Tomorrow morning 238 riders will start the 99th Tour of Flanders, or Ronde Van Vlaanderen to give the race its proper, untranslated name. The race is the second Monument of the year and the first on the cobbles of Belgium. Unlike Paris-Roubaix the cobbles and race length provide only half the challenge with hilly sections also testing the riders’ abilities. Racing cobbled climbs is a completely unique riding discipline and these ‘hellingen’ are either loved or hated by the Pro Tour riders. Famous hills include the Paterberg and Koppenberg- expect race defining moves on both. With triple winners Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara both missing out through injury, let’s take a look at the 2015 contenders.
Why could he win? The Belgian has been knocking on the door of a Monument win for the last two years. Again this season he has looked super-strong and bad luck can only last so long. He should only fear one or two in this year’s field.
Why won’t he win? LottoNL-Jumbo are by far the weakest team possessing any of the favourites. Though Vanmarcke must be used to riding alone, his lack of tactical nous could easily cost him again. He’ll need to ride his best to thwart Etixx-Quick Step’s plans.
Why could he win? Thomas is carrying good form in every aspect. This season’s performances have been consistently good and he has placed high in nearly every race he has ridden. He showed last week he can be a cobbles winner and affirmed it with a podium two days later.
Why won’t he win? Though he has ridden in Flanders many times before he has never been a race favourite making this year’s backing a new experience. If he rides like he did last week he will be there or thereabouts, but there’s no guarantee of a repeat.
Why could he win? On his day, Terpstra is as strong a cobbled rider as the would-be race favourite Fabian Cancellara. He loves the challenge and is a strong individual rider in even the harshest conditions. He confirmed these traits with his Paris-Roubaix win last year and is my pick to, at least, be the best placed Etixx rider.
Why won’t he win? A move could go away and Terpstra may not be involved. He is not the most likely to attack early and he could see his chances disappear up the road. Riding for Etixx, it is possible to imagine a situation where he ends up working for a team-mate.
Why could he win? Because the Peter Sagan from 2012 must still exist and that young rider was phenomenal. Sagan will most likely attack, and could find himself the fastest finisher in a winning break.
Why won’t he win? It’s not that this season the Slovakian has been shockingly poor but his unspectacular race performances have continued. He has actually had a worse start to the season than last year based on results alone. In one day races he has often been with the leaders before fading to obscurity (Strade Bianche, E3 Harelbeke). I don’t think Sagan’s the winner this year.
Why could he win? The Czech champion is in great form showing himself in nearly every classic he has raced. Could attack early but is also capable of accelerating away in the closing stages.
Why won’t he win? Stybar is probably not the best cobbles rider in the Etixx team. He may end up being their best man on the day but history suggests greater successes may lie away from Flanders. His second at last week’s E3 is his only top ten in Flanders’ premier races.
Why could he win? The Katusha rider is bidding to become the first real sprinter to win the race. However, like Boonen before him, Kristoff is clearly more than ‘just a sprinter’. He has ridden well in classics before and made an argument for himself this week, taking three straight stages of De Panne.
Why won’t he win? Because sprinters just don’t win here. Kristoff will likely take another Monument to add to his single San Remo victory, but his team aren’t strong enough to control this race. Kristoff will have to follow attacks- and he shouldn’t have the strength to do so.
Greg Van Avermaet
Why could he win? Van Averment has brought his strong 2014 form through to the new season. Second last year to Cancellara, and 7ththe year before, the Belgian has all the attributes needed to win.
Why won’t he win? A nasty crash in Harelbeke has surely interrupted his preparation and April 5th may arrive a little too soon. Likely to show himself in the race but Van Avermaet may have one eye on next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix where he is sure to go well.
Why could he win? Like Kristoff, Degenkolb is the sort of sprinter who can deliver in the classics. He has had good cobbles results too, winning Wevelgem last year and finishing behind only Terpstra in Roubaix. If he isn’t eliminated early, the other contenders will begin to worry.
Why won’t he win? Again, like Kristoff, his team won’t be strong enough to control the race and he will have to rely on his own ability. He may be able to chase down some attacks but a long acceleration on the steep Koppenberg (or Valkenberg) may be too much to ask.
Why could he win? The chances of seeing a third Devolder Vlaanderen win, his first two coming in 2008 and 2009, are tough to call. He will likely be a replacement team leader of the Trek team, taking over from Cancellara. He knows these roads well and has returned to form somewhat in his last few outings. But that’s only half the story…
Why won’t he win? The 35 year old would not have expected to be leading his team and has had poor showings in the last four editions of this race. He almost certainly won’t have the legs to win this race again, but Trek might just have something up their sleeve.
Why could he win? Vandenbergh is another super strong Belgian and member of the talent-rich Etixx team. Goes well on cobbles and will be there at the business end of the race.
Why won’t he win? No reason to believe Vandenbergh will finally be made team leader, and will instead be used tactically to track moves and put pressure on other teams.
Why could he win? The Italian could emerge from Van Avermaet’s shadow and spring a surprise. You would expect him to be a protected rider having gone well recently.
Why won’t he win? Oss is unlikely to climb well enough to find himself in the winning move.
Why could he win? Having finished third in this race, and with two 7th placed cobbled finishes just last week, Roelandts and his talented Lotto-Soudal team (Debusschere, Benoot) could be the ones to spring a surprise.
Why won’t he win? Difficult to pinpoint a reason why Roelandts won’t win here, other than the fact there are too many similar, but better, candidates.
Why could he win? The Astana team leader boasts an impressive cobbles win at last year’s Tour de France.
Why won’t he win? Not a lot has gone well for the Dutchman this year, and I don’t think anything will change this weekend. He won’t handle the hills as well as others.
Why could he win? Has gone well on cobbles and may get involved in an early break. Italians will watch out for him with Filippo Pozzato not at his best and Luca Paolini probably working for Kristoff.
Why won’t he win? Hugely unlikely to stay strong to the very end and survive the attacks of the much stronger riders.
Why could he win? Wallays is a talented young Belgian in a team that will surely be in the morning break. Has had a solid start to the season.
Why won’t he win? The early break hardly ever survives in a one-day race, let alone a Monument.
Yohan Offredo/Vincent Jerome
Why could they win? Because crazier things have happened. Both riders go well here, and at Paris-Roubaix, and the French will hope one of their riders will time a move with a bit of sense, catching the big names off guard.
Why won’t they win? France have one podium in this race since 1997. Offredo and Jerome probably aren’t good enough to change that.
-Etixx and Terpstra to take another Monument. Surviving attacks from Vanmarcke and Thomas.
-Kristoff and Degenkolb to go well but not contest the final sprint.
-Devolder, Vandenbergh and Roelandts to challenge for Top 5.
-Everybody to struggle on the Koppenberg