics for second. Last year at Montreal he won the sprint… after close to 5000m of climbing though.

        • “Van Aert beat Pogacar at the Olympics for second.”
          Just barely: they had same time, as did a few others. From the front view video — which can be very deceptive — it seemed WvA was less than a wheel length ahead of Pogacar.

  2. Quite a few people on these pages in recent days have been complaining that the cobbled races all get a bit same-y as there are so many of them at this time of the year, and while it’s my favourite time of the year, I do see their point. Imagine, for example, how much more excited you would be by E3 if it was moved to early October. A mini-Ronde in the autumn would seem far more of an event than nine days before the real thing.

    Personally, though, I’d prefer to just have a new cobbled race in the autumn rather than moving one of the ones from the spring. I do feel that the autumn calendar is somewhat lacking compared with the spring.

    • I doubt such a race would be important enough for the classics stars to give it much attention at that time of year. Many will be in their off season and those racing Il Lombardia would want more specific preparation and to avoid the risks of a last chance cobbled micro classic in autumn.

      • Very good point.
        The Eneco did mini-Ronde, mini-Amstel, and mini-Liege stages for a few years, but – bafflingly to me – ditched that, after a few years of very entertaining racing, for a series of flat stages and a time trial.

    • Having long been personally involved in a different aspect of the debate about “how to save cycling” 😉 , an aspect which curiously never surfaced much in the oh-so-recent conversations on the subject here, I must stress that probably a matter more urging than others is “how to have a sustainable system in which those smaller races whose purpose is being a base of sort to top races do still exist in a more aggressive environment”. Note that quite often what makes such environment “more aggressive”, hence really takes away the adjective “sustainable” from cycling as a sport, are those same initiatives which many look at as good from cycling’s “growth”…

      Now, one of the strategies which looked to be working as good practice and in a real-life context has been creating strings of lesser races closer both in terms of space and time to someway similar bigger events, which is what allowed to save many smaller races as “Autumn Classics” leading to Lombardia. Both the former and the latter benefitted from such an evolution, although the change applied to Mi-To this year goes in the opposite direction (and I’m afraid won’t help much the race itself). Same for the late Winter programme in Spain.
      Logistics are very important for the teams, and they tend to be happier to stay with a more or less similar team in a more or less similar area for a series of race occasions, even better if they’re someway consistent.
      Note that those smaller races are important also as an opportunity for smaller teams which wouldn’t otherwise be able or motivated to travel further away given the modest hopes of winning…

      All the above is oversimplification of sort but sort of explains why geographical and technical coherence might still be important as opposed to a moving circus like motorsport’s.

      Of course, you could well build a whole “block” of meaningful cobble races in the Autumn, maybe including Roubaix itself… in order to have some rain!

      However, we should also note that Harelbeke, Omloop, Waregem are just semi-classics. We’re giving them more importance precisely because we’re being shown them more than in the past and they’re being talked about more than in the past and they’ve been placed in a whole narrative of sort. That is, they too are enjoying that “collective block” effect, in a sense.

    • “I’d prefer to just have a new cobbled race in the autumn…”
      Seems like there’s already plenty (too much?) duplication on these cobbled races now, can they find other ones or would it just be “same s–t, different day” as a few of these races already seemed to me watching the past few weeks? For example they could have a whole series of races on dirt roads but none of ’em is gonna come close to Strade Bianche IMHO. I’d say the same with Paris-Roubaix.
      More is not always better….it’s just more.

  3. Reading about Benoot here has reminded me of one of my bugbears with the way some riders race on occasions.

    There is – rightly so – a belief that you don’t chase down your own team mate when they attack from the group that you are also in.

    But what you should do is follow any riders that then chase after your team mate.

    What many riders seem to believe, though (and Benoot did this in Dwars Door Vlaanderen when Laporte attacked, as well as his complaints about Valter in Strade Bianche) is that you must stay at the very back of the furthest back group, as that group breaks up.

    I’ve seen many riders do this, and they then end up in a group that is too far behind the leading group after their team mate has been caught by other riders who they did not go with, rather than them staying in these chasers’ slipstreams and having a relatively easy ride back to the front.

    I’ll probably take a breath and stop commenting now – I’m over-stimulated.

      • The fact that they have radios makes it all the more odd that this happens. Maybe the delay in the TV feed to the DS is such that they can’t make real-time decisions, and we should be glad!

        • I try to refrain from armchair DS duties…it’s way too easy for these keyboard wizards with 20/20 hindsight to get carried away when they weren’t there/don’t really KNOW anything/ probably would screw things up worse if their fantasy did become real and they called the shots, either as DS or a competitor pedaling a bicycle.
          It’s the same with MOTOGP..perhaps it’s worse now with video games/Swift, etc?

          • Hey, wait a sec! I will watch the race alternating between sitting and slouching on the sofa!

            But please try to be understanding and merciful towards those of us who will express their amazement about the tactics chosen by this or that DS – and please believe them if they say they thought the way they did at the time and not first after this or that had happened.

            Besidea, it raises the bar impossibly high for any post-race discussion to ensue. if we must have the same experience and the same career acomplishments as those who sit in the team car and hold a microphone before we can make a comment about tactics!


  4. ‘in an area no longer than 20km and no wider than 10km but where 170km of the racing happens’ – that is some stat!

    I agree with the chainrings. MvdP is the standout and it’s hard to see him getting beaten. He has to be made to work for as long as possible. If he’s allowed to explode he’ll win. I’d love to see Wout win. Although its next to impossible to see him winning I’d have given Kristoff a chainring after Dwars! I think he’s a definite outsider for Roubaix.

    • Kristoff is so consistent, he’s been in the top-10 almost ten times I think. But how to win? At one point a few years ago we were getting close to a bunch sprint in the Ronde with a sizeable group forming just behind the breakaway winners but with more attacks and from further away this seems less likely. Still, that could be Kristoff’s route to a win.

      • Was very relieved to scroll upon this comment as Kristoff obviously deserves a mention. I felt compelled to speak up but far be it from me to question the wisdom of our benevolent host, Mr. Ring. Kristoff at Ronde: 10th last year, 7 top 5s including a win and 2 more podiums, never out of the top 20. Legend.

      • Same as before, right? Get in front with one of the big teams’ ‘lieutenants’ who is willing to pull and risk a sprint like Terpstra when Kristoff did win. Dylan van Baarle is out, but there are some riders that cone to mind – Lampaert, Vanmarcke, Naessen, Van der Hoorn.
        I’m so rooting for the two Vans in this comment to make the early break next week in PR.

    • Kristoff always performs better in Flanders than Roubaix. Something to do with sharper , rougher cobbles in the latter apparently causes issues with the way he sits his bike. Would love to see him take the win on Sunday, after being so close so long, such a consistent tough rider. He’ll be praying for cold drizzle. Otherwise Pidcock to shake things up

  5. “He’ll (Pogacar) have to hit the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg as hard as he can with the hope of taking five metres on the Paterberg because if the likes of MvdP and WvA are just behind, which of them wants to lead the chase?”

    If both are behind, I wonder if they want it enough to work together. WVA is missing this race as you say and I think MVDP will put in something for the chance to win. Based on E3 though, I’d expect WVA to be dropped before MVDP if they are dropped.

    What happens if WVA is dropped on the Oude Kwaremont? Does MVDP work with Pogacar to the Paterberg?

    • WVA no doubt wants RVV more than anything and MVDP probably wants Roubaix more than RVV and Pogacar isn’t racing Roubaix so a situation could eventuate in which they both come away relatively happy and Pogacar misses out again….

  6. As a fan mainly of MvdP and Pogi – though I also like Wout, but not as much superteams and what comes with ’em – I feel sort of irrationally “afraid” that WVA is slowly upping his game with a peak centred on Ronde and Roubaix, besides having the support of the above mentioned superteam, whereas the other two, esp. Pogi, perhaps peaked on Sanremo, which normally (not always) places you on a slightly downward slope in terms of pure form. Of course Pogacar has no “dry Roubaix on the horizon’ line” and does seem to have followed a similar curve as last year’s, when his Ronde wasn’t bad at all, athletically speaking. Whatever. Huge hype. Now of course no rider with three chainrings or more will win this 😛

  7. Hardly a mention of QS, more pussy cats than wolf pack? Perhaps Julian Alaphilippe will surprise us but I doubt it. I assume Remco Evenepoel is down to ride LBL. I wonder which is more important to the Belgian public one day racing in March & April or Italy in May?

    I wonder if the “other” teams will be more organised than they have been for the last two races. The key point is often not the climbs themselves but the bit just after the climbs when there is a tendency for the chasing riders to catch their breath and allow strong riders to build up a lead.

    I suspect the best chance of a win outside of one of the Grote Drie is for someone to ride away like Tom Pidcock at Strade Bianchi and the group behind to be too busy marking each other to organise a chase, though demon descending unlikely to play any role on Sunday.

  8. On paper, Pidcock should be amongst the favourites, he can climb as well as Pogacar and sprint with the vans but I can’t see a strategy that allows him to pull it off.

    • Ha! In college I rowed a lot and for one race my crew decided we’d try bicarbonate loading to improve performance. Our coach laughed at us and said, with a wry smile, “ok guys, give it a try”.

      About an hour before our start we each guzzled several 100 mL of baking soda-laden drink. It was not pleasant.

      As we sat poised on the start line, uncomfortably gassy and bloated, our tactic no longer seemed so cunning! I can’t even remember if we won or lost but we certainly never tried it again 🤢

      I’m sure JVs approach is far more scientific but I’m still skeptical of the benefits

      • One brand claims it has a product that delivers the ions without the side effects but yes, it’s an old idea. I’ve got a stack of magazines about the 1989 Tour de France and in one, a doctor/coach suggests using it, an alkaline to cancel “lactic acid”.

        Can’t recall the race but the story goes the world TT champion a few years ago took a bit too much or just got a bad reaction before a big TT and got the sudden urge to visit the toilets and in the rush things got a bit messy and their TT and the day in general was ruined.

  9. “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” tactic I think will see MvdP work with Pogacar to begin with to drop WvA and then we’re back to the two man sprint and Pogacar coming fourth. Or, a mechanical, puncture, a fool with a mobile phone, or someone waving to the TV cameras could turn the whole thing upside down and Alaphilippe wins and makes Lefereve a happy man. Whatever happens, Jumbo will miss van Baarle.

  10. Never been this excited for Tour of Flanders.
    Just wish Alaphilippe was bringing top form.

    Quite odd that both Bettiol and Asgreen seem completely out of the picture despite being dominant recent winners.

    • Bettiol was allowed to ride away by a group who wouldn’t work together to chase him. It happens more often with slightly lesser riders, whereas if a hot favourite does that, the other favourites chase them.

      • I didn’t see it like that JEvan.

        Ghosting away from a group on a run in or flat section happens regularly yes – riding away from the favourites on a pivotal late climb is a sign of being the unexpected strongest in the race. I remember Bettiol just being the best on day, not a lesser rider – for that race at least.

        Terpstra’s wins in Roubaix and Flanders are good comparisons, his Roubaix win I very much remember as a ghosting while others watched Boonen but his Flanders win was just power, riding Nibali off his wheel and proving he was very likely the strongest on the day despite not being the hot favourite.

        That ride actually made me go back and wonder if my memory of his Roubaix win was fair, as maybe he was the strongest on that day also? And maybe it’s unfair to label those who sneak off lesser riders and often I find you realise later they likely were the best on the day no matter how they won.

          • I miss Cosmo. I threw $99 at those people who have Cosmo’s name on their website, hoping they’d bring HTRWW back but so far they seem to be wasting him on podcasts.
            WTF they can have video clips on race reports but not have Cosmo do what he does best with them is beyond me. Now they seem to be backpedaling on their “no advertising” idea. Oh well, it was a nice idea… even if it lasted barely a month….don’t think they’ll be getting a renewal from me when the time comes 🙁

          • On the video, you can see van der Poel sits up after he has a bit of a gap on the others. Nowadays, he’d chase down Bettiol.
            The course is a bit predictable: it almost always comes down to the last two climbs. But Pog might push it a bit earlier this year – I’m always waiting for someone to go on the Koppenberg.

  11. If a rider, particularly a top rider, attacks solo, how much will they be helped by the motorbikes in front of them?

    One way to reduce the number of motorbikes in races could be to have only official race photographers, who then make their photos available to everyone.

    Publications might complain, and there would be fewer photos of the race, but I think it’d be well worth it in order to lessen the influence motorbikes have on the race (e.g. riding like a flotilla in front of a leading rider), as well as making them crashing with riders a little bit less likely.

  12. I’m not sure why people came away from E3 with the idea that WVA was suddenly better. He was being dropped. I don’t think the other two even cared about that race. MvDP and Pogs will race the Ronde smarter and harder and unless Wout has found something in training it will be hard for him to win.

    • Easy to overanalyse these things but a headwind would slow the speed of a finishing sprint and especially the speed at which the sprint is initiated. That tends to help the sprinter with faster acceleration against one with faster ultimate top speed. To me that helps MVDP against WVA, although I see WVA as the better sprinter on paper (kia ora Larry!) who loses to MVDP a little more often than he should. I don’t see Pogacar winning any sprint where either WVA or MVDP are present.

      As far as breakaways are concerned, a headwind often deters or works against them, but I’m hoping the length of the race, and especially its toughness, will make a headwind after the Paterberg a lesser factor. A one/two/three rider breakaway chased by similarly small group/s perhaps makes a headwind less significant by then and at the end of a truly selective race.

  13. Hola.
    Great preview.
    Loved Pogacar finishing fourth in a two man sprint.
    And no favorites with three rings.

  14. Utterly brilliant race.
    Loved every second.
    Cannot believe the rider we’re able to watch in Pogacar – feels like a once in a lifetime privilege.

  15. Can someone explain why DSM sprinted over the top of the hill after blocking the peloton (after the crash). The whiplash isn’t exactly nice for those further back, and thus we cause future aggregation, among the teams.

    • Their idea was to try and control the pace, or that seemed to be the plan. Of course they’ve been roasted in the Belgian media for this, Het Nieuwsblad alone has several pieces mocking them for this.

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