Ronde van Vlaanderen Preview

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The Ronde happens this Sunday and its an event of national significance in Belgium, a million people will stand by the road, multiples will watch it on television.

This year’s overlap with Easter isn’t evoking stories of miraculous resurrection, instead Flemish fans are still mourning the “de wonde van Vlaanderen“, the wound of Flanders and particularly the absence of Wout van Aert. Mathieu van der Poel is going for a third win but can he and his team keep a lid on what now promises to be an open race?

The Course

A start in Antwerp and then 270km. 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 within a zone no longer than 20km and no wider than 10km but where 170km of the racing happens.

This features three climbs of the Oude Kwaremont, a long drag of a climb that’s rarely steep and part tarmac, part cobbles but it’s where the pavé begin that the slope kicks up. Later the second time up the Kwaremont is 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 selection happens over the top and for all the repeat roads this one is wisely used 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

Mathieu van der Poel is the obvious contender, the bookmakers even have him as odds-on. You can see why, he’s won the race twice before and finished second twice as well. Now the results are coming as we saw in the E3 when he rode the field off his wheel and he’s on terrain that suits, the sharp climbs, the narrow roads and he’s got a sprint too. And yet he wasn’t perfect in Sanremo and lost out in Gent-Wevelgem.

The big crash in Dwars door Vlaanderen leaves Van der Poel as the standout contender but this just puts him on a lonely pedestal and can even complicate things. Far from the central outcome of him being away with Van Aert and Pedersen and this trio each hoping to unlock the victory, now things could get more tactical. The burden is now on his shoulders. The Alpecin-Deceuninck team are solid, as we saw in Sanremo Silvan Dillier can pull for hours, but the jagged course here will disrupt them. Jasper Philipsen is not riding so the team have no second card to play, Van der Poel can’t sit on and play policeman.

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Visma-Lease a Bike are having rotten luck but still having the kind of classics campaign to make rival teams jealous with wins in Kuurne and Dwars. Wednesday’s race showed their template where they seek numerical superiority in the final hour and take turns to make moves. Van Aert’s crash, injuries and absence seem almost as traumatic for the Flemish as they are for him – his crash led the TV news on Wednesday evening, he is on the front page of newspapers today – but it creates a more open hierarchy for the team. No longer are they here to pace and place Van Aert into position, but have to race for the win. Matteo Jorgenson, apparently still searching for a win big enough to get the world to stop calling him “Yorgenson”, is the obvious leader, ninth last year with Movistar. But an opposing style to Van der Poel, no outrageous accelerations, instead he’ll look to barge clear when the others want a breather. Tiesj Benoot should be there and Dylan van Baarle and similar to Jorgenson they not explosive at all but durable but van Baarle’s form is more unknown after recent illness.

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Lidl-Trek gave a textbook example of the team work needed to undo Mathieu van der Poel in Gent-Wevelgem. Only days later they got felled by the big crash in Dwars with Jasper Stuyven out and Mads Pedersen left sore for  race where he’d want to be 100% to match Van der Poel, carrying an injury or just a couple of bad nights’ sleep is detrimental so he’s a harder pick now. Jonathan Milan is looking menacing, even on the climbs but there’s probably too many bergs for him on Sunday but Toms Skujiņš is back and in form.

With Van der Poel at risk of being isolated and both Visma-LAB and Lidl-Trek diminished there’s a long list of outsiders who could profit from the lack of control. Read Soudal-Quickstep’s roster and it’s strong with Julian Alaphilippe, Kasper Asgreen, Yves Lampaert and Gianni Moscon but they’re all famous for being famous and the wins don’t come as easily these days. Alaphilippe was with the leaders over the Poggio but can he manage the repeat climbs? Asgreen is a dark horse, few results but always strong.

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Groupama-FDJ’s Laurence Pithie is a revelation of the spring but he’s tended to fade after 200km so a 270km race is even harder but he’s quick. Stefan Küng has it the other way around, fine with the distance but because he’ll probably be beaten in a sprint he tries to get away solo. Valentin Madouas is both durable and strong in a sprint from a group.

Absent Tadej Pogačar, Tim Wellens is in excellent form and can race for himself but he has a solid team. Nils Politt is arguably looking better than ever but as we saw in the Omloop he can be outsprinted while Antonio Morgado could be worth watching on his debut.

Having ticked off Sanremo, Matej Mohorič (Bahrain) has made the Ronde his target this year and as ever if there’s a moment’s hesitation he can be gone. Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-Easypost) is a past winner and in form, he’s another rider who is very hard to bring back. Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) won Gent-Wevelgem thanks to agility on the cobbled climbs and a fast sprint but has struggled to back it up, especially on cold days. Michael Matthews (Jayco) is versatile and fast but can he cope with the Flandrien style of racing? Oier Lazkano (Movistar) is strong and aggressive but how to win, there are a lot of names to get past. Likewise for Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X) a form pick for the Norwegian breakaway specialist.

Van der Poel
Pedersen, Jorgenson, Mohorič
Bettiol, Philipsen, Wellens, Benoot, Skujiņš
Asgreen, Küng, Madouas, Lazkano, Milan, Matthews

Weather: cool and cloudy, 15°C and with the chance of rain. A SE wind will blow at 15-20km/h which makes it a factor in the headwind/tailwind sense at times but it won’t cause much crosswind action.

TV: live from start to finish on Een/Spora for locals and Eurosport and beyond. The clocks change in Europe from CET to CEST this weekend so viewers outside Europe can take this into account.

The start is at 10.00am. 3.30 sees the penultimate time up the Kwaremont-Paterberg combo with the Koppenberg just after. The finish is forecast for 4.45pm.

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Women’s Ronde: 168km it starts at 1.25pm and the finish is forecast for 5.45pm CEST. You can find an informed preview as ever at with Flemish fans hoping for a home win thanks to Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx-Protime) and Marianne Vos hoping for her second win ten years after the 2013 triumph.

46 thoughts on “Ronde van Vlaanderen Preview”

  1. I know the chainrings are for the win but I’m surprised you only give Küng one of them, given which selections he was in and how close to the win he was in the last two editions, plus he is looking great so far this season. On the other hand I often have the impression he is in the wind far too much – but its easy to criticise from my sofa. I’d love to see him land at least one big win in his career, but I wonder what he can do differently to get there, if anything, given his lack of explosivity.

    • The chainrings are for the win and it’s hard to see how he wins, he usually wants to go solo and then gets closed down, his attacks are strong but not savage and if he moves he’s a great wheel to get on so others follow and he can’t get away. I wonder though if he could use this power in a sprint, I can’t see him beating Van der Poel but from a different group maybe? Much more likely to place than win.

  2. How far from the finish will MVDP attack and can he go solo?

    Liking the open aspect for all the rest. So many to go up the road before Mathieu.

    • The obvious launchpad is the Koppenberg and to survey the damage after. As you say though if enough second tier contenders can anticipate this they might fancy their chances as if he’s going to be near impossible to take on in a straight contest up the Paterberg or a sprint in Oudenaarde, he can see the race slip away in one of those moments in between when riders float away and others look to him to chase.

  3. Nice preview, thanks. Which will we see, a romp in the pomp from MvdP or a wide-open attack-fest against the guy in the rainbow jersey? Lots of riders with nothing-to-lose. I’d love to see Jorgenson step-up in the absence of WvA, but can he handle the pressure of being Visma’s top dog? Why didn’t they bring that pasty Danish guy out of hiding and race him? His big Slovenian Grand Tour rival was able to win this race…why not the “Danish Anchovy” as one wag calls him?
    As they say here in Italia – Buona Pasqua!!!

    • Jorgenson was very quick to respond to the leadership question after Dwars Door with a short reply “I hope not”. The pressure would be immense for such a young rider. The maturity and confidence she has displayed this year has been remarkable, which could see him on a winning day.

      A side note. Why the need to comment on Jonas appearance in a belittling way, when ‘Jonas’ works just fine?

  4. Thanks for the preview INRNG.
    WVAs absence, leaves this as one open race. MVDP must be the favorite, but the winner could come from anybody if teams decide not to wait for the inevitable. Probably not a GB or French rider for the win, but a good outside pick must be Bettiol, who has shown good form recently and is a previous winner.
    Looking forward to another open, attacking race with attacks coming from a long way to the finishing line,

  5. I’m kind of in mourning too. Partly because I’d like WVA to win it, and partly I really wanted to see the best possible races. As you said, though, perhaps this will make it all more interesting.

    • The mood in Belgium seems to have really taken a hit with WvA’s crash, headlines of “tragedy” and such like. I’ve even seen articles about the economic effects with possible reduced TV ratings, lower sausage sales (!) and so on.

  6. The crash in DDV will make life more difficult here for MvdP I think…Visma and Trek have been the two teams to control the races so far this year, and so with both of them decimated I can see a lot of anticiperen from “tier two” riders…so when MvdP inevitably attacks solo, he could find himself latching onto a group of genuine contenders…hopefully it’ll be a close, tactical battle, and not just another 80km solo from one of the ‘big 6’…

    Did we find out what happened to Bettiol in DDV? It looked like cramp, and he has a history of that, so surely doesn’t bode well for a 270km race on Sunday?

    • Bettiol has ulcerative colitis. Whether or not he has had a colectomy, managing his fluids and electrolytes must be a bit more complicated. I like him- I’d be happy if he won.

      • “Bettiol has ulcerative colitis.” Yuck! I wondered about the poor guy – seems to make a great move only to be stopped by cramps too often. Reminded me of the EF team’s nutrition wizard, the guy who started Skratch? Dunno what causes ulcerative colitis and how in the modern scientific era someone gets cramps, but neither’s a good promotion for whoever is the sponsor/supplier of their race food and drink

        • The causes are multifactorial, complex, and not fully understood. Suffice it to say that it’s not caused by cycling or anything he is eating or drinking. Actually, that he can have this and still be a professional cyclist is a pretty good endorsement of how he is managed, including whatever EF does for him. The causes of cramping also aren’t fully understood, and likely vary from person to person.

          • Good to know, thanks. I wondered why Bettiol seems to cramp-up so often…I guess the answer is “who knows?” Skratch Labs is no longer part of Vaughters program anyway, now it’s something called AMACX according to EF’s website.

        • The gut is closely wired to the brain and autonomic nervous system, so a lot of chronic gut problems are caused by dysregulation of the nervous system rather than food and drink.

  7. I’m expecting a pretty interesting race, as everyone will be marking MVDP the entire time and there should be some early action to try to prevent him from just waiting around and then riding away from everyone to win with another massive solo effort. I imagine there will be some calling of bluffs to see who will really be willing to work. One thing that seems certain is that nobody is going to help MVDP unless it becomes absolutely necessary. If he wins, it will be well earned. Of course, he might just be so strong that tactics don’t work, but at least we’re likely to see some attempts to use them.

  8. I think it’ll be a less open race because I just can’t see MVDP losing.

    On the Poggio, his positioning was poor, and he wasn’t close enough to Pogacar. That meant he had to chase Pogacar for longer than he would have, thus meaning he was too tired to work with him on and after the descent. (It was also his first race, so he might have been lacking some fitness, although that doesn’t seem to apply so much these days.)

    I think he’ll want to arrive alone at the finish, as he can be beaten in the sprint, especially if you go long, as Pedersen did at Gent-Wevelgem, going from about 300m (Asgreen also beat him in a sprint at the Ronde by going from 220m). Wait for a shorter sprint and he will beat you with his explosivity.

    He did far too much work on the front at Gent-Wevelgem, which I found odd at the time, as he’s not previously been prone to that – unlike van Aert.

    Surprised Philipsen isn’t riding, as he seems very capable. Even if he’s focusing more on Paris-Roubaix, he provides a second possible winner for the team.

  9. The reason I don’t think it’ll be an open race is because often nowadays, particularly in one-day races, we see the best riders attacking early, which is great. The odd thing that then seems to happen more often nowadays is that the teams in the peloton that don’t have a rider in the breakaway group don’t work together to bring them back. You either see one team working at a time – which will be unlikely to be strong enough to bring back this powerful break – or lone riders pinging off in no-hope endeavours.

    This is a basic tactic of cycling, yet riders and their DSs seem to have forgotten it. Is it because the breakaway groups are now formed of much stronger riders, and so the teams just don’t know what to do?

    My imagination or are the teams working together less well these days?

    • On the other hand, as there are fewer very strong riders in the race and only one clear favourite, maybe that’s less likely to happen in this race. Certainly, everyone here seems to think it’ll be a more open race, so hopefully they’re right.

      I do still think the above is happening more often, though.

      • Open vs not open

        I was thinking back to that Roubaix where is was everyone vs Cancellara and I think VanSummaren won?

        In my mind Paris Roubaix is easier to have open chaos+marking that holds back the super fave, than Flanders cause the bergs usually give the cream a launchpad to rise to the top – but given the strength of Visma and a few others who will want to get ahead of the race, I was also thinking this weekend might now be more open following the crash. Hopefully so.

        The only thing was, I remember that Roubaix being pretty bad with Thor Hushvod and Cancellara riding together for ages seemingly at half speed, we never got the Cancellara wow moment so I actually hope similar doesn’t happen at this years Roubaix – but as I say above, the bergs make this kind of marking less likely at Flanders so I conversely hope it does happen at the Ronde! Fingers crossed for MVDP to do one of his remarkable chases.

        I have this weird feeling Alaphillippe is going to do better than people think.

    • I think you’re right that teams don’t always seem to understand what’s in their best interests. You’ll see one team blow themselves up in a futile effort while other teams let them do all the work, but then by the time that one team blows up it’s too late for anyone else to help and the chance is gone.

      You’re also right about a lot of chasses patates, where the energy that is spent on the pointless lone-rider attack might actually be useful in a group effort. Drives me nuts.

  10. I thought that the Spanish speakers might be calling him “Horgenson”. Anyway, he looks like the only possibility of someone taking it up to MVDP.

    • The short version is that his name has Scandinavian origins but has become Americanized so it’s Jorgenson as in “Jaw” and commentators who strive to get names pronounced right struggle with his. Either way everyone knows who it is now as he’s making a name for himself.

  11. Noticed a typo… in the route profile! They’ve mislabelled final Paterberg as the Oude Kwaremont. I bet many riders wish that were the final climb! 🥵

  12. Maybe I’ve watched too many cobbled classics, or it was just because I hadn’t ridden then, but I was probably a bit blase about the cobbles. Definitely not any more. I rode the sportive today and got an education. I didn’t mind the climbs too much, even though it was wet I felt I was in control there. But I did not enjoy the flat or downhill bits, particularly Mariaborrestraat and Haghoek. By the end of both I couldn’t feel my hands and I was really just hoping to get to the other side of the downhill bits, which definitely seemed steeper to me than on tv. You barely even consider them when watching the pros. I will be watching the pros tomorrow with a renewed sense of awe.

    • “Chapeau” as they say. From the rider recon pictures today it sounds like a tough day to be out on a bike.

      The Flanders cobbles are tough but can get downgraded by comparison to Roubaix but this doesn’t make them easier, and because some cobbles have been resurfaced, eg the Muur is not as brutal as it was after the works. But given even some smooth urban cobbles have their effect after only a few hundred metres, trying kilometres of rougher ones… it’s hard. It’s sometimes a pity the Ronde doesn’t really tour Flanders any more but you can see why the concentrate the race in one small area for the cobbles and climbs.

    • +1 BRAVO! I did it in 2013 and the weather wasn’t great then either. Relates to my comments about critics of racing tactics who know nothing about the sport other than what they’ve “learned” by watching TV.

  13. There is a young man named Patrick Broe, I’m sure many of you have heard of him, who has been contracted by the Jumbo/VLAB team to provide technical assistance to the team. He recently rode the Flanders cobbles for the first time. But somehow, the young man was able to convince the best World Tour team that his services might be valuable to them, despite his lack of practical experience. Funny that.

    • Perhaps expanding their thinking is what helps separate “the best World Tour team” from the teams that are largely staffed by ex-racers without much further education or experience…?

      For better or worse success at the top level of the sport is increasingly dependent upon diverse and very specialised technical, results and performance analysis.

      VLaB didn’t get to where they are by contracting people with nothing to contribute.

  14. My first TV experience with no commentary, and I’d recommend it. The crowd noise atop the Oude Kwaremont was hair-raising. Some interesting downhill drone footage, too. I should have prepped more on the race numbers and new colours, though.

  15. Was that the headwind that limited attacks or a high pace?

    Found it an incredibly frustrating race to watch as from around 70km out MVDP winning felt all but certain? Admittedly it seemed like that at the start of the day but the lack of attacks given how everyone knew his likely superiority was infuriating?

    Outside of Pedersen there was one attack that forced MVDP to do any kind of thinking at around 100km but as soon as he bridged it seemed like he never even had to go all out to drop everyone when he did and ride away? (Despite his post race interview!)

    I was left thinking, given we all knew MVDP was a level up, why didn’t Visma, Quickstep, Lidl, UAE, Ineos not start firing riders up the road from 200km just to mix things up and make life hard for MVDP later? The one break at 100km seemed like too little too late even at the time, and once MVDP was across you kind of knew it was over?

    Maybe it was the headwind. Maybe he’d have won anyway.
    And obviously all above easier to say than do – pure armchair DS going on…
    And not meaning to take away from the winner, incredible superiority and hugely deserved, just a bit annoying to have the feeling he didn’t have to go that deep to blow everyone away…

    • Very aware it’s a cliche to say ‘attack earlier, attack earlier’ and easier said than done…
      I guess what I’m saying is rather than being easy for MVDP today, it was easy for his team.
      Felt like the other teams didn’t break his team to isolate MVDP which was a tactical mistake and left themselves with too much to do to break him in the last 100km.

      Maybe the didn’t realise how much stronger than the best he was?
      Or knew they were racing for second already?
      Just expected a lot more from Visma and Trek despite the midweek crashes etc.

      • Probably a spur of the moment frustration.
        The teams, the riders all knew they had to get ahead of MVDP and likely just his teams brilliance, his brilliance, the wind, the rain etc they couldn’t.

        Gutted for Matthews, feel like his might have won MSR with a meaner sprint but lost his podium today with a more obvious misdemeanour. I still don’t understand why he didn’t ride Flanders till 2019 and has never ridden Roubaix.

        Happy for Pollitt but he is this generations Van Marcke – needs a lot of luck to win a monument, similar to Kung.

        Disappointed with Sheffield and Turner after showing so much promise a few seasons ago but I guess sixth isn’t that bad, Tarling looking good for Roubaix, maybe a very outside bet?

        Is Pedersen everyone’s second favourite rider? What a brilliant competitor he is.

        UAE with 3 riders in top five and 4 in top 15 is impressive – Bahrain top rider in 50th a bit disappointing?

        Thought biggest win today though was MVDP’s team – weirdly doesn’t feel like the race was won with an attack today, feels like Alpecin’s team performance between 130km-80km was the nail in the coffin for everyone else.

        • I thought Sheffield getting sixth was pretty good, higher than I was expecting any Ineos rider to place. He beat everyone from Visma, Lidl-Trek & Quickstep for starters, all teams who were expected beforehand to do better than Ineos. Frankly after the Tour de Suisse last year I’m impressed he’s even still riding.

          • I agree re: Sheffield. That’s a good result for a rider who is still shy of his 22nd birthday. I think some of the phenomenal performances of other young riders can affect our perception of younger riders who are merely “very good.” I think it was a great day for the future of Ineos.

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