Tour of Flanders men’s race preview: The favorites, the course, the storylines

Everything you need to know about 2022 men's Tour of Flanders, from the climbs and cobbles to the contenders and conditions.

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106th Tour of Flanders
Date: Sunday, April 3, 2022
Start: Antwerp-Grotemarket
Finish: Oudenaarde, Belgium
Distance: 272.5km

Tour of Flanders: Everything you need to know

De Ronde. The Tour of Flanders. Few races evoke such awe and excitement as the Belgian monument.

From Mathieu van der Poel to Greg Van Avermaet, Kasper Asgreen, and Tadej Pogačar, the world’s best one-day riders and the odd grand tour specialist line up for one of the season’s most anticipated and important one-day races Sunday.

The hype cannot be overstated for the Ronde van Vlaanderen, which has emerged during the past two decades to be a season highlight for fans, riders, and media alike.

Fans turn out en masse for what many call a national day in Flemish Belgium. An estimated one million fans cheer from the roadside, beer tents, and bars along the winding route that takes in some of the emblematic climbs and cobbles in the Belgian monument.

Also read: How to watch Tour of Flanders 2022: Live streaming and TV

Following two years of COVID restrictions, things look almost normal for this year. With springlike weather and a top-flight start list despite a few final-hour misses from the likes of Peter Sagan, Wout van Aert and the entire Israel-Premier Tech team, everything is in place for a thrilling race, start to finish.

The race lives up to its nickname “Vlaanderens mooist” — Flanders’ most beautiful — so pass the beer and frites, this is must-see TV from start to finish.

Who to watch for: Rivalries, comebacks, and debuts

Set the hype levels to 11. Pogačar makes his Flanders debut this weekend. (Photo: James Startt)

Every edition of Flanders brings its own subplots and intrigue, and this year is no exception.

One of the top stories will be the return of Mathieu Van der Poel in time for Flanders. Cycling’s “everyman” was sidelined all winter due to nagging back pain, and the rest seems to have done him good.

“MVDP” returned with a flourish, hitting the podium with third — in his first road race since Paris-Roubaix — at Milan-San Remo, and then hitting out for a stage win at Coppi e Bartali last week.

Of course, monument distance and a much harder parcours will test his limits. Tanned, rested, and ready, the Alpecin-Fenix rider is the center of every race he starts.

Right behind him will be the mighty wind of Jumbo-Visma. COVID took out Van Aert, leaving Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot to try to wave the team flag.

All eyes will be on Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, and the erstwhile Belgian powerhouse seems a bit stuck in the ruts. Take away Fabio Jakobsen’s win at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, Patrick Lefevere’s “Wolfpack” has been rather toothless so far in the 2022 spring classics.

Injuries and illnesses haven’t helped and the team’s been on the back foot all season. But this team races on pride, and Kasper Asgreen seems poised to carry team colors deep into the race even if he has to do it by himself.

Quick-Step’s won three of the past five editions, but this year the eternal favorites find themselves with something to prove.

Enter Tadej Pogačar.

The two-time Tour de France champion is unstoppable so far in 2022, and the UAE Team Emirates star makes his highly anticipated Flanders debut. He’s already proven he can win monuments, with Lombardia and Liège-Bastogne-Liège already on his trophy shelf.

Flanders is a different type of racing, where the climbs are short and rough instead of the longer, more jagged pills of pain he dishes out in the Alps and Pyrenees. All eyes will be on Pogačar and whether or not he will try to make a long-range attack to blow open the race.

Every edition has its fairytale story or unsung hero, and Sunday could see a rider emerge to be this year’s Alberto Bettiol. Anthony Turgis (TotalEnergies) and Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) have impressed so far in the classics.

And it’s in that magical sixth hour of racing in the monuments where all the good stuff happens. That’s what helps make the monuments stand out. The distance on top of an already never-ending series of bergs, cobbles, narrow roads, and wind present a unique kind of challenge.

There are never any fluke winners at Flanders.

Route: One for the ages

The Koppenberg: Yes, it’s as bad as it looks. (Photo: James Startt)

There are a few tweaks in the Ronde route for 2022, with Antwerp playing host for the sixth time, and Oudenaarde once again the finish line.

The route is now about 20km longer, kicking the distance up to 272.5km.

The move from Bruges to Antwerp a few years saw some alteration of the first hour or so of racing, meaning it takes a bit longer to get the first climbs as the route pushes west and then south into the heart of the “Vlaamse Ardennen,” the Flemish Ardennes.

The iconic Kapel-Muur is not on the docket this year, and the course dips and dives southwest out of Antwerp toward the cobbles and climbs.

Oude Kwaremont is tackled three times and plays a key role in the final finishing loops. The climbs come in quick succession in the final hours of racing. With nerves, crashes and positioning all playing a key role, being at the front is absolutely necessary for anyone with ambitions for victory.

The final laps are an attacker’s paradise, with the Oude Kwaremont, Koppenberg and Paterberg lined up like a murderer’s row on the penultimate lap.

The combination of cobbled climbs, flat pavé sectors, narrow roads, and paved climbs reaches a new dimension of pain and tactics in the closing laps.

The penultimate passage up Oude Kwaremont is quickly followed by the Paterberg, one passage up the brutal Koppenberg followed by Steenbeekdries, Tom Boonen’s favorite launching pad at the Taaienbarg, and finally Kruisberg/Hotond.

By then, the peloton is usually shattered into shards.

The modern classic combo of the final passage up Oude Kwaremont followed by the Paterberg sets the stage for the 13km drag race to the line in Oudenaarde, where thousands of fans have been guzzling beer and watching the race on big-screen TVs all afternoon.

Weather: Cold, wet, and windy

Flanders’ finest cool, damp and windy weather could make an appearance Sunday.

Weather is a factor in any race, and after a decade of relatively mild weather, that trend looks to change this weekend.

Despite snow on Friday, which left some of the climbs caked in white stuff, the sun broke out Sunday morning.

By Sunday morning, temperatures were in the the mid-30s (2C) at sign-in and warmed up into the high 40s (9C) by the finish.

There’s a slim percent chance of rain in the afternoon, with light northerly winds. That could mean a mix of cross/headwinds in the closing loops and the final run into Oudenaarde.

Tour of Flanders: The winners from the past decade
2021: Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck-Quick-Step
2020: Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix
2019: Alberto Bettiol (Ita) Education First
2018: Niki Terpstra (Ned) Quick-Step Floors
2017: Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Quick-Step Floors
2016: Peter Sagan (Slo) Tinkoff
2015: Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
2014: Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing
2013: Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Leopard
2012: Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick-Step

WorldTour teams
Bahrain Victorious
EF Education-EasyPost
Ineos Grenadiers
Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
Israel-Premier Tech
Lotto Soudal
Movistar Team
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl
Team DSM
UAE Team Emirates

ProTeam wildcard teams:
B&B hotels-KTM
Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles
Sport Vlaanderein Baloise
Team Arkéa-Samsic

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