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After building the drama with plenty of action in some great run-up races, the Flemish Classics will reach a crescendo on Sunday at the Tour of Flanders.
De Ronde van Vlaanderen will host its 106th edition this weekend and, as ever, it should be a stirring show with some of the sport’s biggest names set to clash on the event’s iconic cobbled climbs.
If you haven’t already, you can get ready for the women’s race with Abby Mickey’s preview. As for the men’s race, here’s what you need to know…
The men will cover 273 km of racing at the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, starting in Antwerp and finishing in Oudenaarde. Along the way, they will take on 18 climbs and seven stretches of cobblestones, with some overlap there on those climbs that are cobbled.
The first 130 km or so, as the riders head southeast out of Antwerp, will be relatively gentle, featuring only two cobbled sectors and no official climbs. As the pack approaches Oudenaarde, however, things will immediately pick up in the first of what will ultimately be three trips up the Oude Kwaremont. The cobbled climb will herald the start of some serious challenges, with little respite for the riders from that point on.
Roads that loop back over themselves in the fields around Oudenaarde will take riders up and over nine more climbs and three cobbled sectors – including the cobbled Molenberg climb – before the next visit to the Oude Kwaremont. This time, the Kwaremont will be followed by its steep, cobbled neighbor, the Paterberg. With less than 60 km left by this point, we should start to see which riders are feeling strong and which riders are struggling on the tough terrain.
A final loop through the countryside near Oudenaarde should decide the race. First up is the brutally steep and cobbled Koppenberg, which is quickly followed by the Mariaborrestraat cobbles, the Steenbeekdries climb, the Stationsberg cobbles, and the punchy pavé of the Taaienberg. That flurry of challenges will almost certainly blow whatever is left of the pack to pieces. The Kruisberg, with 27 km to go, will provide a potential launching pad for a long-range move, and then the would-be aggressors will have their one final golden opportunity to get clear on the Kwaremont and the Paterberg.
Coming so soon after so many previous challenges, this last visit to the Kwaremont-Paterberg double will be a serious challenge for whomever is still in the mix.
From the top of the Paterberg, 14 km remain. The mostly flat finale into Oudenaarde will add a bit of final intrigue as any attackers try to hold off any chasers who are able to get organized as the road evens out.
As of Friday, there only a small chance that the weather will complicate matters at the Tour of Flanders, with a slight possibility of rain. The expected westerly wind will do the early break no favors as the race heads from Antwerp to Oudenaarde, but the way the route constantly changes direction and loops back onto itself in the second half of the race, it’s hard to make any definitive pronouncements on how a bit of wind would affect the finale.
Even with just two days still to go, the Flanders start list remains unsettled at the top. That said, a few names already stand out as top favorites for De Ronde van Vlaanderen – although the rider who looked like the top favorite for the race just a few days ago is doubtful to start.
With Wout van Aert ill, it’s a bit harder to name a clear favorite for the race. As of Friday, the Belgian’s status for Flanders remains uncertain. Should he start, Van Aert has the versatility to win this race in practically any scenario. If Van Aert misses the race, however, Jumbo-Visma does still have strong cards to play in Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot, who complement each other quite well. Benoot can try to attack from afar, while Laporte has a fast finish.
If Van Aert does not race, favorite status probably falls to the 2020 winner and 2021 runner-up, Mathieu van der Poel.
His late start to the 2022 season does not seem to have hindered Van der Poel too dramatically, as he has already shown brilliant form in limited appearances this year. He took a big statement victory on Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen. Van der Poel also already counts a Tour of Flanders win on his career palmares. He should be in the mix for the win, if his Alpecin-Fenix team can prove up to the task of taking on Jumbo and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl. Jasper Philipsen will be a decent second option for the squad.
Defending champion Kasper Asgreen is probably the top name to watch on Quick-Step. The Belgian squad has been uncharacteristically quiet thus far this Classics campaign with little to show for their efforts thus far, but Asgreen and the likes of Yves Lampaert, Zdenek Štybar, and Florian Sénéchal are too good to ignore.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) is a bit of a wildcard on the start list. He’s obviously one of the sport’s most talented riders and seems capable of whatever he puts his mind to. That said, the Flemish cobblestones are not the terrain on which he tends to thrive, and he was solid but unspectacular at Dwars on Wednesday.
Count Pogačar out at your peril, but also don’t be surprised if the more specialized Classics stars outshine the Tour de France champ on Sunday. Matteo Trentin is another option for UAE.
Trek-Segafredo brings a powerful duo in Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen to the Tour of Flanders. Both are capable on the cobbles and both have good finishing kicks. If the fast-finishing Van Aert misses the race, Trek-Segafredo’s ability to contest a reduced sprint will give the team a serious chance at coming away with a win.
Tom Pidcock of the Ineos Grenadiers showed at Dwars door Vlaanderen that he is in fine form ahead of his second career Flanders start. Dylan van Baarle, Jhonatan Narváez, and Ben Turner are other options for an Ineos team with surprising depth for the pavé.
Matej Mohorič will lead the way for Bahrain Victorious, hunting his second Monument title so far this season. Michael Matthews, who was sixth in the 2019 edition of this race and has made the Classics a priority in recent years, gives BikeExchange-Jayco a contender. Stefan Küng, with his huge engine, has quickly developed into strong option for the cobbled Classics at Groupama-FDJ, and the same is true for Victor Campenaerts at Lotto Soudal. Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen give AG2R Citroën a solid one-two punch. Anthony Turgis gives TotalEnergies a solid top option with former winner Niki Terpstra as another card to play.
Former winner Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux), former winner Alberto Bettiol, Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe), John Degenkolb (DSM), and Gianni Moscon (Astana Qazaqstan) are others who could contend at the Tour of Flanders.
CyclingTips star ratings
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Van der Poel
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Asgreen, Laporte, Pogačar
⭐️⭐️⭐️: Stuyven, Pedersen, Benoot, Pidcock
⭐️⭐️: Stybar, Van Avermaet, Turgis, Campenaerts, Küng, Mohorič
⭐️: Moscon, Kristoff, Van Baarle, Politt, Sénéchal, Bettiol, Lampaert, Matthews, Naesen
When to watch
The men’s race at the Tour of Flanders will roll out from Antwerp at 10 am local time (4 am ET/9 am BST/8 pm AEST). With so many challenges on the parcours, it’s tough to say where the big attacks will start to fly, but you’ll probably want to make sure you’re watching as the pack approaches the second trip up the Oude Kwaremont. That would mean tuning in by around 3:15 pm local time (9:15 am ET/2:15 pm BST/1:15 am AEST).