Time Travel is possible in Flanders – Image, courtesy of ‘CyclinginFlanders’
19 Climbs on Cobbles. 264KM and it loops back!
Lost in the thrill of it all; one can easily get carried away with arguably the most popular/greatest one day race of them all, ‘The Tour of Flanders’. Better known in the region and amongst hardy fans, as the ‘Ronde van Vlaanderen’ (RVV). The 2015 edition kicks off this Sunday 5 April.
‘Arder than Hard
How hard is the RVV? The man in the featured picture is Eddy Merckx. Fondly called the ‘Cannibal’ by his peers, he not just ate rivals for breakfast, but one or two Monuments and GT’s as well. Urban legend has it, that the Cannibal is the inspiration for certain popular expressions used by the youth in the UK today. Phrases like, “You Mercked it,” is more precisely interpreted to mean “You Merckx’d it!”
Here’s how Eddy did it in ’69 and ’75 – lapping half the peloton!
This year, RVV celebrates it’s 99th edition (it turned a century in 2013). Without it’s favourite local son, Tom Boonen, and popular cobble-cruncher, Fabian ‘Fabu/Spartacus’ Cancerllara, many of us will miss the gladiators of our generation in this exciting Monument. How much? This much:
And so much like this:
Front and Centre
Undoubtedly, this big race will still have big guns blazing to make No.99 that extra special. Here are some of the note worthy protagonists:
It’s with resounding delight that Geraint Thomas will be in top form for the RVV. Winner of this year’s E3 Harelebeke and, just 2 days later, a podium finisher at Gent-(Bubblegum) Wevelegem. Geraint Thomas will be front and centre, animating the race from the start and particularly at pinch points, where sitting on the back will cost you time and energy.
‘G’ as he’s nicknamed, will be entering RVV with a strong team, in the form of Ian Stannard, Omloop champ and Sir Bradley Wiggins, ITT winner at the Driedaagse De Panne – his final race for Team Sky, and as World Champion too. There’s also talk of a new rear-suspension bike that Pinarello and Jaguar have put together, but this is nothing new. Back in the day, they even put suspension forks on bikes, and that didn’t last long. Did it?
What difference can ‘G’ make to the race? Perhaps as much as this:
And this much:
Who wins at Gent-‘Bubblegum’? No less than the enigmatic and highly acclaimed veteran, Luca Paolini. At 38 many are eager to pin him as simply the ‘lead-out’ man for sprint-man, Alexander Kristoff. The latter Katusha rider wasn’t able to deliver at Sanremo, and with Luca consistently strong, we may see Luca use his suave maneuverers and hunger in this race. Luca’s hinted that this could be his last year as a pro, and the Classics Season is his arena to dominate. Recently tweeted the link to Luca’s interview with Rouleur Magazine. A highly recommended read.
Alexander Kristoff is a popular choice, but as mentioned earlier, he’s not showing form. One ‘Viking’ who has a lot to prove is Edvald Boasson Hagen. The former Team-Sky rider, come MTN-Qhubeka front man, will be eager to show he’s earned the right to represent the African team on Flanderian hallowed ground. Boasson ‘The Boss’ Hagen is a strong rider who doesn’t shy away from the punchy climbs of Flanders. If he can sneak away with a break, he could see himself outdo the outfit.
In the meantime if you’re wondering if there’s any Viking treasure still around, it looks like Canyon Bikes have taken Kristoff’s stash and assembled him a new bike.
Image from Katusha via Twitter
No joke, Zdenek Stybar could really turn this race on it’s head, if he can step on Sunday. With a cracking team in the form EQS, he’ll have a formidable chance. Particularly now that Boonen is unavailable as EQS head, Stybar could be the protected captain of this top Belgian team. Notwithstanding his own personal array of skills: off-road champion; national champion and this year’s Strade Bianche winner, this Czech is in excellent condition and hungry to prove himself once again. Interestingly, Stybar is described as an ‘All Rounder’ on many Cycling profiles, but drill down to his specialty, and it’s misleading to believe he is only any good on flat courses. The Strade Bianche throws this out of the window – the spoils normally go to the rider who reaches the final climb into Siena, in this case, Van Avermaet, but the Czech denies him this right. All the same, the pressure will be on Stybar and his team to silence critics for their recent display of abysmal team tactics.
The wind will be a continuing factor. More of that later, but for now check out Cosmo’s video below with Julio’s animated description at 25 seconds in:
The German Renaissance
This probably needs a more in-depth feature, but it’s fair to say that German cyclists are having a very colourful return to the professional scene. The embarrassing moments of certain individuals and teams of the 80-90’s are now surpassed with the likes of Marcel Kittel, The Jens (retired), Tony Martin, Gerald Ciolek, Andrew Greipel, Heinrich Haussler (okay, he’s German-Australian riding for a Swiss Team), and John Degenkolb, to name a few. Degenkolb is in with a real chance here. His win at Sanremo will no doubt be a boost for the German. He marks his rivals well, and there’s been enough time since his win for the peloton to get caught napping, and fail to notice his lurking presence.
The Likely Lads
Local lads like Sep Vanmarcke, Greg Van Avermaet, Niki Terpstra, Devolder and Roelandts all have a claim to the RVV. Not only have they returned time and again to prove their worth, but are local heroes. Sep Vanbarcke prides himself of remaining in the area, for both personal and professional reasons. Stijn Devolder is a seasoned veteran and has recovered in earnest, since E3, to represent his Belgian colours and do Cancellara proud, as a TFR team mate.
Until that Day
Two popular riders with the Baroudeurs, are without doubt Sylvian Chavanel and Philippe Gilbert. The former a French Champion, who had made the tough choice of leaving French squads, and switch to a Belgian team early in his career, in order to learn the ‘way’ of the Classics. Gilbert, renowned former Belgian and World Champion never gives up on combatting on familiar races, and as much as he and Avermaet may, or may not get along; Gilbert’s recent sacrifices for his team mate suggest a more amicable resolve to their differences.
The Red Baron
And the Red Baron A big shout out to our man, Will ‘The Red Baron’ Harrison, who will be riding the open ride, on the same course the day before RVV. Bon courage mon ami!
The Red Baron and The Captain – ready to throw the gauntlet down!
The Wind Breaker
It’s risky business. What with navigating 200 men, cobbles, bergs and finally the wind. If last year is anything to go by, and with the recent conditions in GW, we could see the race animated. Not just by worthy heroics, but by the elements themselves. As you can see, everywhere from Tuscany – in the Strade Bianche, to practically every Belgium race, cheating the crazy wind, has been a constant challenge.
Having the knack of seeing the suitable shelter, in the form of a rival rider, to springboard you into the winning position can make or break a champion at Flanders, as Fabu demonstrates at last year’s RVV, below:
To their detriment, Greg and Sep see Spartacus too late at last year’s RVV – image via Cyclocosm
On the Box
Saving the Best…
Change is a difficult thing and none more so than within cycling. Even with, the by now, legendary London 2012 Olympic Women’s Road Race; Elite Women’s Cycling is hard to find on line let alone on the box. Hopefully this will change soon. It’s not scheduled to be on Europsport, but I’m sure if you tune into a local Beligan station you’ll find the Women’s Race starting a couple hours before the Men’s.
Emma Johansson’s unique insight to living and riding in Flanders
The Low Down
Ladies and Gents, let’s get this Ronde on the Road! Everything else has been a dress rehearsal for this day. Easter Sunday is what it comes down to. The Ronde van Vlaanderen is not just where all the ‘bergs’ lead to, but where dreams and decisions are made.
*A local Baroudeur Club Ride will be riding in honour to RVV. Contact us if you want to get involved.