This Sunday’s Tour of Flanders will mark the second Monument Classic of the 2017 season and, like Milan-Sanremo, the list of possible winners is long and distinguished.
Once again, the Oude Kwaremont – Paterberg combination will be the focal point of the Ronde van Vlaanderen (260.8 kilometers), despite the mythical Muur van Geraardsbergen (1075 meters, 9.2%) returning to the course.
For the first time in history, the peloton will roll out from Antwerp, Flanders’ largest city, and will get its first taste of the cobbles 84 kilometers from the start, when they will go over the Lippenhovenstraat sector, followed shortly by the 2.3km-long Paddestraat.
After the riders will leave behind the first 110 kilometers of the race, 18 steep and tough climbs will follow in succession; besides the aforementioned ones, other iconic hills – such as Leberg, Berendries, Tenbosse, Koppenberg or Taaienberg – are set to feature on the route to Oudenaarde, all having the potential to make or break dreams and plans.
Greg Van Avermaet is the main favourite to take his first Tour of Flanders triumph on Sunday. The Belgian is on an exceptional two-year roll. This season he’s won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, earning a runner-up spot in the Strade Bianche.
Van Avermaet’s main rival remains the reigning Ronde van Vlaanderen champion. Last year, Peter Sagan stomped away on the Paterberg before soloing his way into Oudenaarde to win his first Monument.
Sagan has looked in sublime form so far this year and already has three wins, six second places and two third places to his name. His attack on the Poggio at Milan-San Remo showed that he’s got the strength to simply ride away from most of the best riders in the world. The harder parcours of Flanders suits Sagan even more than does Milan-San Remo.
John Degenkolb has already won Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix, and his strengths would seemingly suit the Tour of Flanders better than either of those two races. Despite a 2016 season plagued by an extensive recovery period after a being hit by a car in January, Degenkolb has his form back and the Classics in his crosshairs for 2017.
The 2015 winner, Alexander Kristoff, certainly shouldn’t be discounted. Flanders is his favourite race, he comes in with good form and as he showed in 2015 he’s capable of a long-range move if he’s on a good day.
This year’s edition of Ronde van Vlaanderen will be Tom Boonen‘s final outing at the race which will forever be linked to his first Monument win, back in 2005, following a beautiful solo attack launched inside the final 12 kilometers, when he took all his opponents by surprise. Since then, two other triumphs followed, one in the rainbow jersey (2006) and one at the first edition which used the Oude Kwaremont – Paterberg combination (2012), making Boonen one of the only six riders to finish victorious on three occasions at Vlaanderens Mooiste.
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