The PEZ Flanders Preview: De Ronde van Vlaanderen is the ‘Real’ World championships, if you are a Flemish bike fan. The action is always full on in Flanders, just look at last weeks Gent-Wevelgem. The Tour of Flanders will be more of a slow fuse, but when the peloton hits those cobbled climbs round Oudenaarde… Watch for the fireworks! Ed Hood looks at the history, course and who’s hot for Sunday.
Mr. Paris-Roubaix, Roger De Vlaeminck wasn’t bad in De Ronde either – On the attack in Flanders’76
If you’re a true fan of cycling, you must see the Ronde Van Vlaanderen at least once in your life – it’s not just watching a race, it’s being part of something which is a cultural phenomenon, a symbol of a people, an ideology. It’s truly special with a nation in thrall to the story that unfolds around the Flemish Ardennes on a Sunday afternoon.
The Flemish love De Ronde – But it won’t look like this in 2020
Some 10% of the 6.5 million population of Flanders are usually roadside on Sunday and of the rest, 80% will be glued to the TV with their favourite brew. That stat will alter this year of course, with access to the climbs prohibited for reasons of restricting spread of ‘you know what.’ Stop making excuses, just go – but not in this, ‘The Year of the Covid.’
The Flemish cycling fans – The Best in the World!
It was 1913 when Paul Deman won the first Ronde for Belgium – a trend which has continued with the home boys winning the race on 69 occasions. This year will be the 104th edition; only the First World War has prevented it being run since – understandable, since much of the parcours was the field of conflict – but the race continued through the Second World War. The Western Civilisations may have been struggling to survive the Nazi threat – but the Ronde went on.
Ieper/Ypres destroyed during World War 1
To continue on the ‘stats’ theme – Italy is way back on 11 wins with Alberto Bettiol the most recent winner, just last year.
Flanders’19 winner Alberto Bettiol
The Netherlands, are on 10 wins – Niki Terpstra winning two years ago as part of QuickStep’s rampage through the cobbled classics that season.
Johan Museeuw – Three wins in Flanders and eight times on the podium
There are six joint ‘recordmen’ each on three wins apiece – ‘way back’ there’s Achiel Buysse (Belgium) and Fiorenzo Magni (Italy) with the latter’s coming in three successive years. In the modern era Eric Leman, Johan Museeuw and Tom Boonen (all Belgium) and Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) are on three but Museeuw has the most impressive stats – with three second places and two thirds to give him eight podium spots – a number he shares with Belgian man of granite, Briek Schotte but who ‘only’ had two wins.
The great Briek Schotte
Schotte is also ‘recordman’ for starts with 20 and 16 finishes – Big George Hincapie started 17 and finished 17 to make him record finisher. It should be noted that even the great Eddy Merckx could ‘only’ win here twice.
Eddy Merckx on the Koppenberg – Not the record holder
And the man who was surely born to ride this race, Sean Kelly never won it – second on three occasions mark one of the few frustrations of a fabulous career.
Sean Kelly in Flanders – The race he should have won
With a few more stats to finish:
# Youngest winner: Rik Van Steenbergen (Belgium), 19 years 206 days.
# Oldest winner: Andre Tchmil (‘Belgium’), 37 years 71 days.
# Longest Ronde: 324 kilometres in 1913.
# Fastest Ronde: 43.6 kph, Gianluca Bortolami in 2001.
# Narrowest winning margin: 7mm. Bugno (Italy) over Museeuw in 1994.
The closest finish
This year the race stays with the long trail down from Antwerp down to the ‘killing ground’ of the Flemish Ardennes with the first cobbles coming after 85 kilometres; the Lippenhovenstraat and Paddestraat.
The course map
The famous and notorious Oude Kwaremont ascent comes for the first time at 120 kilometres. Then there’s the Kortekeer, Eikenberg and Wolvenberg climbs with more cobbles at Holleweg and Haaghoek before the Leberg, Berendries and Valkenberg climbs.
The course profile
The Kanarieberg comes 16 kilometres later, then Oude Kwaremont for the second time. It’s partner in pain, the Paterberg comes next; it’s Koppenberg time before more granite at Mariaborrestraat then the Steenbeekdries and Taaienberg climbs. As the race enters its final phase there’s the Kruisberg followed 26K later by the Oude Kwaremont for the third and final time. The ramp of the Paterberg is the last joust with gravity before the finish 13K later at a shortened race distance of 241K in Oudenaarde.
A note of every one of those ascents and sectors will be taped on to each of the competitors handlebar extensions, and before every one of them you have to be in the right place; or waste precious energy fighting back to where you need to be – the front. The ‘home boys’ have an advantage then. And if you do fancy someone on unfeasibly long odds, just remember what Harry Melvin and the boys told us; ‘the Bookies getcha, for every cent you got. . .’
Here are the teams we think will be in the mix:
AG2R – La Mondiale: the French outfit is having a good season and big Oliver Naesen is their man for the cobbles but his best here is seventh – in the mix though.
Oliver Naesen – The man for the French team
Alpecin – Fenix: VDeP, fourth last year and a huge talent but he’ll have to race to win, not to prevent WVA from winning as happened on the road to Wevelgem on Sunday.
Mathieu van der Poel – If he doesn’t watch Wout van Aert
BORA – hansgrohe: Max Schachmann is more of an Ardennes man but on his day he’s a hard competitor.
Max Schachmann – Not his day, maybe
CCC Team: Matteo Trentin rode a good Gent-Wevelgem, is aggressive and the shortened distance is to his advantage.
Matteo Trentin – No.1 for CCC
Circus – Wanty Gobert: want an outside bet – how about Loïc Vliegen? One big strong boy, the Belgian selectors didn’t put him in their Worlds team because he’s a dud.
Loic Vliegen – Big, strong and Belgian
Deceuninck – Quick-Step: Kasper Asgreen was second last year, he’s strong as an ox and has cobbled specialist Yves Lampaert by his side. And of course, World Champion Julian Alaphilippe will be there to enliven proceedings.
Julian Alaphilippe – World champ win in Flanders?
EF Pro Cycling: The men in pink have last year’s winner on the start line, Alberto Bettiol backed by hugely experienced strongmen Sep Vanmarcke, Sebastian Langeveld and Jens Keukeleire. Just off the podium at Wevelgem, Bettiol is ready to defend and that’s one tough team backing him.
Alberto Bettiol – Repeat win for the Italian?
Groupama – FDJ: The French team who currently have Démare setting the Giro alight also have a good podium chance here with big Swiss ‘chronoman’, Stefan Küng – witnessed by strong results in the BinckBank Tour and Wevelgem.
Stefan Küng – A man for the solo
INEOS Grenadiers: Michal Kwiatkowski is always ‘there’ – fourth in the Worlds, sixth in the Flèche, 10th at Liege and sixth at the Brabantse Pijl, he won’t be far away.
Michal Kwiatkowski – Flanders win to go with his Tour stage
Israel Start-Up Nation: Alex Dowsett’s cracking Giro stage win will surely motivate his team mates up in Flanders; Nils Politt was fifth here last year – albeit the tall German will need to display better from than of late.
Nils Politt – He needs some of the Roubaix’19 form
Jumbo – Visma: WVA, OK? [just please don’t race to pee off, MvdP, Wout].
Wout van Aert and his on-going battle with Van der Poel
Lotto Soudal: John Degenkolb may not be the force he was but if the weather is bad then he’ll be good – sixth at Wevelgem, so the legs are there.
John Degenkolb – Looking more like the ‘Classicsman’ of the past
Sunweb: Normally in a race such as this the strongest team would be Deceuninck – Quick-Step but these dudes run them close – Ties Benoot, Soren Kragh Andersen and risen star, Marc Hirschi.
Marc Hirschi – The young Sunweb winner
Trek – Segafredo: And then there’s these guys: Jasper Stuyven, Edward Theuns and man of the moment, Mads Pedersen; another very strong line up.
Mads Pedersen – A Flanders ‘Fairy Tale’
UAE Team Emirates: Last but not least the man who will be praying for wind and rain – Alex Kristoff. If it’s a horrible morning, get down to the bookies.
Alexander Kristoff – His form is good
# It’s a strange old season, all the more reason to savour De Ronde with the right brew: Orvélo Tripel is our choice but pace yourself. . .
And for live action go to SteepHillTV. #
The Best of The Tour of Flanders from 2015 to 2019 by inCycle