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Apr 3, 2015 – This Sunday is the Sunday we have all been waiting for, not because the Easter bunny is coming, but because we know that there is going to be blood, sweat, and tears in what will be the hardest Tour of Flanders the world has ever seen.
Photos courtesy Yuzuru Sunada
On Paper, this Ronde van Vlaanderen is the hardest by far, and its been evident that some teams are taking extreme measures for success. Take Sky and Pinarello for example, releasing a bike called the Dogma K8-S for the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Beyond the bikes and tech that will be at the line on Sunday, what will truly matter, is the man.
Above, you can enjoy a gallery showcasing the finest moments of the past Ronde, and below you can sight out what riders you may want for your bets on Sunday morning. Either way, let your eyes enjoy and get ready for Sunday.
The race this year has had an unfortunate shake up, especially since the riders that have dominated the race in the past, that is Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, will not be there. Cancellara was injured as the E3 Harelbeke, whilst Boonen was injured at Paris-Nice. Now, beyond those two, the race has had a plethora of riders stepping up to fill the void. Lets start naming the names of 2015.
We will start from the beginning with Ian Stannard. Stannard pulled off an incredible win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad against all odds, riding into the final kilometers outnumbered 3 to 1 by Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra, and Stijn Vandenburgh. Stannard took every punch the Etixx-Quick Step trio could throw in the final 10 kilometers, and yet, as the line came closer he dismantled the team one by one. After dropping Vandenburgh and gapping Boonen in a wild series of attacks by the two, it came down to a drag-race sprint, where Stannard out kicked Terpstra for his second Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory. ‘Stannard the great’ will be at the race on Sunday, keep your eyes peeled for the Sky rider, and watch the damage below.
Next up, we move on to call up the winner of the Strada Bianche, Zdenek Stybar. In a tell tale classic that saw race favorites Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan dropped in the last 20 kilometers, along with many others, we saw a quartet including Stybar, Vanmarcke, Valverde, and van Avermaet pushing on together. A hard attack from Greg van Avermaet put the now trio under pressure, and first to respond was Stybar, putting in a hard dig that began to crack the foundations of Valverde and Vanmarcke. Dropping Vanmarcke on a climb and sensationally accelerating toward van Avermaet with Valverde in the wheel, Stybar’s climbing during the Italian Classic, which showed best in the finale. When the kilometers to the finish decreased, the tension and nerves increased, and as the road narrowed into the finish, and the fans began to roar, the stage was set. Stybar came around van Avermaets hard sprint to the line, passing a cracked Valverde and powering to the line. Will he be the man on Sunday? We say to keep him in mind.
Third on the list, and definitely a man for the cobbles, is Giant-Alpecin’s John Degenkolb. Degenkolb survived and conquered an insanely action-packed finale at Milan-San Remo to take the win by far over the rest. Degenkolb sucessfully managed hard attacks as the riders ascended the final climb of the day, the poggio. Climbers like Vincenzo Nibali were being torched, yet the German Degenkolb rode through the storm lead by BMC and Sky on the climb. Coming into the final kilometer, Degenkolb positioned himself behind Katusha’s Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (also appearing on this list) and jumped with the classic head-banger sprint style. After nearly 300 kilometers, Degenkolb burst the cranks, taking the race by nearly a whole bike length. He was in the select group at Flanders last year, its best to keep him on your list for this year.
Though a not common name in the big classics races, we have Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise rider Jelle Wallays. Wallays found his first taste of victory in a classics style race at the Dwars door Vlaanderen, which is a key reason he is on our list. He didn’t just drop his early breakaway compatriots on the Eikenberg, he also founded his newly formed break including teammate Edward Theuns, Michal Kwiatkowski, Dylan Van Baarle, and was able to sprint each of his four-man break to take the victory. A remarkably strong performance is always what places a rider on the top step at Flanders, and winning the junior-Vlaanderen puts Wallays in a good spot, so add this Flandrien to your list.
Geraint Thomas has been generating a lot of noise in the last couple weeks, and he is certainly a marked man for Flanders. In the final kilometers of the E3 Harelbeke, a race where Thomas has finished on the podium twice before, there was no stopping the Sky rider. An incredibly hard attack in the final four kilometers burned away his breakaway members Peter Sagan and Zdenek Stybar. The attack saw the fastest 4,000 meters Geraint Thomas has ever put down, and simultaneously made Sagan explode with Stybar having to chase hard. The Welshman wouldn’t and couldn’t be denied. After several strong appearances in the classics this year, and in the finale at the following weeks Gent-Wevelgem, Geraint Thomas might be your best bet for the victory at the Tour of Flanders.
The most swaglicious man in cycling, complete with beard and air-attack lid, is Luca Paolini. The Gent-Wevelgem had a very Flanders like lineup, with several Flanders favorites in the race, but many wouldn’t have picked the Italian Paolini to take the win. Outsmarting a super-breakaway of Terpstra, Thomas, Vandenbergh, Debusschere, Vanmarcke, and Roelandts, Paolini attacked in the narrow twisting roads in Wevelgem and took advantage of the wet and windy conditions. As several of the favorites behind looked around, the victory was sealed for Paolini. The beard is suspected to give up watts, but its intimidation and style factor also strips the equivalent amount of power out of anyone that comes in contact – leaving statement “fear the beard.” Keep the man on your list, he could certainly repeat in Flanders.
Alexander Kristoff is the last on the list and without the last week, he would have been the least. Kristoff won three of four stages at Three Days of De Panne this week, out of a breakaway and two heads-down sprints. He also rode the ITT of his life, coming in third to Sky’s Bradley Wiggins, another favorite for Sunday. As a premier warm-up for Flanders, De Panne served as a heads up for all of us, Kristoff is here. Though he has come up short, and we aren’t sure if he will be holding on over the cobbles, we do know that if he is anywhere close to the finish, the victory is his.