De Ronde Preview: The biggest race on the calendar – If you ask a bike fan in Flanders. But ‘De Ronde’ is a phenomenal race, every year is an epic battle, not just between the riders, but the elements and the route. Ed Hood builds the excitement for Sunday with our Flanders PEZ Race Preview.
Tough men on a tough course
Is winning the Ronde Van Vlaanderen really that big a deal to Belgian riders?
This will be edition 105 of this Monument; of those, Belgian riders have won 69 times, Italy and The Netherlands are a joint, distant third on 11 wins – the most recent being respectively Alberto Bettiol in 2019 and Mathieu Van Der Poel just last year. And as for the Belgians; ask them for a straight choice between winning the Worlds or de Ronde and nine out of 10 will go for the latter – you’re Legend.
2020 Ronde by Sporza
Does it really ‘tour Flanders?’
Not really; whilst we don’t yet have definitive route – due to the organisers desire to keep roadside fans away – it’s safe to assume that it’ll be very similar to last year with the start up in Antwerp before a dash down to the hog’s back ridge of the Flemish Ardennes which lurks above the finish town of Oudenaarde – home to the Tour of Flanders Museum – and around where the race is centred. The race approaches the ridge from multiple directions taking in some 17 ‘hellingen’ including the long, cobbled and often decisive Oude Kwaremont three times; once early and twice late. There will also be the obligatory ‘kasseien,’ cobble stretches within a race distance of some 260 plus kilometres. There are two reasons for the ‘compressed’ parcours – firstly it ended the crazy driving perpetrated by those seeking to see the race as many times as possible at as many different places as possible. And, as AC/DC might say; ‘Listen to the Money Talk,’ – the finish circuit which takes in the Oude Kwaremont twice enables a huge hospitality village to be constructed there, pulling in crucial corporate revenue – but not this year.
Give us some history?
This will be edition 105, the first race being held in 1913; since then, six riders have won the race on three occasions, four of them Belgians. Home Boy, Achiel Buysse won in 1940, ‘41 and ‘43 – even PEZ soothsayer and mentor, Vik doesn’t remember that one. Nor does he remember Italian, ‘Lion of Flanders’, Fiorenzo Magni’s wins in 1949, ‘50 and ‘51. However, both he and I do remember Belgian hard man, Eric Leman’s wins in 1970, ‘72 and ’73 though.
Boonen and Cancellara
And Tom Boonen’s three wins in 2005, ‘06 and ‘12 seem like yesterday; the Tornado also has a second place to his name. Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara’s wins came in 2010, ‘13 and ‘14 with second and third places to boot. But the lion with the biggest teeth is Johan Museeuw, as well as wins in 1993, ’95 and ’98 he was second on three occasions and third twice to give him eight podiums – my head is bowed in respect as I type this.
Johan Museeuw – Top Flanders ‘Record Man’
What about riders who are still active, who’s got the best record?
The man with the best Ronde CV is Norway’s Alex Kristoff [UAE Team Emirates] who has finished in the top 10 some seven times off nine starts including a win in 2015. He was third last year but unless the weather is savage it’s unlikely he’ll repeat his podium place.
Kristoff – Possible?
Greg Van Avermaet [AG2R Citroën] has finished top 10 some eight times off 13 starts but Old Father Time has a tight grip on the Olympic Champion’s bib shorts this year.
Van Avermaet should have won Flanders at least once
Dutchman Niki Terpstra [Team Total Direct Energie] won this race just three years ago and has placed in the top 10 six times off 12 starts but he’s yet to recover his old form following his horror high speed crash whilst training behind a motor bike last year.
Terpstra on his way to win in 2018
But let’s talk about a man who might win, Peter Sagan [BORA-hansgrohe & Slovakia] he won here in 2016 and has five top 10 finishes off nine starts. Perhaps not the force or showman he once was but he needs a big win to add leverage to his contract negotiations with BORA and wasn’t going so shabbily in Catalunya.
Sagan won Flanders in 2016
Belgian favourite, Philippe Gilbert [Lotto Soudal] has a great record here with a win in 2017 and five top 10 finishes off 11 starts. However he’s giving the race a ‘by’ this year due to a lack of form – but at 38 years-of-age it was always unlikely he could usurp Andre Tchmil at the 37 years-old as the oldest winner.
No Gilbert in Flanders’21
With Gilbert’s DNS it means that the man with the fifth best record in the race is big Belgian, Sep Vanmarcke [Israel Start-Up Nation] with two podiums off 11 starts. Last year it would have been easy to think that perhaps his best days were behind him but he’s started this season strongly and will be, ‘in the final for sure,’ as they say in ‘Eurospeak’.
Have there ever been any ‘soft’ wins?
You’re probably thinking about 1992 when France’s Jacky Durand was the triumphant last survivor of a 212 kilometre break after the peloton gave them a massive – and sorely misjudged – 24 minutes leeway. However, five hours in the break over all those cobbles and hills is perhaps stretching the definition of ‘soft.’
Jacky Durand – A Frenchman winning De Ronde!
Who should have won but didn’t?
The two that spring to mind are Freddy Maertens in 1977 and Sean Kelly in 1986. Maertens was away with Roger De Vlaeminck but was told by a commissaire that he was disqualified for an illegal bike change but could keep riding – a very strange decision indeed – he kept pedalling and towing the man from Eeklo, allegedly spurred on by the promise of a ‘lucky penny’ from ‘Le Gitane’. Freddy duly chaperoned Roger to the finish where winner De Vlaeminck was boo-ed on the podium. Roger, according to Freddy – and true to the Belgian interpretation of Machiavelli’s, ‘The Prince’ – welched on half the Belgian Francs agreed in the deal but there’s a little cobble above De Vlaeminck’s 1977 winner’s cobble in the display at the Ronde Museum with Freddy’s name on it as ‘moral victor’.
1977 Flanders – Should have been Freddy
Kelly was third three times in this race which was surely made for him with ’86 the biggest disappointment; the strongest all day, over-confident, he lead the sprint out too early with Mathieu’s dad pipping the Irishman on the line.
Sean should have won De Ronde
What do the bookies say, those guys know the score, don’t they?
And, as we go to press:
Last year’s winner, Dutchman Mathieu Van Der Poel [Alpecin-Fenix] is number one favourite courtesy his stunning Strade Bianche and Tirreno stage wins, not to mention his top five finishes in The Primavera and E3 – 13/5.
Double Flanders for MVDP?
Last year’s runner-up, Home Boy, Wout Van Aert [Jumbo-Visma] is second favourite after his clinical disposal of a quality break at Gent-Wevelgem and a Primavera podium – 22/5.
Van Aert – Favourite or second favourite?
The man who was surely headed for the Ronde podium last year but instead ended up in hospital after a tussle with a moto, Julian Alaphilippe [Deceuninck – Quick-Step & France] is third favourite after a Tirreno stage win and Strade Bianche podium – 12/1.
Stay away from the motos
E3 winner, ‘Danish Dynamite’ – I must stop saying that – Kasper Asgreen [Deceuninck – Quick-Step] took that race in superb style, backed by the ‘W##f Pack’ – I can’t say it, sorry – is fourth favourite – 21/1.
Asgreen has the w##f-power
Peter Sagan, who we’ve already mentioned, is fifth – 31/1.
Stage win for Sagan in Catalunya
If I was a betting man I’d risk a few Euros on Primavera winner, Jasper Stuyven – 59/1.
Another monument for Stuyven?
But most importantly, what does PEZ palmarès clairvoyant, Viktor think?
It has to be…
# I slipped up badly for Gent-Wevelgem, I thought that the corner shop sold Leffe – but no, I had to settle for Stella. No such error for de Ronde and those 750 ml. Leffe bottles are already chilling nicely, as I write.
If only there was a local frituur. . . Keep it PEZ for the ‘Flanders Race Report’ on Sunday and more news on Monday in EUROTRASH and the ‘PEZ Race Breakdown’. Live action at SteepHillTV. #
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