If you are from Flanders, and maybe even if you are not, the biggest single-day race of the year happens this Sunday, April 4th. De Ronde van Vlaanderen (The Tour of Flanders) is certainly the biggest race in Belgium and is one of the ‘five great monuments’ of cycling. Perhaps less well known than the ‘Queen of the Classics’ – Paris Roubaix – the Ronde van Vlaanderen might as well be called the Cult of the Classics.
First run in 1913, De Ronde is an epic race if there ever was one. With famous cobblestone climbs such as the Muur (9.3% avg. 19.8% max.) and the Koppenberg (11.6% avg. 22% max) and it’s 262km length, De Ronde is often described as “war-game” or sheer hell by riders. Sean Kelly once said that “Flanders was one of the most horrible races to ride, but one of the greatest to win.”
The 2010 edition of De Ronde is similar to what we’ve seen in the past. A classic Belgian Classic, not unlike what we saw in last week’s Gent – Wevelgem, the ride is relatively flat and fast warming up the riders with a 110km of lead in before the action starts. The first cobbles come at around km 113 and the first ‘wall-steep-but-short’ climb comes around km 121. This can be considered the middle third of the race. From km 110 through 185 the race features 9 cobbled sections totaling 6.9km and 5 climbs (Den Ast, Kluisberg, Knokteberg, Oude-Kwaremount and Paterberg). If you are in a chasing group by the time the leaders hit the Oude-Kwaremount, your race is all but over.
The final ‘third’ of the race begins at km 188 with the famous Koppenburg. Here is where the race will begin it’s sorting. If you aren’t in the front of the group at the Koppenburg you may not get up without walking. We’re talking 22% steep, and that’s damn steep not matter what the conditions, but when you add speed-sucking cobbles the size of my head, and maybe even rain, you’re lucky to get up without walking, seriously. If you aren’t at the front, you’re not going to be lucky. Watch:
It’s like watching cock-fighting ain’t it? Gruesome. The last third of the race, or 72km, features ten climbs, the 6th – Koppenberg through the 15th – Bosberg. This section of racing also features 15 cobbled sections for a total of 13km, many which are on the climbs themselves. It just gets harder and harder until you collapse at the finish. The 14th climb, The Muur, is where the pack has been long sorted, and if the winner of the race hasn’t been decided by the Muur, he likely will be decided on the Muur.
Incredible. The Flemish know how to put together a race. It’s so Iconic, so difficult and so sublime. Not only do they know how to plan a race, they know how to win it and they want nothing more. De Ronde has been run 93 times with Belgians winning on 66 occasions. The Italians have won 10, and the Dutch 9. The winner in the last two years has been Stijn Devolder, before that Alessandro Ballan and before him Tom Boonen twice.
So who has a chance this year? Early odds on favorites are Cancellara, Boonen, Gilbert, Flecha and perhaps Ballan. Riders who have a chance but are unlikely winners are Devolder, who seems way off form, Hincapie, who looks good, but can he put it together?, Bernard Eisel, doubt it, Lars Boom and Edvald Boassen Hagen, both whose time is to come. Those with no hope in hell, cause they’re out are Haussler, last year’s 2nd place has a knee injury, Pozzato isn’t racing, and Freire who also isn’t racing.
Can it be Sunday already please?
As for watching it live here in Vancouver, unfortunately, Giancarlo’s is a no-go. The race timing is bad as the race starts at 9:45 in Brugge (00:45 PST) and estimated finish times in Meerbeke are 15:49 (6:49am) @ 45kmph, 16:14(7:14am) 42kmph, 16:42(7:42am) 39kmph. Last years race finished in 6:01:00 @ ~ 43kmph under sunny skies.
*As a note, the 2010 Paris-Roubaix will be starting @ 10:35am (1:35 PST) and finished at ~17-17:30pm (8 -8:30am PST), so I plan to be showing it live at Giancarlo’s.
Paris – Roubaix schedule is here
Weather forecast for the race is: Sunny with light wind and light rain and 10C.
The official De Ronde website