Tour of Flanders (de Ronde van Vlaanderen): The Contenders

Thanks to last weekend’s racing at E3 Prijs & Gent ~ Wevelgem the two favourites like cream have risen to the top. The way in which they won typically are the only two ways you can win a race, either from a daring breakaway or a bunch gallop.

Kristof Ramon

I figure that Cancellara must be a fan of Jacky Durand as of late as he seems to have perfected the art of the escape artist and fails the pelotons capture. Currently they (the Peloton) don’t really have an answer for when the Swiss train rolls out of the station.

Boonen is a different beast and although he has had in the past had the nous to make escapes they are not the thing that marks his career. He’s excelled at messy bunch sprints where dodging riders is more of a talent than pure full on speed. I really don’t see Tomeke attacking on the Muur like Fabian, but if it came to the line, well who knows but I reckon he’d take him as Cancellara, regardless of that pure power isn’t really a sprinter.

So who else could be up there on Sunday? There are three names that spring to mind Gilbert, Flecha and Nuyens. What nobody from Garmin Cervélo, well I’ll try to explain.

This is probably Gilbert’s best chance. Twice on the podium in recent years and with a good early season form in a host of races it bodes well for the Walloon rider. His biggest asset is his attacking style and not being afraid to take the race to the other riders. His biggest downfall could be the exact same racing style that holds mo quarter and shows little patience. He has had moments where he’s played Draughts (Checkers, Phil certainly doesn’t play vélo chess) and taken the win by not being so eager. If all the rivals watch each other too closely he could nip off like DeVolder did in ’08 & ’09. With Roelandts coming back to the form that saw him win the (Belgian) Nationals a few years back the team will be one to watch.

Kristof Ramon

Flecha has so often been the nearly man in all the major Pavé races, with podiums most but lacking the visit to the top step. What will it take for him to make that journey, well I think it will require him to ride his own race and not be bothered about the rest as that is how he took the win at Omloop Het Niewsblad last year. The team is strong and focused towards the cause so I really think it’s about the tactics employed on the day.

Kristof Ramon

Nuyens goes onto my list for few reasons. Firstly his recent win at Dwars Vlaanderen outsprinting Gerraint Thomas and the bunch. Also he’s had a taste of the podium, a smell and sight like no other for a Belgian as you’ll be a king forever if you manage to seal the win. While he lacks the power to match Fabian and Tomeke stroke for stroke, he could slip away. With much of the old Saxo Classics squad now residing at LEOPARD it could be a big ask. And finally, the win would nicely change the position of the spotlight off Contador and move it to another rider while still keeping the limelight on the team.

So why nobody from Garmin Cevélo then! I think at the moment they are having real issues with fitness and the thing that many of us feared that the Team doesn’t seem very joined up. Haussler has yet to find his form from 2009, and while Hushovd is looking strong he seems to be left isolated and without Team mates to help him at key times. Farrar is not only their best hope of getting on the podium but also the best chance of an American, but I feel that there are too many other good Teams and riders out there and will take them out of contention.

The final factor in all of this will be the weather. As I live on the south coast (England) I know from experience that Flanders gets our weather typically a day later. Some riders perform better in the warm, the cold and some can go full gas regardless. But to factor out the changing winds and picking the correct line up the Bergs is a skill which leads the victor home.

all photos used with kind permission of Kristof Ramon http://www.flickr.com/photos/kristoframon/collections/

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