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It’s been a tantalising start to the Flemish cobbles season, with E3 Harelbeke won by Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) and Gent-Wevelgem won by Peter Sagan (Cannondale). Many people are suggesting this year’s Tour of Flanders will be a battle between those two given Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is nowhere near the form he had last season when he won the race … not to mention the fact that he’s carrying a knee injury into the race.
The Tour of Flanders will start from Brugge and finish in the city of Oudenaarde after grueling 257km. The route was changed last year, a decision that was met with protest from Belgian fans and purists alike, largely due to the removal of the legendary cobbled Muur van Geraardsbergen climb. But nobody seemed to complain with the spectacle and the final result.
The finish has moved from Meerbeke to Oudenaarde and the race now finishes with three different circuits. That said, all three loops includes the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs.
This year, Oscar Gatto (Vini-Fantini) looked the strongest of the bunch on the Paterberg during Dwars door Vlaanderen whereas Fabian Cancellara launched himself on Oude Kwaremont during E3 Harelbeke.
Oude Kwaremont is 2.2km long with a 4.2% average gradient. Unlike the typical Flemish berg, it is a long steady climb which could once again be the launchpad for the diesel engine of Cancellara late in the race. The climb will be tackled three times, at 177km, 218km and 238km.
The Paterberg, on the other hand, is a sharp 400m-long spike which sits less than 4km from Oude Kwaremont. It could be the place for more punchy and explosive riders to create a gap over other contenders.
After tackling Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, the first circuit moves on to the legendary Koppenberg climb. This climb has a maximum gradient of 22% and hitting it with momentum will be vital. Just before this climb, we should see a lot of jostling in the peloton as all the protagonists will be keen to stay at the head of the race.
The race will then pass through the feed zone before tackling the climbs of Steenbeekdries (800m, 12.8% max, 7.6% average) and Kruisberg (1.8km long, 4.8% average, 9% max). The course then loops back to Oudenaarde and hits thte Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg for the second time. Another steady climb of Hoogberg (2.9km, 3.5% average, 8% max) will mark the circuit before the race negotiates Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg for one last time.
There’s sufficient distance (15km) from the finish line to Paterberg which could see the bunch regroup. The final stretch is trivial and fast.
This year’s Spring Classics have been heavily affected by weather. Nokere Koerse and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne were cancelled while Gent-Wevelgem became the shortened Gistel-Wevelgem. But the forecast for Sunday looks pleasant which should make for a fun race both for riders and spectators alike.
As mentioned above, you’d be foolish to look beyond Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara when picking a winner. Both have won a semi-classic in the most emphatic fashion. On Sunday, Cancellara will be looking to make up for last year’s crash while Sagan will be looking to fulfil the potential everyone is saying he has. Of course, there is a host of other riders who would love to disrupt the dreams of these two strongmen.
Tom Boonen may be out of sorts this season but his teammate Sylvain Chavanel is in fine nick of form. Ian Stannard (Sky) is currently red-hot but may like to hold himself back for Paris-Roubaix. If so, Team Sky will likely throw their weight behind Geraint Thomas who finished fourth in both E3 Harelbeke and Het Nieuwsblad.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) who finished third at Gent-Wevelgem and fifth at Het Nieuwsblad also looks in great shape and should have some good support in the form of Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert. Borut Bozic of Astana missed the win at both Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen and will like to make amends.
Filippo Pozzato finished second last year and has once again looked in decent form. If he fancies it, Pippo can change the shape of the race come Sunday. Another rider who is due some luck is Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol). The Belgian flatted at E3 Harelbeke during Cancellara’s attack and was then knocked out by a commisaire’s car at Gent-Wevelgem.
Luca Paolini, Oscar Gatto, Heinrich Haussler, Andrey Amador, Sebastien Turgot, Juan Antonio Flecha, Maxim Iglinskiy have all been going well but except for the first three, others are not very likely to change the complexion of the race.