Tour of Flanders 2019 Preview

The Super Bowl of Cycling

Contenders ready for Tour of Flanders, ‘hardest one-day race created’

The grueling Tour of Flanders on Sunday starts without a clear favorite to etch his name on the second monument of the cycling season.

The Ronde is the cruel culmination of Flemish Cycling Week. It is a 266-kilometre slog from Antwerp to Oudenarde over a route that takes in 24 sharp climbs, many cobbled.

“It is, without question, the hardest one-day bike race ever created,” the American cyclist George Hincapie, who finished a record 17 times, wrote in his biography.

“What seems like a million corners, combined with twenty to thirty steep pitches and narrow roads, none of which go the same direction for more than a mile, all mixed together to make it war on a bike.”

This year’s field lacks a clear pre-race favorite.

Tour de France 2018 – 105th Edition – 9th stage Arras – Roubaix -Peter Sagan (SVK – Bora – Hansgrohe)

Peter Sagan, the imposing Slovak, who won in 2017, should, as usual, be a contender.

The Belgian Deceuninck-Quickstep team has dominated the spring races but without a clear number one rider.

They have not entered Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe, who won the first monument, Milan-San Remo, but their team includes Bob Jungels of Luxembourg, Czech Zdenek Stybar and Belgian Philippe Gilbert who all have wins this season, as well as Belgian one-day specialist Yves Lampaert.

Gilbert dropped out of the Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday with a stomach upset, but said he was primed for Sunday.

“Full focus on the Tour of Flanders!” he tweeted on Thursday.

Gent-Wevelgem 2019 – 81st Edition – Deinze – Wevelgem – Alexander Kristoff (NOR – UAE – Team Emirates) 

Alexander Kristoff, a Norwegian with UAE Emirates, the winner in 2015, showed he is in form when he sprinted to victory in the Gent-Wevelgem last Sunday.

“I feel my condition is improving and it’s a good signal ahead of the Tour of Flanders,” Kristoff told the team website.

Valverde Debut at 38 

Alejandro Valverde (ESP – Movistar)

The field will also include world champion Alejandro Valverde who is making his debut in the race at 38.

The race is iconic for Belgians.

“In my head I’ve already won Flanders a thousand times,” one of the contenders, Oliver Naesen of AG2R-Le Mondiale, said recently. “When you’re training on those roads, or riding alone and seeing yourself alone in front, or even when you’re just at home sitting on the sofa, you’re thinking, ‘What will it be like to win the Tour of Flanders?'”

Ronde Van Vlaanderen – Tour of Flanders – Oliver Naesen (BEL – AG2R – La Mondiale)

One Belgian who knows is Tom Boonen, one of six cyclists to have won the race three times.

He listed Wout van Aert of Jumbo Visma, Mathieu van der Poel and Stybar when asked who were his favorites by a local radio station before concluding: “But I think Bob Jungels is going to win.”

The race will mark one of the last appearances in a monument of the Sky livery. They will become Team Ineos at the start of May.

The team have made their name in the three major tours but have twice won one of the five most celebrated one-day classics, but neither Wout Pouls, who won Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2016, nor Michal Kwiatkowski, who won Milan-San Remo in 2017, is in their team.

Tour de France winners Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas and rising star Egan Bernal are also missing from a solid team that shows Sky’s strength in depth.

Dylan van Baarle suffered a broken hand on March 2 but returned faster than expected last week aiming to race in Flanders.

“Of course it’s also good to be fresh for this period but breaking something doesn’t help your condition,” he told the team website. “I just want to get that Belgian feeling again.”


Photos: Bettini


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