Tour of Flanders start buzz: ‘Everyone is talking about anticipating the race’

De Ronde is underway, and the talk in Bruges was all about trying to foil the 'big three': 'If you want to win you're going to have to attack.'

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

BRUGES, Belgium (VN) — Thousands packed into the historic city center Sunday morning to send off the elite men’s peloton for the start of the 2023 Tour of Flanders in dry but cold conditions.

Riders and fans alike shuffled to stay warm ahead of the much-hyped tug-of-war between Tadej Pogačar, Wout van Aert, and Mathieu van der Poel.

Everyone was talking tactics as they downed their last cups of hot drinks before the start of the 273.4km men’s race.

“It’s nice to be back here and the atmosphere on the whole race is special,” said Groupama-FDJ’s Stefan Küng, one of the many outsiders. “Everyone’s talking about those three and about being in an early move so the others miss out. Everyone is going to try to do that, so it’s going to be more difficult to try to be there with the best.”

The men’s Flanders start was back in Bruges and will alternate between here and Antwerp in the next few years. The men rolled out at about 10 a.m., and the women’s race will start and finish in Oudenaarde, where the men’s race finishes following the Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg double.

With the “three kings” being the main talking point, the big buzz Sunday morning was about trying to anticipate the race and get ahead of the main favorites.

“Even the three strong riders are not going to be hesitating. I think the race is going to open up early, and I have to save my energy and make one really good move,” said EF Education-EasyPost Neilson Powless. “If I want to win today, I am going to have to attack.”

The pre-race buzz was in the air as riders tensed up for the start of a hard day of racing. Fans held signs, and cheered as the big stars like Peter Sagan, who signed on for his last Tour of Flanders.

Even the top favorites admit they feel the nerves before the start of one of cycling’s most important and prestigious races.

“For a day like Flanders you’re a bit stressed, but when you ride with all the public, it’s very special,” said Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). “You’re a bit stressed and nervous, and when you wake up in the morning, you can feel it’s a special day. It only gets normal when you get to the start. We have a lot of confidence of what we’ve gained in the previous races.

“I believe we are the strongest team, but maybe there are two riders who are individually stronger than us, so we have to play it smart,” Van Aert said. “I think we should race like we did in all the previous classics, to have numbers in the finals, and make it harder for the others.”

There were no last-minute non-starters, and the field of rolled out of Bruges and pedaled into cool temperatures and windy conditions. Overnight rain dampened the course, but not the spirits.

Check back with VeloNews throughout the day for complete coverage of the men’s and women’s Tour of Flanders. VeloNews reporters Sadhbh O’Shea, Jim Cotton, and Brecht Decaluwé are on the ground following the action.

Peter Sagan lines up for his final Tour of Flanders. (Photo: DIRK WAEM/Belga/AFP via Getty Images)

Here are more reactions from the start line in Bruges:

Matteo Jorgensen (Movistar):

“I think it’s possible to beat the ‘big three.’ The way to do it is get ahead of them. In the end it will be a race when everyone is looking to do the same thing. There will be a lot of attacking, and the race will start early on.

“Those three are another level for sure, and I will try to get ahead of the race. We also want to see how they race it as well. Pogačar will race aggressively and all the other teams will be attacking. It’s another step for me in the spring, and I hope to do a good race.”

Jasper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo):

“I had a good nice and I enjoyed my breakfast, that’s all I can say. Anything can happen in the race, and if you start with less motivation thinking there is no way you can win, I personally would be a bit sad. There’s always a chance, and we will try our best. I think following is quite impossible, but there are a lot of other riders who want to anticipate. I forgot how nice it is to be back here in Bruges. It was always colder in Antwerp.”

Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-Citroën):

“I feel OK this morning, it’s the other riders I am worried about. It’s nice to be in Bruges and I like the historical buildings. The two starts are quite similar. It’s about saving some energy at the start, and for others, it’s about getting into a break, it depends on your role.”

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates):

“I really like the atmosphere here and the fans, and I think all the cyclists are popular in this region. I think I have to try some attacks to go for the wind. It’s about keeping quiet in the first 130km and then saving your legs for the finish line. Maybe the others are talking more about us, but there are many who can win. I think others will try to make the race hard very early. The crucial points start early and you have to be focused and be ready to react. To win? I hope so!”

Julian Alaphilippe is a key player for Soudal Quick-Step in the team’s ambitions to reverse its classics fortunes. (Photo: DAVID PINTENS/Belga/AFP via Getty Images)

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