As the Driedaagse De Panne rages and De Ronde gets ever closer – only 4 days to go – PEZ chatted with 1997 Ronde Van Vlaanderen winner, Rolf Sorensen, on just what it takes to get things done in Flanders, as well as a blow by blow on how he pulled his incredible victory off even after a very long break before the finale.
‘The Tour of Flanders is the most difficult classic to win for sure, you have to be able to climb, ride the cobbles, cope with the cross-winds for the first 150 kilometres and ride the small roads – it requires you to be able to manage every skill there is in cycling.’
If the man telling you this happens to be Rolf Sorensen of Denmark who won Paris-Tours, Paris-Brussels, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Henninger Turm, an Olympic silver and…the Tour of Flanders in 1997 during his 17 years as a pro you simply cannot argue.
Old Pez likes me to be challenging though, so I reply; “Does that include Paris-Roubaix, Rolf?”
‘At Roubaix it’s a marathon but the strongest wins, in the Ronde the strength is not enough, you must have the skills. Unless you have lived in the area and trained on those roads every day a rider could not go out and win that race at first time of riding it, I rode it 10 or 11 times before I won it, experience is everything at Flanders. It’s not the same with Liege, the guys who do well there – Casagrande, Rebellin, Di Luca they could never win at Flanders you need the skills and the horse power.’
“So what about your Flanders win Rolf, tell us about it,” I say, getting back into my box.
Jalabert and Sorensen get to the business of riding the long break in 1997.
Recipe For Victory
‘In 1997 I was with Rabobank and I was in good form coming in to Flanders. I had been third and fourth in the race and I knew that I had it within me to win. At the top of the Taaienberg [‘berg is Flemish for the short, steep climbs; Mur is French, meaning literally ‘wall’] I bridged-up to Jalabert [a prolific winner including the 1995 Vuelta and 1997 world time trial title] but there was still a long way to go, we looked at each other and decided, “let’s give it a go.” We did about 20 kilometres then on the Berendries climb I dropped him, it was then that I realised just how well I was going.
Sorensen dropped Jalabert and went at it alone, till he was caught a good while later.
I was re-caught by the lead group on Geraardsbergen and by the Bosberg [the last climb] there were seven or eight of us. I was playing the under-dog and the others thought I had nothing left, but I actually felt really good. With seven or eight kilometres to go Franco Ballerini [Italy & Mapei, twice winner of Paris-Roubaix] attacked and I went with him, but so did Frederic Moncassin [France & GAN, a very good sprinter with Tour stage wins to his credit].
Clever, powerful riding saw Sorensen to victory.
Ballerini and I knew we had to attack Moncassin or he would beat us in the sprint. Ballerini attacked first and Moncassin brought him back but I could see that he was close to his limit. I attacked just before the red kite [signifying one kilometre to go] and I knew immediately I would win because Moncassin did not have anything left and Ballerini wouldn’t bring him up.’
Rolf goes back to his theme of Flanders being the most difficult race there is to win; ‘I manage a good Danish squad now – team GLS – and last year we came to the under-23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It’s over the same roads but maybe 50 kilometres less and we got first, second and fourth, Those same riders didn’t make the top 25 at Flanders,’ Once is enough to question Rolf Sorensen in any interview!