You may not be asking me, but I’ll tell you that the biggest single-day race of the year happens this Sunday, March 31st. 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. Imagine front page of Belgium’s biggest Newspaper significance. Imagine 18 pages of coverage in the sports section significance. 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 2013 edition of De Ronde is similar to what we saw last year – still missing the iconic Kappelmuur climb which was like taking the Pyrenees out of the Tour de France, but I digress. Even without the Muur this is the 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 the Tiegemberg coming at 91km to tease. The onslaught of cobbles starts at around km 113 with the Taaienberg and the first climb of Oude Kwaremont at 182km. The new race format features the Oude and Paterberg combo three times and is now the heart of the classic. The famous Koppenberg is utilized but once at km 192 and although it is still very selective it, to my eye, is somehow less significant than in the past.
Still, 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, tough is an understatement. The weather in Oudenaarde is rain today and tomorrow and clearing for Sunday and very cold. Even if it’s not raining it’ll likely be muddy or soft, so the cobbles or the gutter are the only way up. If you’re not in the front at the Koppenburg your race may well be over. Watch:
So who has a chance this year? Early odds on favorites are Cancellara (winner in 2010) and Sagan. Both have come to play this year and look likee the odds on favorites. Tom Boonen, who has won this race three times (’05,’06,’12) and is defending champ has had a tough year with an elbow injury and a knee injury, but he’s a tough dude so don’t count him out. Sylvain Chavanel OPQS plan 1B is on fire this year and will be involved for sure. The list of others likely to be in the mix, Paolini (KAT), Thomas and Stannard (SKY), Pozzato (LAM), Gatto (FAR), Gilbert (maybe) and Van Avermaet (BMC). Others who may be in the mix… Boom, Maaskant and Terpstra, other than the big three it’s pretty wide open.
Can it be Sunday already please?
Official Site: http://www.rondevanvlaanderen.be/en