Finally. After a forced corona break, the 104th Tour of Flanders is on Sunday. By scrapping Paris-Roubaix, the greatest Belgian classic is also the last Monument to be ridden. Three years after Philippe Gilbert, will we get another Belgian on the podium? That is the key question.
Start: 9.45 am in Antwerp on the Scheldt quays
Finish: expected from 3.30 pm in the Minderbroederstraat in Oudenaarde
Distance: 244 km
The course: 5 cobblestone sections, 17 slopes, but no Wall
The Tour of Flanders revisted will have five official cobble stones sections and there are also seventeen slopes on the agenda. The Kattenberg is the first after 101 km, the Paterberg the last after 230 km. After that, there are still fourteen kilometers to bridge to the Minderbroederstraat in Oudenaarde. The only big difference with last year is that the Muur van Geraardsbergen is not included this time.
The weather is announcing itself as relatively mild for the time of year. It remains dry, it becomes a maximum of 12 degrees and the westerly wind that occasionally comes from the northwest is only 2 Beaufort strong. That is slightly more than what was announced a few days ago. Better weather can mean a faster Tour of Flanders.
The favorites: Van Aert on first, world champion has less star
Three years after Philippe Gilbert, will we get another Belgian on the podium? For this we look in the first place at Wout van Aert, and also towards Oliver Naesen, Sep Vanmarcke, Yves Lampaert, Dylan Teuns and last but not least, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Jasper Stuyven.
After Gent-Wevelgem, there is only one favorite: Wout van Aert, last Sunday’s best man who was caught in Flanders Fields and only bought eighth place for all his efforts. The man of this corona season starts his third Tour of Flanders. Two years ago he made his debut with ninth place, last year he finished fourteenth but was in the group that sprinted for third place.
With Tour debutant Julian Alaphilippe, eternal rival Mathieu van der Poel and the winner of Gent-Wevelgem, Mads Pedersen, he has three tough competitors on paper that we find slightly less favorite than the winner of the Strade Bianche, Milan-Sanremo, two Tour stages and holder of the silver at the World Championship time trial and on the road in Imola.
The key moments: last loop Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg
The key moments of the Tour? That is a difficult question. Especially the last thirty kilometers there are plenty of opportunities to make a difference. Then the peloton will have to deal with the Steenbeekdries (204 km), the Taaienberg (207 km), the Kruisberg (via the Oudestraat, 217 km) and the last loop Oude Kwaremont (227 km) plus Paterberg (230 km). The Kruisberg-Hotond combination has often been a crease zone in recent years.
Those who are in the front after the last loop Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg can start dreaming of a victory in the Tour of Flanders, but between dream and reality lie fourteen exciting kilometers that – just ask the absent Sagan or Niki Terpstra – give the feeling at the end. that they are endlessly long.
That’s how it was last year: Bettiol with the solo of his life
Alberto Bettiol was the big surprise of the 103rd Tour of Flanders. For the then 25-year-old Tuscan, it was his first ever professional victory. The Italian from EF Education First flew away in the last loop on the cobblestones of the Oude Kwaremont and rushed alone to Oudenaarde, where he took off his glasses to make his face recognizable. With Kasper Asgreen from Deceuninck – Quick-Step, a Danish talent, also unknown to the outside world, came second in a separate step.
Ex-winner Alexander Kristoff of UAE Emirates, who had won Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields a week earlier, came third in the group sprint at 17 seconds from Bettiol, ahead of Mathieu van der Poel. The Dutchman rode a hell of a race in his very first Tour of Flanders. He fell in the run-up to the second passage on the Oude Kwaremont and came back in no time and helped to animate a Tour of Flanders in which Oliver Naesen became first Belgian with seventh place. Tiesj Benoot finished ninth and Greg Van Avermaet finished tenth this time.
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