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ANTWERP, Belgium (VN): The biggest day of Belgian cycling arrived Sunday.
The men’s and women’s Tour of Flanders marks one of the high points of the spring with a race that every rider wants to win and every enthusiast wants to watch.
And to make it even better, spectators are back on the bergs after COVID restrictions saw the race go “behind closed doors” for recent seasons.
The men’s Ronde rolled early doors in a cold and clear Antwerp Grotemarket, and VeloNews reporters Sadhbh O’Shea and Andy Hood were there. The women’s race got rumbling shortly after 1 pm in Oudenaarde and will return around one hour after the men.
Also read: How to watch Tour of Flanders 2022
Here’s what some of the biggest names in the men’s peloton said at the start Sunday morning.
— Tomas Van Den Spiegel (@tomasvds) April 3, 2022
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix)
Jumbo-Visma will have to approach the race differently to if Wout van Aert was here. There’s still a lot of top competitors here – last year I went to the finish with Asgreen but without van Aret, so it’s hard to say.
The second time on the Oude Kwaremont is usually the crucial part of the race because from there it starts to go really quickly, all the hills follow each other fast. Positioning is important, like all classics races.
My motivation is good after winning Dwars door Vlaanderen. This is a bigger goal than Wednesday, I worked hard to be ready and I hope to be at my top level.
Kasper Asgreen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl)
This is super important for the team, like all the classics. We’re well prepared, we did everything we could. We just have to enjoy it now.
No van Aert doesn’t change the race for us, but it does change the dynamics of the race. We’ll do many of the same things we were going to do anyway.
I hope the legs are as good as last year, The shape is there so I hope the legs are there as well. I’m happy with where I am.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates)
With the crowd, I think it will be crazy, I think it’s going to be amazing. The last two years [without crowds] was a bit sad, but I think this year is going to be legendary.
It is my first time here and so far, so good. I hope it continues in the race. I have the sections written on my stem. I hope to know them by heart in a few years. Matteo [Trentin] will be my guide. He knows the roads here.
Mads Pedersen (Trek Segafedo)
Roubaix is one of my biggest goals, but this is a monument as well so it’s difficult to put all the money in one basket.
Tactics? It will be stupid of me to tell everyone what we’re going to do.
Zdenek Štybar (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl)
You miss the crowds, they give you an extra push. Flanders with spectators, it’s really amazing. So many people wait to see this race. All week, everything turns toward Flanders, many pages in the newspapers every day. Every five minutes you get a notification about Tour of Flanders.
There’s a question mark with the team because nearly all of us have been sick recently. I think the shape of most of us isn’t 100 percent. But sometimes you can make a good race without the best shape. We know that we improve race after race but if it will be enough, we don’t know.
We have Asgreen who is one of the favorites, so we go for it. Mostly we’re used to starting with four or five leavers and this year it’s not the way. But we’re going to fight for it.
Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-Citroën)
Arriving here with the fans on the market square in Antwerp is one of the best moments of the year.
I’m bruised but healthy [after crashing at Dwars]. That’s better than the other way around. It’s super sad for Wout that he’s missing out. I wonder who will take control of the race. We’ll ride in support of Greg Van Avermaet.
Amanda Spratt (Bike-Exchange-Jayco)
I’m excited, I didn’t realise that it was my 14th Flanders, that was pointed out to me yesterday. I’m excited and the atmosphere with all the crowd here as well is already giving me good vibes. Part of the whole Flanders experience is having the crowds here and just really experiencing that Flanders vibe. It’s going to be crazy.
I think it’s really exciting that I’m going to go up the Koppenberg. Everyone is just focused on this one point of the race. You’re probably not going to win the race there but for sure if you’re out of position or you have to unclip and walk then you’re going to have to spend unnecessary energy there. It’s going to be hard and everyone has the same instruction to be at the front at the bottom so it’s going to be mental.
Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM)
I think there will be a lot of spectators, especially on the Oude Kwaremont there are going to be people and I hope it gives me extra energy to go over the climbs. It gives me more motivation to go full gas. It’s been a long time that there were people on the road, so it’s nice.
I hope I can help my team as far as possible in the race. Floortje Mackaij is our final rider for it so I hope that I can help her as far as possible.
Anna Henderson (Jumbo-Visma)
We’ve got Coryn in really good shape so she is one of our options and we’re just looking to see what goes on and see what SD Worx do.
I think the Koppenberg will change things completely. I think people are underestimating what it will do to the race. I think it will be in pieces after that and I think the race really starts from there. From there on, I’m just closing my eyes until the finish.
Trek-Segafredo has had a good run of wins and they’re ones to watch. Also, SD Worx you never know what they are going to do because they have so many winners in their team. And of course, Annemiek van Vleuten, she’s always the thorn in everyone’s side.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope)
It’s just so crazy here feeling the vibe again. It has been years since we have had a crowd. It gives me goosebumps. I love it so much, it’s just so nice feeling it. It’s going to be on the big climbs, and it will be crazy. I’m just going to enjoy it.
I feel good, so let’s just go out there and have some fun. It’s nice to have lots of options and hopefully we can have lots of riders in the final so that we can play with multiple cards. There are a lot of strong riders here. Obviously, Balsamo has won almost all the WorldTour races, but SD Worx is interested in a hard race and Annemiek wants a hard race so there are multiple teams interested in a hard race, we’re not alone.