Flanders Pre-Game: Word On The Bergs
The day before the Tour of Flanders the PEZ Crew are on location in Brugge to sniff out the stories and hot tips before the race pulls out of the historic town centre Sunday morning… here’s the latest from our chat’s with Discovery, davitamon-Lotto, T-Mobile, and more…
Discovery Good To Go
The first port of call was the Discovery Channel’s hotel where Cycling.TV had been offered an audience with team, and we tagged along. DS Dirk Demol was on hand with a couple of riders you may have heard of. In our brief chat we spoke of Lief Hoste’s recent win in the 3 Days of de Panne; not a well known race across the Atlantic but a very significant win in the Northern European calendar. Lief is in form and could be a good bet for a podium spot when the race arrives in Ninove tomorrow. Aussie Matt White has kept out of trouble and whilst he is unlikely to be a contender for the win, the former Cofidis rider looks tanned and fit and is sure to be putting in some big turns for the Discovery team. This is the sixth time White has ridden the Ronde though he expressed some apprehension concerning the weather. Rain is forecast and the previous six editions Matt has contested were run in the dry.
We also had the opportunity to speak to Roger Hammond, who has been slowly but surely building his form and should put in a strong performance. The Paris-Roubaix podium finisher has his sights set on Classics glory and even if that does not materialize in 2006 Hammond is confident the Discovery team is the place for him. If the weather is poor as predicted Roger’s cyclo-cross skills will certainly come to play. He admitted that his sole motivation for ploughing through the mud in the winter months is to develop his bike handling for just such a situation. He also revealed that a number of the teams attempted a reconnaissance of the Kemmelberg yesterday but reaching the summit without dismounting was a challenge, never mind racing up the dreaded climb. This could prove a decisive point in the race tomorrow. As is always the case in the Classics, peloton positioning is everything.
Finally, in our last port of call at the Discovery hotel we had a chat with George Hincapie. In the past, the spring classics represented Hincapie’s raison d’кtre for his alter ego when not supporting Lance Armstrong. Last season saw Hincapie shed yet more pounds to improve his climbing and rumours abound that Big George is being reincarnated as a Grand Tour contender. Will this affect his potential in the single day races? Tomorrow will tell but the amicable New Yorker was keen to express his continued motivation for Flanders and the upcoming Paris-Roubaix.
Dropping By Davitamon-Lotto
In our brief trip to the Davitamon-Lotto team hotel none of the riders were available for comment but word was about that Nico Mattan was sidelined by a stomach bug while Peter van Petegem has been keeping his powder dry in recent weeks. Will his firepower be sufficient to topple race favourite Boonen on the wet cobbles tomorrow? He certainly looked lean and his demeanour was calm and confident as always.
Stay tuned as we’ll spend the day race-chasing with Davitamon’s Belgium TT champ Bert Roesem’s dad – he’s got more local knowledge of the shortcuts across Flanders than a Belgian pub has strong beers… so we should be in for a wild ride.
The word in the T-Mobile camp was that Andreas Klier was the man to watch. His move to Belgium to perfect his classics preparation is ripe for vindication in the mother of the Belgian single day races. We spoke at depth with former T-Mobile pro Rolf Aldag. As of late Aldag has a mixed role with the team but provided a keen insight into the race. Interestingly, he only tips Klier for a top five. I asked Aldag to put his money where his mouth is. A 100 euro bet to be split four ways; and where did he lay it? All 100 big ones on the Quickstep team. He believes that with Pozzato, Bettini and Boonen the Belgian outfit are
potentially unbeatable. He also made an interesting point; Aldag believes that a selection will form, probably at the Valkenberg at 226km. Boonen is a likely candidate for making the move and certainly to form part of it. Coming into the finish, Boonen’s responsibility to work will be diminished as his palmares already includes a Flander’s win. The responsibility to bring the break to the finish rests on the helmets of the pretenders to the throne. Whilst Boonen will want the win, he has a bargaining power of a win already in the bag and the potential to come to the line with fresh legs ripe for a sprint victory. In the past the Tenbosee climb has seen attempts but Klier does not see this berg as a effective launch pad. The long descent makes it too difficult for an escape to stay away. Expect the selection to occur much earlier on. Also, forecast South-West wind means that the wind will be at the back of the riders for most of the route. This will favour the stronger riders as a head wind would make it easier for weaker riders to follow wheels. In our final chunk of time with the pros we spoke with Andreas Klier himself. Naturally he predicts a hard race but it seems the German has been influenced by his time away from home. When I asked him to back a winner other than himself it didn’t take him long for the name Peter van Petegem to be delivered.
Betting on Ballan
Of course, the name of Tom Boonen is everywhere and you’d be hard pressed to find a pundit or fan that is betting against the World Champ for a repeat win in the Ronde. However as a final point, if you are looking for an outside bet or simply a wild card name to impress your buddies, even Dirk Demol admitted that last week’s second place in the GP E3 Ballan is looking right on form. After a top 10 in last years Tour of Flanders and some strong showings in recent weeks he may just be the man to upset the Flemish party. Be sure to stay tuned to Pez for the post-race low-down.