Warning!

Do not read this article through from beginning to end! There are many different possible endings, and many different adventures you can have on the roads of Flanders.

As you read along, you will be given a series of choices. What you decide will impact the rest of the race, and might lead you to glory … or defeat.

Will you take the win at the end of the day’s racing? Will you help your team to victory? Or will you be left wondering what could have been?

Only you are in control of your fate in the 2020 edition of the Tour of Flanders. Good luck – and choose wisely.

Go to 1.

1.

It’s a typically Belgian day for the first cobbled monument of the season. The clouds hang low and heavy over Oudenaarde, slate grey and impenetrable, casting the town and surrounding countryside in a gloomy half-light. You look pensively out the window of the team bus, pondering the day ahead as you pull on your arm- and leg-warmers.

You’ve had a strong opening to the season, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by your team management, who have rewarded you with co-leadership of the team for the Tour of Flanders. “I want at least one of you there at the Kwaremont,” the director barks in the pre-race meeting. And then, after what seems like an eternity of waiting, it’s a sudden flurry of activity as you and your teammates tighten your shoes, click your helmets on, and walk out of the team bus into the biting breeze.

Go to 2.

2.

The smell of frites wafts through the air at the start line as the race announcer counts down to the start of the race. And then, in a staccato rush, hundreds of cleats engage and the race begins.

Predictably, a break launches off the front as soon as the peloton clears the neutral zone. It’s mostly populated by representatives from smaller teams hoping for some airtime for their sponsors, but there are a couple of dark horses for the win in the mix. They’re disappearing up the road so there’s no time to overanalyse it: should you stay or should you go?

Do you follow the move (17)? Or do you stay in the peloton and bide your time (7)?

3.

Begrudgingly you move forward in the peloton, and slot into the lineup of riders rolling turns at the front. It’s a motivated, organised chase – it’s as if everyone’s suddenly realised the danger, and doesn’t want to be left fighting for second place.

And at last, it seems to be working. The splits are starting to move in the right direction; the combined muscle of the women’s peloton is eroding the reigning world champion’s advantage.

It’s coming up to the pointy end of the race, and there’s a palpable hint of hope and anticipation in the air.

Go to 22.

4.

You take a deep breath and dive into the tight gap between rider and barricade. Just as you pass her on the right-hand side, you see a rain jacket draped over the fence, in front of a lightly sozzled fan yelling encouragement. Your brake lever catches the jacket, pulling it into your front wheel and bringing you crashing abruptly to the ground. The rider that was on your rear wheel doesn’t have time to react, and ploughs into your lower back.

Gingerly, you get up, pull at the jacket to try and dislodge it from your spokes, and watch the race pass you by. By the time you’re able to get going again, you’ve lost a crucial 45 seconds or so. You limp to the finish line in 42nd place, wondering what might have been if it wasn’t for that jacket, and that spur-of-the-moment decision. Your time to shine at Flanders will have to wait til next year.

THE END

5.

Your instincts tell you to let this move go. Yes there are some strong riders up front, but there are plenty of strong riders back here as well. You figure you’re better off in the bigger group, saving your biccies.

Go to 47.

6.

You jump out of the saddle and start weaving your way through the traffic ahead, cursing the lapse in concentration that caused you to be so far back at a crucial time. The further you move up through the bunch, the more of a battle it becomes. You’ve got your elbows out fighting for position and others do too.

It has cost you a bit of energy, but by the time you reach the top of the climb, you’re in a great position, ready to pounce on any dangerous moves that might go.

Go to 58.

7.

The breakaway disappears around a bend in the road, and you sit there toward the front of the peloton which is spread across the road, taking it nice and easy. There’s 159 km in this race – plenty of time for the catch to be made, and it’s a bloody long way to be off the front in the cold.

You take this time to warm your legs up, chat to your teammates, try and suss out how your rivals look, and mentally prepare for the day ahead.

Go to 37.

8.

This is it. The winning move. You leap out of the saddle and mash down on the pedals as hard as you possibly can, desperate to bridge across to the dangerous Van Vleuten. Others are trying to do the same and for a time it looks like a small group will form around the world champion. But then, one by one, each of the chasers succumb to the unrelenting gradients of the Kanarieberg — and Van Vleuten’s infernal tempo — and fall off the pace. All except for you.

Somehow, despite your earlier exertions, you manage to hold your effort all the way to the top. With the taste of blood in your mouth, and your legs and lungs on fire, you reach Van Vleuten’s wheel just as the road starts to flatten out. You steal a glance behind and realise that the pair of you have a sizeable gap and that this could be your ticket to victory.

For the next four kilometres you and the world champion roll turns, she doing it as easily as she might on a training ride, you at your absolute limit after the efforts it took to get there. It becomes clear that this isn’t a sustainable strategy.

Sure enough, as soon as you hit the base of the Taaienberg, Van Vleuten is surging away again. One metre, two metres, five metres — the gap keeps opening. You’ve blown up completely. There’s nothing left in the tank.

You sit up and take a moment to rest and prepare yourself to latch onto the next group that comes through. But when it does, you quickly realise you’ve got no chance. You’re caught and promptly spat out the back, having paid the price for your hard riding earlier. The same thing happens as the next group closes in.

You’re left to grovel through the final 40 km alone and finish in an unremarkable 39th place.

THE END

9.

This is your day. You can feel it. You can’t afford to be working for anyone else today.

You ignore the yelling in your ear and hold tight near the front of the peloton as the Tenbosse approaches.

Go to 51.

10.

Van der Breggen and Niewiadoma inch away from you, metre by metre, and by the time they turn off the climb, they’ve got a handy little lead. You soft pedal for a few moments to allow a small group to come together and then you’re off, rolling turns together, riding hard to try and catch the duo ahead and, with any luck, Van Vleuten as well.

You turn onto the day’s final climb, the Paterberg, with Van der Breggen and Niewiadoma about 15 seconds ahead. You can see them just up the road, receiving plenty of encouragement from an enthusiastic crowd. Your chase group gets a similarly rousing reception and you find yourself tapping into reserves of energy you didn’t realise you had.

By the top of the Paterberg your little group has made ground on Van der Breggen and Niewiadoma — they’re now just 10 seconds ahead. You catch them with about 5 km to go, forming a group of eight as you return to Oudenaarde to contest the finish.

Your legs are starting to feel better, but you know you need to save as much energy as you can for the sprint. It’s clear that Van Vleuten will hold on to win, but you can still take second place. You look around your little group to see who else is here. By your reckoning Marta Bastianelli is the strongest sprinter, but you just never know after a long, hard race like this.

You sit in the wheels until about 200 metres to go, waiting patiently on Bastianelli’s wheel. She kicks late, with only 100 metres to go, and you follow, passing her with just metres to spare. It’s a battle to hold your wheel in front, but a throw to the line secures it. You’ve finished second at the Tour of Flanders — a terrific result and one that will set you up very nicely for the season ahead.

THE END

11.

You know it’s going to hurt to close the last 30 seconds of this gap, and you also know that you might pay for the effort. But you’re so close, and besides, you get the strong feeling that the race is going to be won by that group just up ahead.

You put your head down and continue to chase as fatigue continues to build in your legs. But then you turn a corner and the lead group and its associated vehicles are mere metres ahead. You put in one last surge and latch onto the back of the small convoy. From there you and Spratt easily work your way through the cars and back to the small bunch of riders.

It’s cost you a lot of energy but you’ve made it. The bad news is you’ve made contact right before the sixth climb of the day — the Kanarieberg. You settle into the group, take a deep breath, shake out your aching legs, and steel yourself for whatever might come next.

Go to 33.

12.

Just as the catch is made – in that brief moment of restored equilibrium – you pounce, flying off the front with a stinging solo attack. Your wheels whoosh expensively as you slice through the air, tucked in the drops concentrating on the road ahead. With each powerful pedal stroke your gap grows, and a glance stolen over your shoulder confirms what you already feel to be true – the peloton is riding tempo and for now you’ve been given a bit of freedom.

For the next 20 km, you power through Oudenaarde, extending your advantage bit by bit. As you approach the town of Michelbeke, your director gives you a time check – you’ve got 1:30 on the peloton.

Go to 32.

13.

As the kilometres tick by, so the Van Vleuten group pulls further and further away. There are a few brief attempts to mount a more concerted chase, but they are short-lived and, ultimately, futile.

You go on to finish somewhere around 50th place, frustrated that you didn’t make it into what turned out to be the winning move. Maybe next year?

THE END

14.

You know the odds of holding off the chase group are slim. You can hear the crowd lower down the hill cheering them on — they can’t be too far behind. But you’ve come this far so you might as well give it everything.

You try to settle back into a manageable rhythm as you crest the Paterberg and begin the final 13 km to the line. Your strategy is simple: go as hard as you can possibly maintain to the line and hopefully that’s enough to hold on for second.

Truth be told, you’re waiting to be caught the entire way back into Oudenaarde. You’re tempted to look behind you and see whether the chasers are coming, but you know that it will do little to aid in your effort.

As you enter the final kilometre, legs empty, you finally steal a glance behind. You can see a small group a few hundred metres behind, but they’re not close enough to catch you from here. You get a surge of adrenaline and put your head down, powering through the final kilometre.

You cross the line in second place, holding off a chase group of four by mere metres. It’s one of the greatest results of your career and you have much to be proud of.

THE END

15.

You settle into a solid rhythm as you try to chase down the bunch. You summit the Tenbosse on your own, and continue on conservatively, making modest progress on the bunch as the kilometres tick by.

It takes about 10 kilometres of chasing but eventually you close in on the back of the convoy. As you near the final car in the line, you take extra care to remain vigilant on these narrow, winding laneways.

Sure enough, just as you remind yourself of the danger, the car in front of you brakes suddenly. You have plenty of time to react, and swing harmlessly around the outside and continue up to the back of the bunch.

You rejoin the peloton just as the race enters Geraadsbergen to climb the famous Muur/Kapelmuur.

Go to 45.

16.

Your teammates offer some commiserations and words of encouragement as you’re absorbed by the peloton, and you take a few deep breaths to centre yourself. That horse wasn’t ideal, but your legs are feeling good. You didn’t crash. You were able to build a decent lead on a peloton filled with hitters. You can still play a part in the race, and it’s up to you how you choose to let this affect your day. And with that, your game face is back on.

You’re well positioned and feeling great as you reach the fourth climb of the day: Tenbosse. You’re not expecting any fireworks here given it’s still 85 km from the finish, but you keep yourself in the first half of the bunch just in case.

About halfway up the climb there’s a rapid injection of pace near the front of the field. It looks like Boels-Dolmans has started the move, but you can’t be sure. But within moments it’s clear that a lot of riders have been caught unawares.

Gaps open up, smaller groups start to form, and as the front of the race crests the climb ahead of you, a very dangerous group is starting to emerge. Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen and Kasia Niewiadoma are all there, and so are a bunch of other strong riders. This could be a very dangerous move.

But there is still a long way to go. And by the looks of it, the group forming behind — which you’ve slotted into nicely by the time the climb ends — has plenty of firepower in it too. Trek-Segafredo and a few other big teams haven’t made the front group so they’ll have incentive to chase. At a quick glance, you think that this group should be able to close down the Van Vleuten group that’s edging slowly away, but you really can’t be sure.

What do you do? Do you burn some more matches and try to bridge across (21)? Or do you hang back, playing it a bit conservatively, knowing there’s still a very long way to go (5)?

17.

You punch away from the peloton and set off to join the breakaway. Before you know it you’re latching onto their slipstream and finding your spot in the rotation.

It takes a moment for your companions to work out who has joined them, and when they realise it’s you, they make their frustration clear. In increasingly urgent tones they implore you to drift back to the bunch, knowing the peloton won’t let a rider of your calibre get away too easily.

But you hold firm, and before long your reluctant companions resign themself to your company. But as they expected, the peloton has given you no latitude. After around an hour of racing the peloton, led by Canyon-SRAM, catches you from behind — your breakaway is done. The rest of the breakaway riders shake their heads as you are all absorbed back into the fold.

Go to 41.

18.

Van Vleuten flicks her elbow at you but you stay glued to her slipstream. She swings around and implores you to do your share of the work, but you stay exactly where you are, stone-faced and resolute.

After a couple of moments she realises her efforts are in vain. She shakes her head, swears under her breath and then gets back to the task of building a lead.

The two of you reach the Kanarieberg with a lead approaching 30 seconds. No sooner has the climb begun than Van Vleuten is increasing the tempo. And then she’s increasing it again, and again. It’s clear she’s trying to ride you off her wheel — she doesn’t want to be dragging any dead weight around.

You strain and scrap to hold her wheel but it’s obvious very quickly that she’s just too strong. Near the top of the climb the elastic snaps and she’s gone, disappearing into the distance to lead the race solo.

You crest the climb then back off the pace significantly, knowing that your best bet is to wait for the group behind. It takes about 30 seconds for you to get caught — enough time to have a quick rest and psych yourself up for the challenges ahead. You find your place in the bunch as Van Vleuten continues on alone up ahead.

Go to 54.

19.

You get out of the saddle and stomp up the Oude Kwaremont, the rattling from the rough cobbles only adding to your distress. You’re utterly exhausted.

But Van der Breggen and Niewiadoma appear to be slowing slightly, giving you just enough motivation to push through the searing pain in your legs and bridge across. You make contact just as the road flattens off and the three of you barrel into the final 15 km, trying desperately to catch Van Vleuten. Just one climb remains — the Paterberg — and you know it’s going to hurt. How could it not at this point?

When you reach the bottom of the climb, Van Vleuten still has a lead of 20 seconds. Van der Breggen and Niewiadoma set an infernal pace and you try desperately to stay in contact. But it’s there, halfway up the Paterberg, that the lights finally go out. All of your exertions from the day so far catch up to you and you can only watch as Van der Breggen and Niewiadoma inch further and further ahead, spurred on by the rowdy roadside crowd.

You’re caught by the group behind before the climb even ends. By the time you reach the finish, another two groups had caught and passed you. You roll across the line in 27th place with your head bowed and your legs empty.

THE END

20.

There are plenty of other teams and riders with the incentive to bring Annemiek van Vleuten back, so you decide to save your legs. But despite an organised chase led by Trek-Segafredo, the gap keeps stretching out, and with each passing climb, the world champion’s time gap grows. The opportunity to bring her back is beginning to slip away – this is like Yorkshire all over again.

Go to 40.

21.

There’s a brief lull as your group — the second group on the road — crests the Tenbosse climb. This is your moment. You kick hard, giving everything you can to try and bridge to the dangerous lead group. It might still be early but you know what the likes of Van Vleuten and Van der Breggen are capable of from long range.

It takes you a couple minutes of concerted chasing but as you approach the town of Geraadsbergen, you make contact with the lead group. You let out a sigh of relief as you slip into the rotation and continue towards the race’s most famous climb.

Go to 61.

22.

The approach to the Oude Kwaremont is along narrow roads between farms and through small villages, and there’s a frantic jostle for position as the road begins to rear upwards. There’s 600 metres of paved road on the climb before the cobbles start – a gentle gradient at first, but increasingly steep and on a rougher surface, building to 11% and bone-shaking cobbles at about the halfway point of the 2.2 km climb. You know that you’ve got to be careful in how you’re positioned, especially at the cruellest part of the climb.

You look around you, and see absolute carnage – the peloton is splintered down the climb, with riders spread across the narrow road. Suddenly, Anna van der Breggen spears off the front, followed by Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, Coryn Rivera, Kasia Niewiadoma and Chantal Blaak. This is a dangerous move, but you’re boxed in behind a fading Lotto-Soudal rider. To get past, you’ll need to cut up the outside, through a narrow gap right up next to the barrier.

Do you take a chance on the risky gap (4), or wait for some clear space to try to bridge across further up the climb (34)?

23.

You settle back into a rhythm, putting faith in the group you’re in to ramp up the pace a little later on; to pull back the Van Vleuten group when it counts. For now, you concentrate on conserving your energy, and staying fed and hydrated.

Go to 13.

24.

You decide not to burn any matches for now, but as you approach the third climb of the day, Berendries, there’s a noticeable shift in the energy of the bunch. As the road narrows, there’s a building sense of urgency as riders start pushing their way forward, trying to get into a good position. You’re well back in the bunch and it will take a concerted effort to get closer to the front. It’s still around 90 km from the finish but you know it’s important to be well placed in pinch points like this.

What do you do? Fight for a better position going into the climb (6)? Or take it easy near the back (26)?

25.

As dangerous as this move from Van Vleuten is, you decide to hold firm. With the way your legs are feeling, you figure you’ve got one hard effort left in you, not a 45 km TTT with a two-time world time trial champion.

You ride a steady tempo up the Kanarieberg and slot yourself into a handy chase group that forms over the top. There’s only around 10 of you left but with the likes of Anna van der Breggen, Coryn Rivera, Marta Bastianelli and Kasia Niewiadoma here, you figure there’s a good chance you’ll be able to reel in Van Vleuten. You shake out your legs and continue on, hoping that there aren’t too many more surges.

Go to 54.

26.

“Don’t panic,” you tell yourself. “It’s too early.” You hold your position near the back of the bunch and watch as a battle ensues up ahead to be in the first 20 places into the bottom of the climb.

But then, just as you’re about to start the climb, there’s a touch of wheels just ahead of you. It happens in slow motion, but still you aren’t able to react fast enough. Before you know it you’re lying atop a pile of mangle carbon and injured bodies.

Bruised and battered you haul yourself off the tarmac, untangle yourself and your bike from the mess in front of you, and eventually get going again. By the time you do, the race is well ahead of you.

You carry on for perhaps half an hour, bouncing between small groups, your morale steadily dropping. Eventually, you’ve had enough. You unclip, roll to the side of the road and wait for the sag wagon. Your Tour of Flanders is over.

THE END

27.

As Van Vleuten stamps on the pedals and flies up the Muur, an image of her doing the same thing at the Yorkshire Worlds pops into your head. With the strong crowd cheering you on from the roadside, you punch away from the bunch and set off to catch the Mitchelton-Scott rider.

As you near the famous chapel at the top, you look around, expecting to see a couple of others on your wheel. But for whatever reason, you’re on your own. Perhaps they figure you aren’t a threat, maybe you were just too strong. Regardless, it’s time to power on and catch Van Vleuten.

You make contact just over the top and together you descend away from the bunch, steadily opening a sizeable lead. As you return to flat roads on approach to the Kanarieberg, Van Vleuten calls you through for a turn.

Do you contribute to the pacemaking (55)? Or do you let the three-time world champion do all the work (18)?

28.

The group ahead might look like it’s within reach, but you know that closing the last 30 seconds is always the hardest part of any chase. With fatigue building steadily in your legs, you decide that your best chance of success is to wait for the chase group and save some energy. You know from race radio that they’re not all that far behind.

You ease off the pedals, prompting Spratt to do the same. But when she realises that you’re waiting for the group behind, she jumps out of the saddle and powers away with a furious kick. As you drift back, waiting for the inevitable catch, you watch as Spratt — who is frustratingly fresh — makes it across the gap with apparent ease.

It takes longer for the chase group to catch you than you’d like and by the time it does, you’re wondering if you’ve made a mistake. There’s nothing you can do now though, besides save your legs for the key kilometres ahead.

Go to 13.

29.

You and Van Vleuten hit the base of the Paterberg with about 14 km to go. The gap that had spent much of the past 30 km at around 30 seconds is suddenly down to 15. You start the climb as you do the past couple: with Van Vleuten at the front. This time she isn’t waiting for you though. She’s absolutely drilling it.

She turns around to survey the damage. You try to look as comfortable and composed as you can, but it’s clear you’re in a world of hurt. You’re rock and rolling on the bike and your breathing is laboured. She’s got you on the ropes.

Sensing this, Van Vleuten increases the tempo again and in mere seconds you’ve dropped the wheel. She is just too strong. As Van Vleuten rides away, seemingly on her way to victory, you have a decision to make. You know your co-leader is in the group behind, but you’ve still got a bit of an advantage to play with.

Will you take it a little easy, save your energy, and hope that you can help your teammate when she comes through (50)? Or will you power on and hope that you can hold on for second place (14)?

30.

Your and your co-leader settle into a rhythm as you battle your way back towards the bunch. You’re doing most of the work, but your teammate sets the pace on the Tenbosse and down the other side. You’re making good progress and it’s not too long before you see the hulking mass of the peloton and its trailing convoy come into view.

The two of you weave your way up through the cars and slide back into the peloton. The bunch has just arrived in the town of Geraadsbergen and the race’s most famous climb is looming up ahead: the Muur/Kapelmuur.

Go to 45.

31.

As frustrating as it is, you know you aren’t going to get a turn out of Spratt here. She’s got her team orders and with Van Vleuten up front, Mitchelton-Scott is already very well placed. Besides, if anything, you should see it as a compliment — they must consider you a real threat.

You put your head down and try to settle into a strong but manageable tempo. You need to bridge this gap, but you also need to save energy for afterwards. It’ll be a tricky balance to get right.

Go to 59.

32.

As you ride through the village, down the main road lined with red-brick homes and past the spire of Sint-Sebastiaanskerk, you are greeted by enthusiastic applause from the locals. You’re the first rider on the road in one of the most-beloved races in the calendar – this is amazing.

As you pedal out of the town back into the rolling green farmland, you’re accompanied by a low-hovering TV helicopter. Suddenly out of the corner of your eye, you see a horse clearly startled by the noise jump the stone wall and come cantering across the road toward you. Panic-stricken, you ride to the side of the road, slamming on the brakes and skidding to a stop next to the fence. The horse clops past, eyes rolling back, as bystanders and a panicked farmer try to funnel it back into the field.

Disbelieving, you push off in the enormous gear you were cruising in, trying desperately to shift down under load. Finally you’re able to build back to your original speed, but you’ve lost focus and rhythm and you’re still rattled. The peloton gained a whole minute back on you whilst you were held up by the horse, and the gap’s coming down quickly. Furious, you push on, but by the time you’ve crested the third climb of the day, Berendries, you realise it’s futile and sit up to wait for capture.

Go to 16.

33.

The road heads skyward as your lead group starts climbing the Kanarieberg. You focus on trying to find a comfortable rhythm, knowing that this steep climb is going to sap your already-drained legs and that there are still four climbs to go after this one.

And then, out of nowhere, Annemiek van Vleuten is attacking. She’s stamping on the pedals, giving it everything to pull away from this lead group with 45 km still to race.

A sense of panic envelopes the group. Everyone knows what the Dutchwoman can do if she gets away on her own. Everyone’s trying to respond, but only a select few seem to be making any progress.

What do you do? Do you try to bridge to Van Vleuten (8)? Or do you bank on a chase group forming and save your dwindling energy supplies for a later move (25)?

34.

You pause for just a second and realise it’s too much of a risk to try to pass along the barriers – there are spectators hanging over the fences waving phones and flags, and you know how quickly you could get snagged on something.

A gap begins to open up to the Van der Breggen group, but a hundred metres or so later, you have a bit of clear space. Digging deep, you dive across and begin to close the gap. By the top of the Oude Kwaremont, you’re dangling just off the back of the quartet, and on the descent you catch back on. Because of your hard chase, you’re carrying a bit of speed as you make contact.

Do you attack again straight away for the element of surprise (48), or recover your energy for a while (53)?

35.

You ignore the sound of your teammate yelling out for help and continue on with the bunch. Your team radio crackles into life again. This time it’s your sports director, telling you that your teammate has had a puncture, and that you need to stop right now to help pace her back on.

Do you continue to pretend that your radio isn’t working, allowing you to maintain a great position in the bunch (9)? Or do you relent and wait for your co-leader (60)?

36.

You look around, and everyone is looking tired – you reckon you’re a chance here, even if you wouldn’t normally back yourself against some of these women.

As the group goes under the 1km-to-go banner, a bit of cat and mouse begins. Tactically, Boels-Dolmans have the numerical advantage, with both Blaak and Van der Breggen, but Rivera is probably the fastest finisher – and she’s won here before.

At 600 metres to go, Van der Breggen attacks from the back, and Niewiadoma and Uttrup Ludwig follow, closing the move down – just in time for Blaak to counter-attack. At 200 m to go, she’s on the front, with Rivera tucked behind her – you’re in third wheel. Blaak starts to tire ever so slightly, and Rivera pounces, surging past and gaining a couple of bike lengths. You pull alongside Blaak, trying to squeeze every watt out of your legs as the line approaches.

Rivera crosses the line first, arms aloft as winner. In a photo finish, you’re third by a tyre-width behind Blaak. A podium at Tour of Flanders – not a bad day’s work!

THE END

37.

Sure enough, this break isn’t going to be a big factor in the day’s proceedings – they’re struggling to find cohesion off the front, and the gap is coming down. You look around, and everyone’s looking pretty relaxed and complacent. A bold thought comes to your mind … what if you try for an audacious, Annemiek van Vleuten-style long-range solo move? If you time it right, you’ll be 100 metres up the road before anyone even realises you’ve slipped away …

As the breakaway group is slowly reeled back toward the front of the peloton, it’s time for a decision.

Should you put in a dig of your own and spring off the front when everyone’s least expecting it (12)? Or do you let it all come back together for now (24)?

38.

You’ve just got the feeling that the race is slipping from your grasp. So, before it disappears entirely, you attack from the second bunch on the road and set off in search of the Van Vleuten group.

After a near-maximum effort for a couple minutes you look around to see if you’ve got any company. The good news is you do: the strong Amanda Spratt. The bad news is that Spratt has Van Vleuten up ahead and has no real reason to work.

You’ve got to try though. You flick your elbow a few times, hoping the Aussie will come through for a turn. But she’s going nowhere. She’s stuck to your back wheel and has no intention of putting her face in the wind.

What do you do? Try to convince her to do her share of the work (44)? Or accept that you’re going to have to do all of the chasing (31)?

39.

It takes an eternity for your team car to finally get up to you, or at least that what’s it feels like. In reality it’s probably only a minute or so. The team mechanic leaps out of the back seat, pulls your spare bike off the roof of the car, and hands it to you. You saddle up, clip in, and with a substantial push from your mechanic, you’re off and into your chase back to the bunch.

You’re keen to return to the bunch as quickly as you can, to get this chase over and done with and to save energy in the safety of the bunch. But you also know that on these narrow, winding roads, it’s important to ride a little cautiously.

What do you do? Do you ride hard and try to bridge to the convoy as quickly as you can (56)? Or do you take it a little more carefully, even if it takes a bit longer to get back (15)?

40.

By the top of the Paterberg, it begins to dawn on the peloton that they’ve been caught napping again. The realisation seems to sink in that this is a race for second place. But you’d rather be second at Tour of Flanders than just making up the minor placings in a massive bunch sprint. You’ve positioned yourself well, and at the top of the Paterberg you attack over the crest, trying to get a gap on the descent to ride solo to the finish.

With 3 km to go you’re second on the road, but you’re dangling just off the front of the chase group — a couple of seconds ahead, if that. It’s not looking good. You think back to the morning’s team briefing: if it comes down to a sprint, you’re to set up your teammate. If it’s one for the breakaway, you’re the better call.

Do you back yourself (46), or do you ease off so there’s something left in the tank for the lead-out (52)?

41.

As you approach the third climb of the day, Berendries, there’s a perceptible shift in the energy of the bunch. The road narrows and there’s a building sense of urgency as riders start pushing their way forward, trying to get into a good position.

You’ve found yourself well back in the bunch and it will take a concerted effort to get closer to the front. It’s still around 90 km from the finish but you know it’s important to be well placed in pinch points like this.

Do you fight for a better position going into the climb (6)? Or take it easy near the back (26)?

42.

You and Van Vleuten are collaborating nicely. On the flats you take turns pushing into the wind; on the climbs she takes responsibility for the pacemaking, holding back ever so slightly so as not to put you into the red.

As you tick off the Taaienberg, the Kruisberg and the Oude Kwaremont, your lead remains steady at around 30 seconds, and it’s starting to feel like the two of you could be racing for the win. You approach the final climb of the day: the Paterberg.

Go to 29.

43.

You pause for a moment, weighing your options, and then, almost instinctively, accelerate hard out of the saddle from the back of the group. You’ve got nothing to lose – you probably won’t win from a group this strong in a sprint finish, and you back yourself better as a time-trialist than as a sprinter.

You hazard a glance back and see that you’ve eked out a small advantage – and they’re looking at each other to see who’ll lead the chase. Finally Anna Van der Breggen counter-attacks, but there’s only 200 metres to go, and the gap’s too great to close. You glance left, glance right and as you cross the finish line, the realisation dawns on you: you’ve just won the Tour of Flanders!

THE END

44.

You slow down briefly and pull alongside Spratt, asking her again if she’ll help you in the chase. She politely declines. You try to convince her that it’s in her best interests to chase — that getting across will give Mitchelton-Scott more cards to play in the finale. “Sorry, team orders,” she says.

Keen to keep the tempo high you pull back in front of Spratt and continue your work. In the kilometres that follow, your frustration builds as the two-time Worlds medalist simply sits on your wheel, enjoying a nice tow across the gap. At one point you lose your cool entirely, and offer a few choice words in Spratt’s direction, but it’s all to no avail. If you want to get across to the front, you’ll have to do the work yourself.

Go to 59.

45.

You work your way back towards the front of the bunch after your long chase back, reaching the second row just as the road tilts skyward. As you start climbing the Muur, the pace is tough but manageable. All the big hitters are here and everyone’s looking comfortable. And then Annemiek Van Vleuten is on the move, attacking hard and trying to force a split.

The hesitation in the bunch is almost palpable. Such a surge of pace with 75 km to go feels risky. And yet it is Annemiek van Vleuten that’s on the move. Everyone in the bunch is acutely aware of what she can do.

So what are you going to do? Do you try to join Van Vleuten, knowing that it could all come to nothing (27)? Or stay back in the bunch and count on the peloton’s strength to reel her in (57)?

46.

This is your moment to prove yourself: all in for second place. The last three kilometres are some of the most painful of your life – every fibre of your body is screaming at you to stop, and your heart is hammering in your chest. You can hear the roar of the crowd washing over you like a wave, and the director yelling in your ear to push on. This is going to be close.

Your pedal strokes are getting more laboured, and your power is beginning to drop as you ride down the finishing chute, two minutes after Van Vleuten has crossed the line. You’re still clear at 200 m to go, and 100 m … But at 50 m you sense movement out of your peripheral vision and Coryn Rivera and Lucinda Brand streak across the line ahead of you.

You finish fourth, with your teammate in fifth. It’s not the result either of you wanted, but it was a valiantly ridden race and you have no regrets.

THE END

47.

The kilometres tick away. Your chase group is working well together, riding a solid tempo in an attempt to reel in the leaders, but it doesn’t seem to be having much impact. Before too long the Van Vleuten group has built almost a minute’s lead — enough to make you nervous. You’re starting to get the feeling that the race could be riding away from you.

You try to rally the troops, to increase the tempo in this chase group, but there’s little interest from those around you. Either they’ve already given up, or maybe they’re saving their energy for later. It’s hard to tell.

So, do you attack from this group and try to bridge across to the leaders yourself (38)? Or do you stay put, and put faith in this chase group (23)?

48.

You come flying onto Blaak’s rear wheel, and slingshot past her and the rest of the chasing group. You sneak a glance back and see that you’ve got a small advantage – just a hundred metres or so – and hope that you’re able to hold it, but you turn a corner and get walloped by a gust of wind. Your legs pulsate with lactic acid; every ragged breath tastes metallic.

The final climb of the race, the Paterberg, is fast approaching. Carrying a narrow lead over the chasing quartet, you take the hard right onto the 12% average climb. You grind agonisingly up the straight, steep rise, hit the 20% pinch, and feel your leg cramp up. With a yell of pain, you drop back into the saddle, trying to shift your position until you can find relief. But it’s too late. Blaak, Niewiadoma, Van der Breggen, Rivera and Uttrup Ludwig fly past you like you’re standing still, and then another few riders …

By the time you crest the top of the Paterberg, you are way off the back, and despite your best efforts, can’t close the gap. You cross the line in 12th position, both proud of the brave way you raced, but also wishing the result was a little bit more glamorous.

THE END

49.

Exasperated, you slow down and wait for your teammate. This is not how today was supposed to go. You just hope it doesn’t cost you a shot at the win later.

Your co-leader pulls off to the side of the road and you do the same. “I’ve got a flat but the team car can’t get through — road’s too narrow!”, your teammate yells, panicked, dropping her bike to the grass. You step off your bike and push it towards your teammate — you both ride the same size frame and you know that this is the quickest way to get her back on the move, and back into the race.

She mounts up, clips in, and then, with a generous push from you, she’s off, chasing back to the bunch. You walk back to your teammate’s bike, pick it up and radio through to your team car that you’ll need a replacement bike. With that done, you scream out in frustration, cursing your misfortune.

Go to 39.

50.

As Van Vleuten explodes away from you on the Paterberg you decide that your team’s best chance of a result is for you to work for your teammate. You ride a sustainable tempo to the top of the climb and just as the road flattens out, a group of four — including your teammate — glides up to your wheel.

You get on your radio and, speaking quietly so as not to alert the rest of the group, you explain to your teammate that you’ll ride for her. She looks over at you and nods once, then turns her attention back to the task at hand. Sure, you’ve had your differences, and you really don’t like the idea of having two team leaders, but it seems to have worked out well this time. Your team is well placed coming into the closing kilometres.

That said, there’s a frustrating lack of cohesion in this chase group. Gracie Elvin is here and has no real need to chase given her teammate is still up ahead. Coryn Rivera is here too, so the rest of you aren’t too keen on towing her to the line. Despite your best efforts, the chase stagnates and it’s soon clear that you’re racing for second.

As you enter the final kilometre, everyone starts to look at each other. You’re the only team with two riders and second place really should be yours. You hit the front with 400 metres to go, setting the hardest tempo you can for your teammate. She launches out of your slipstream with 150 metres to go.

As you drift backwards through the bunch on your way to finishing sixth, you watch as your teammate gets caught just before the line. Elvin has beaten her for second place, but your team can be happy with its performance — a podium finish at the Tour of Flanders is nothing to be scoffed at.

THE END

51.

You’re well positioned and feeling great as you reach the fourth climb of the day: Tenbosse. You’re not expecting any fireworks here given it’s still 85 km from the finish, but you keep yourself in the first half of the bunch just in case.

About halfway up the climb there’s a rapid injection of pace near the front of the field. It looks like Boels-Dolmans has started the move, but you can’t be sure. But within moments it’s clear that a lot of riders have been caught unawares.

Gaps open up, smaller groups start to form, and as the front of the race crests the climb ahead of you, a very dangerous group is starting to emerge. Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna van der Breggen and Kasia Niewiadoma are all there, and so are a bunch of other strong riders. This could be a very dangerous move.

But there is still a long way to go. And by the looks of it, the group forming behind — which you’ve slotted into nicely by the time the climb ends — has plenty of firepower in it too. Trek-Segafredo and a few other big teams haven’t made the front group so they’ll have incentive to chase. At a quick glance, you think that this group should be able to close down the Van Vleuten group that’s edging slowly away, but you really can’t be sure.

What do you do? Do you set sail and try to bridge across (21)? Or do you hang back, knowing there’s still a very long way to go (5)?

52.

You decide to put your personal ambitions aside and be the loyal teammate – you know that your teammate is the better chance of picking up a podium here. You ease off the pedals and allow yourself to be caught by the group behind. You glance across at your teammate as she rides up alongside you. She gives you a subtle nod, as if to say ‘I’ve got this’.

As you enter the final 2 km, you’re scanning the riders around you, looking for the best wheels to follow in the finale. The remaining riders from Trek-Segafredo and Sunweb move to the front, trying to form ragtag sprint trains. Your teammate is locked on your rear wheel and you slide in behind Coryn Rivera, about six riders back, as you pass under the 1 km to go banner.

The last few riders at the front get shelled over the next 500 metres, and then at 300 metres to go Rivera hits the front. You surge out of the saddle to stay on her wheel, gasping for air, and then your teammate pulls from your slipstream, alongside Rivera and with a throw to the line claims second place.

Second at the Tour of Flanders, behind an unstoppable Annemiek van Vleuten – that’s a pretty solid day!

THE END

53.

You sit on the back of the small group, catching your breath for a moment on the approach to the Paterberg – the final climb of the race. It’s only 400 metres long, but it’s brutally steep – 12% average, with a maximum gradient of 20%. You suffer like you’ve never suffered before, but you manage to stay in contact with Blaak, Van der Breggen, Rivera, Niewiadoma and Uttrup Ludwig until the hard left at the crest, turn off the cobbles onto blissfully paved road, and prepare for the 13 km to the finish.

Along the fast, winding farmroads, your group settles into a rhythm, rotating turns … and it’s working. In the distance ahead, you can just make out the rainbow jersey of Annemiek van Vleuten, and she seems to be getting closer. There are little tells in the body language, too, that suggest that she’s running out of steam. The gap keeps closing, until she’s just 100 metres in front with 3 km to go.

Van Vleuten hangs there for a few moments, looks back, and drops her head, conceding. A reduced bunch sprint from this group of seven seems to be on the card, and you know that there are fast finishers in the group.

Do you take your chances in the sprint (36) or go all-in on a last attack at 1 km to go (43)?

54.

The pace in your chase group is solid as you enter the final 40 km of the race but despite your fatigue, you’re managing to hold on OK. You expect the intensity to ratchet up on the Taaienberg and while it does, you get over the top with the chase group just fine. It’s a similar situation on the Kruisberg with about 26 km to go — you’re hurting but somehow you’re holding on.

There’s a massive crowd waiting at the Oude Kwaremont as your chase group hits the day’s penultimate climb. They’ve seen Annemiek van Vleuten come through on her own around 30 seconds earlier, and now they’re willing you on, encouraging you to make the catch.

As you rattle onto the cobbles, the screaming of fans ringing in your ears, Anna van der Breggen surges ahead with Niewiadoma on her wheel. The pair start to open a small gap that threatens to grow if someone doesn’t jump across quickly. You look around — no one else can follow. You’re not sure you can either, but if you’re going to try, it has to be now.

Do you try to match the acceleration of Van der Breggen and Niewiadoma (19)? Or do you hold firm in what’s left of the chase group (10)?

55.

You surge past Van Vleuten to do a turn of pace, recognising that while she is the stronger rider, a bit of cooperation will help your chances. The two of you rotate turns over the next 45 minutes as you approach the Kanarieberg.

As soon as you start climbing, it becomes clear to both of you that Van Vleuten is stronger uphill. You get the sense that she could drop you here with relative ease, but instead she eases off the pace slightly, keen for some company. There is still 45 km to go, after all.

The two of you crest the day’s sixth climb together, descend off the other side and get settled back into a rhythm, trying to hold off the chasers.

Go to 42.

56.

With adrenaline coursing through your veins, you put your head down and start chasing hard. You figure that some energy spent now is a worthwhile investment if it means getting back to the bunch quickly.

Up and over the Tenbosse you maintain a steady tempo and before long you can see the back of the convoy come into view just around the next corner. You put your head down, giving it all you can to reach that final car in the line and the tantalising draft it will provide.

A screeching of brakes snaps you out of your effort and you look up quickly. The car in front of you has stopped suddenly, following those in the convoy in front. You slam on your brakes and swerve to the right to avoid a collision, but it’s too late — you clip the back corner of the car with your elbow, throwing you off balance and swiftly to the ground.

You know as soon as you stop sliding that your arm is broken. Your stumble off the road and sit down on some nearby grass and, through heavy sobs, you let your team director know what’s happened. Your Tour of Flanders ends in the back of ambulance.

THE END

57.

It’s a gamble, but you don’t want to risk blowing up trying to stick with a crazy Annemiek van Vleuten move. You figure that there are enough good riders here to drag her back by the finish, and when she’s caught, you want to have something left to try for a decent placing.

Five kilometres later, you’re wondering whether you made the wrong call. Your DS is in your ear telling you the split, and he says Van Vleuten is looking strong, with over a minute’s advantage.

Do you contribute to the chase (3)? Or do you save your legs, leaving it to the other big squads – Lotto-Soudal, Trek-Segafredo, Canyon-SRAM – to help bring Van Vleuten back (20)?

58.

Kilometres pass and the fourth climb, Tenbosse, is not far away. And then, out of nowhere, you hear the shout of a rider behind you, calling your name. There’s no mistaking that voice — it’s your co-leader, seemingly in some kind of trouble. There she is again, this time over the radio, urging you to stop and help.

“Why me?” you think to yourself in a moment of bitterness. “Where are the domestiques that are supposed to be there for exactly this task? Can’t the team car get to her? I’m supposed to be riding for myself today!”

Your teammate is getting more insistent now. You’ve got a decision to make.

Do you slow down and wait for her (49)? Or do you continue on, pretending you haven’t heard (35)?

59.

Even without Spratt’s help, you’re making some encouraging progress. You sail up the iconic Muur-Kapelmuur climb, spurred on by the boisterous roadside crowds, and continue down the other side.

By the time there’s around 60 km to go, fatigue has well and truly settled in. You know that riding at this intensity for much longer is going to leave you with nothing in the tank for the race’s final climbs.

On the other hand, the lead group is now just 30 seconds ahead of you. Each time the road straightens out you catch a tantalising glimpse of the small collection of vehicles that trail the lead group.

So what do you do? Power on and keep trying to bridge across (11)? Or sit up, wait for the chase group behind, and save some energy that way (28)?

60.

Exasperated, you soft pedal and look behind, waiting for your teammate to join you. As every second ticks by you get more and more agitated, aware that the chase ahead is getting that much harder, and that your chances of victory are quickly evaporating.

After what feels like a lifetime, your co-leader bridges across and latches into your slipstream. “Why didn’t you stop straight away?!” she yells. “You left me isolated out there!”

You think about firing back, about telling her you’re as much the leader as her, that you could easily have kept on going. But you bite your tongue. Now isn’t the time for this. Your focus now needs to be getting back to the bunch as quickly and as safely as you can.

“Whatever, just ride,” your teammate says. And so you do, towing your teammate back to the bunch after her puncture.

Go to 30.

61.

The crowds build as you pass through Geraadsbergen and close in on the Muur-Kapelmuur climb. You’ve recovered well from your hard effort to bridge to this lead group, but you’re on high alert as the road tilts upwards and the climb begins.

To your great relief, there are no attacks in the lead group as you pass thousands of screaming roadside fans on your way to the top. It seems everyone in the group is keen to keep this group together, to build a nice gap over anyone behind, and save any attacks for the closing kilometres.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Just staying with the group means you climb the Muur much harder than you’d like and the tiny chapel at the top can’t come quick enough. As you begin the descent you take a brief moment to recover, knowing that it won’t be long before the intensity lifts once more.

As the following kilometres tick by, everyone in the lead group is working well together. The pace is well and truly on and the gap to the chase group builds steadily. It’s starting to feel like the winner is going to come from this group.

But this hard effort is starting to take its toll. As you approach the day’s sixth climb — the Kanarieberg — you become aware of the ever-building fatigue in your legs.

Go to 33.

The End

Thanks for playing along. We hope that you are at peace with your 2020 Tour of Flanders result.

Want another ride at Paris-Roubaix? Let us know in the comments below …

The images you see in this story appear courtesy of Kristof Ramon, JoJo Harper and Rhode van Elsen.

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