For many, the Tour of Flanders (De Ronde), is the biggest and best one day race of the season. Our seasoned racer in Belgium, Dan Patten, got inside the barriers to give his insider knowledge on the route, its famous climbs (bergs) and how the race may well unfold.
The first part of this great race is all about the race to be in the breakaway. Watch the race from the beginning and you’ll see it’s a fight to be in there…there’s no easy breakaway rolling away at De Ronde! It’s a prestigious breakaway to be in and a special day out for those that make it in, the first riders to be greeted by the hundreds of thousands on the roadside watching. For the “smaller” teams or those perhaps without an out-and-out favourite it’s particularly important, to show the sponsors out front at one of the biggest (if not the biggest!) monuments of them all, perhaps even to justify a wildcard place in the race. For the Belgian teams this is hugely important, they dare not miss it!
Stay under the Radar
The favourites will typically stay “quiet” and wait until the second half of the race. Though of course in De Ronde it’s far from an easy ride to the second half of the race. With the speed and nervousness of the peloton from km zero, they cannot afford to switch off, as history has shown their bid for Tour of Flanders glory could come to an end at any moment.
Some of the “bigger” teams may still try to put a rider in the breakaway, a tactic where by if the breakaway can go far into the race, that rider can provide some help to the teams leader(s) when it comes to those latter stages and the selections are made. A rider present up the road also gives the team the right to not have to chase the breakaway and therefore preserving as many of their matches for everything to come.
Second Half Fireworks
The second half of the race is ultimately where the key selections are made. Berg by berg, cobble by cobble the peloton will lose riders, selections will be made and the race ultimately will be won. 20% bergs are tough any day of the week, but with 270km+ of Belgian racing with the biggest stakes of them all the bunch will certainly get whittled down. And it’s not just the bergs and/or cobbles that will do this, it’s also the race between these famous features that will cause selections. These famous roads are typically small, with typically small entrances and typically small roads leading into them, which means limited space for riders to be at the front, which is of course where everyone wants to be! This ultimately causes a race into every section, which again with so many bergs and cobbles to tackle, will cause those selections throughout the race, in addition to the bergs and cobbles themselves. Throw in possible crashes, mechanicals and the natural elements of wind and rain and you can quickly see why the Tour of Flanders is such a hard race to win and so so special for the one that ultimately does.
Eyes on the Prize
With the race now finishing in Oudenaarde and final climbs of the Kwaremont and Paterberg coming so close to the end it is likely that these are where the final main selections are made. There will, of course, be many, many selections prior to these final climbs so certainly be prepared to see others taking their chance earlier and not leaving it so late, especially when into the last 60km of the race. With the Kwaremont (x2), Paterberg (x2), Koppenberg and Taaienberg (amongst other bergs and cobble sections) all coming in that last 60km of the race it will certainly provide many opportunities for selections to be made and for the race to be won and lost.
Place in History
After the rapid descent of the Paterberg it’s a flat run in (minus one canal bridge). The last kms from Avelgem to Oudenaarde are flat, on an impeccable road surface and with long straight sections, which means the leader(s) better have a decisive gap following the Paterberg. Without a big gap the chaser(s) will have the head of the race in their sight and so this race is truly never over until that finish line in Oudenaarde is crossed. Whoever does that on Sunday will certainly cement their name into history, both of the race itself and of course this great cycling nation!
Dan’s Top 5 Flanders predictions;
Greg Van Avermaet – CCC Team
Peter Sagan – Bora Hansgrohe
Zdenek Stybar – Deceuninck – Quick – Step
Olivier Naesens – AG2R La Mondiale
Philippe Gilbert – Deceuninck – Quick – Step
The Womens race, which takes place before the Mens event, has increased in severity this year, featuring more climbs and a longer race distance (159k). With last years winner, Anna Van Der Breggen missing this year’s race, expect the winner to come from;
Marianne Vos CCC-Liv
Tour of Flanders Museum
Should you find yourself in the heart of world cycling in Oudenaarde, Belgium, be sure to visit the Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen (CRVV) – Tour of Flanders Museum. This permanent exhibition and tribute to the race is full of history, as well as a great little shop and fantastic cafe bar. Top Belgian rider from the 70’s and 80’s, Freddy Maertens, proudly shows groups around the facility (Below at the museum with Geraint Thomas) – well worth a visit for any cycling fan.
Check out Dan’s Merlin Nitro Aero here (also available with Shimano R7000 & frame only options). Below video features Dan on the 2017 Merlin Nitro SL