Baptism by Fire – How will the Tour of Flanders play out?
“It’s a hard-man’s race, a true race, where you not only have to have strong legs, but be tactically smart,” Luca Paolini, Team Captain, Katusha
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At approx 16:41 CET tomorrow we will know, after all the talk, previews, interviews, who has triumphed in the biggest, arguably hardest one-day cycling race in the calendar. Will Cancellara claim his 3rd Flanders victory [the man has put so much fear in the peloton, that the team coaches seem to be constantly remember their riders he is just a man, or ‘is flesh and blood like the rest of us’]? Will Sagan hold on to the race plot & be the victorious protagonist in the final sprint? Or will the two favourites be pipped to the post by an emerging figure like Kristoff – ballsy after his Milan-San Remo adventure?
Do you want to call it? This is one of the most energized build up to any race I have witnessed in the last few years and I wanted to throw fuel to the fire on RVV eve; including the depth of class riders in the field, where we would expect key moments in the race to happen,
If you need any background on the main players of the race tomorrow do take a moment to visit Bicycling’s classic power list. Apart from the usual candidates, the site touches on:
Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) – Silver medal winner of the team pursuit in the 2005 UCI Track Cycling World Championships. The young rider showed considerable talent when in 2008 he claimed 4th place in the Three Days of de Panne followed by a 14th place at the 2008 Tour of Flanders. In 2009 Terpstra won the 3rd stage in the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré and then in 2012, took a prestigious solo victory at the Dwars door Vlaanderen. After a stage win in the Tour of Qatar, the 2014 season has led to a 2nd DdV victory, followed by a 2nd place two days later to Saga in the E3 Harelbeke.
Although a support rider to Tom Boonen, Classic legend, this rider won’t hesitate to chanter for victory if called upon.
[Great article in velonews – ‘Boonen ready to make history at Tour of Flanders’ FYI]
Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin Pro Cycling) – Belkin Sports Director Nico Verhoeven has tipped this rider to challenge Boonen, Cancellara, and Sagan in the
classics and is gunning for a top poduim finish at the Flanders or Paris-Roubaix. Sep beat Tom Boonen & Juan Antonio Flecha at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad back in 2012 to ‘come of age’ and has followed this up with a second place, right in the velodrome finale, behind Cancellara at Paris-Roubaix 2013 – this cyclist is dangerous!
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) – ‘Work hard in silence, let success make the noise’ – that’s what Greg’s twitter feed reads. Greg & BMC will be putting out all the stops in their bid for a podium finish at the Belgian monument, even without the rescheduled Philippe Gilbert (preparing for Ardennes classics) and a struggling Thor Hushovd, before new week launching Taylor Phinney into attack mode for the Paris-Roubaix (that beast of a TT in Qatar has put the 23 year old at centre stage). Van Avermaet was unlikely to finish behind Gerrans, back in 2012, when they made a break with 4km to go at the World Tour race Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec; and although not one of the favourites, we can easily see the rider getting away with Cancellara from the pack in the final stages.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) – Geraint starts as outright leader for Team Sky after Ian Stannard’s back bone facture – and after supporting Froome in the TdF with a broken pelvis, I would hesitate omitting this pain maestro in this sufferfest. As the rider will agree, he hasn’t quite got his head around the sheer intensity of the Belgian classic before….well that is until his 3rd place at the E3; and with some positive vibes coming from the Sky camp on their reconnaissance, I would expect an aggressive showing from this Welshman.
Luca Paolini (Katusha) –
After helping the Russian team win with Alexander Kristoff at Milano-SanRemo, Paolini now leads the group tomorrow into Oudenaarde. My Irish upbringing (by that I mean underdog) would love to see the 37 year-old become the oldest winner of the race (2000 champion Andrei Tchmil was 37 years & 2 months). It seems from the ‘older and wiser’ velonews interview that the Italian rider will be focusing on tactics to overcome the might of Cancellara & Sagan:
“The course changed in the final kilometers, with the hard climbs positioned very close to one another. You’ll have to invent something to preempt Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan. I’m not talking about a long-range attack but one at a point closer to the finish, where they are not expecting it….You have to race it 100 percent in the front spots, manage it well the entire day. Basically, the weaker you are, the smarter you have to be.”
How it will unfold….
The organisers of the Tour of Flanders have unveiled a 2014 route which includes significantly-modified final 50 kilometres. The Taaienberg will be the 14th (of 17) tomorrow’s edition, and will sit 37 kilometres from the finish – as opposed to the 2nd in 2013 and the last ascents of the Oude Kwaremont & Paterberg (two climbs rather than the three since 2012) will need to be tacked in the final 17 kilometres of the Belgian monument.
The major point in the route modification was perhaps the inclusion of the Koppenberg at 44 kilometres from the finish in Oudenaarde, as opposed to 64 as it did in 2013. Belgian newspaper Hew Nieuwsblad is quoted as in saying this change will mean that the narrow, cobbled climb is “no longer a snack [a snack, have these guys ever ridden after 150km?!?!] at 60 kilometers from the finish but marks the hour of truth.”
With the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen – first used in 1950 – not being included for the third year running, as well as the climbs of the Hoogberg/Hotond being two further causalities, the Koppenberg could be where are podium finishers escape. However with riders such as Cancellara in the bunch,
teams such as Omega Pharma-Quick Step may decide on an ambitious attack earlier in the race. Many suspect that Sagan has the weaker team setup & if this appears to be the case, the Slovakian would be best to stay up in the mix before we reach the Koppenberg.
While the action, in the last few years, on that final circuit itself has been gripping, the racing beforehand has been relatively conservative. There is a distinct sense however to beat the raw strength of the favourites, teams may have to expand their scope for invention. [FULL ROUTE summary at end of post]
A dangerous precedent
We are all hoping for a terrific race in the notorious hills of the Flemish countryside. With the mix of uneven cobbles, ruts, grooves, and slick mud, the
cameras & the thousands of screaming fans with be fixated on the suffering being inflicted. There will be alot of commentary on the cobbled climbs but with a gruelling final 60km the ‘race to the base’ of the short, steep bergs could be the day’s deciding factor – you can’t challenge at the front if you are climbing over twisted bikes and bodies in the narrow roads.
At the end, the casual fan may feel like they have sensed the magnitude of cycling’s latest instalment but over breakfast tomorrow, I would encourage you all to scan through wikipedia & read about the utter carnage in the last 97 years.
You will also find cyclingnews.com articles on the race’s official history, equalling rewarding – The Forgotten Founder of the Tour of Flanders; which describes the key moments in the race’s foundation after the summer of 1912, just a few days after Odile Defraye had become the first Belgian rider to win the Tour de France.