The Ronde build-up intensifies tomorrow with the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen (Harelbeke). At a length of 208 km and containing 12 bergs, the E3 is a true test of who’s in-it-to-win-it next Sunday. I expect the race to be a repeat of Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen: Quick Step vs. Haussler and a wild card.
With Boonen, Chavanel, and Devolder, Quick Step has three riders who could win met vingers in de neus. Working together, they form an almost indomitable trio. On Wednesday, Boonen looked as if he could ride away for the win at any point; he’s just biding his time for the Ronde. Haussler though, might need to win now or forever hold his peace. He’s been pretty much in top form since Het Nieuwsblad (he has, hasn’t he?); form like that doesn’t last forever. He really needs a bit more support from his teammates in the lead-up to the finale of these kinds races. Without a lieutenant (a Geert Van Bondt sort of rider) able to ride beside him in the latter quarter of races, he’s doomed to be isolated by deeper teams.
Otherwise, the usual suspects remain. Will Silence-Lotto (Hoste and Van Avermaet) and Katusha (Ivanov’s won this race before in addition to Pozzato and Steegmans) show their cards? Do they even have any cards? Rabobank—at least on paper—brings a strong team with Flecha, Langeveld, and Nuyens. Columbia’s here with Hincapie beginning his build-up and Burghart and Boasson Hagen always ready to take a win. These are just the guys to pull a shocker while Quick Step stares at Haussler.
In the end, it will come down to one of two things:
1.) Will Quick Step self-implode due to an over-abundance of leaders?
2.) Will the rest of the favorites set aside their differences long enough to overpower Boonen and Co.?
If neither happens, it could be a long day for anyone not on Quick Step or without last name Haussler.
Who are your picks? Share your comments with the rest of us.