The 93rd Tour of Flanders race preview
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Friday, April 3, 2009

The 93rd Tour of Flanders race preview

by Steve Jones at 4:56 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics

Belgium's biggest bike race, the Tour of Flanders, is slated to take place this Sunday April 5th. This is the Superbowl of bike racing for any team that focuses on the Spring Classics, and even more so if you happen to be a Belgian team.

The two teams with the most pressure for the top slot this Sunday are Quick-Step and Silence-Lotto. Of the two, the team with the most to lose will be Silence-Lotto, who have been notably absent in the win category during the semi-classics build-up. They will be looking for Leif Hoste and Philippe Gilbert to get the team on track for Paris-Roubaix the following week. The team's last win in Flanders was six years ago as Lotto-Domo with Belgian Peter Van Petegem also taking the honors at Paris-Roubaix, one of the few riders in history to accomplish the "Flanders-Roubaix Classics Double".

Team Quick-Step are the easily the strongest team the race with their leader and two-time winner Tom Boonen (2005 and 2006), last years victor Stijn Devolder, and new addition Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel all showing incredible form during the Spring build-up. "This week I've finished conditioning in the run up to the Ronde Van Vlaanderen," said Boonen. "I feel like I expected to feel. The weather forecast for Sunday is good. With rain the race becomes harder but it is easier to make a selection, while with sun the competition remains wide open."

Despite having some key players injured, the Quick-Step domestiques have also put in some great performances with Kevin Van Impe winning Dwars door Vlaanderen and Jérôme Pineau coming in second place in the Brabantse Pijl.

"For me the Ronde has been a dream since I was a kid," explains Devolder. "And last year this dream became a reality. I’m going to do all that I can to put the team in the best position to win. The success of the team is what really matters. This week at the Driedaagse van de Panne I raced to complete my conditioning as I looked forward to Sunday. I’m relaxed and extremely motivated, and I expect to do well."

Even with the Quick-Step contingent having an edge, there have been a lot of other teams with impressive showings that won't roll over and let the Belgian outfit simply ride away with the win.

Team Rabobank has seen a lot of action in the early season, but with the absence of Spaniard Oscar Freire they haven't managed a victory having no sprint threat. Even so, you can bet the Ronde won't end up in a sprint, and the way their team has shaped some of the early races you can count on the likes of Juan Antonio Flecha, Nick Nuyens, Joost Posthuma, and Sebastian Langeveld to collectively make their mark.

Also showing good team form are the Team Columbia - High Road riders with Bernard Eisel, Marcus Burghardt, and George Hincapie set to take their shot. Hincapie is on good form and will be hoping for a good performance to give him confidence in Paris-Roubaix on Easter Sunday.

Of the teams that are not built for the classics, there are a couple of riders that could steal the show from the big teams if they play their cards right.

Fillipo Pozzato from team Katusha is number one in the lone rider favorites category. The Italian has already shown Tom Boonen a clean pair of wheels in E3-Prijs Harelbeke and won impressively in the first stage of the Driedaagse De Panne. Had it not been for a crash on the last road stage, Pozzato would have taken the overall.

Frederiek Willems was the benefactor of Pozzato's misfortune in Driedaagse De Panne, but with some strong performances as of late, it was no fluke that the Liquigas rider was in position to capitalize on the Italian's misfortune.

Cervélo TestTeam's Heinrich Haussler, aside from the last two weeks, has been impressive all season. If he has purposely tapered his form down to peak for Flanders he could very well be a wildcard for the race. The other question is if his TestTeam has more surprises in store and will make as showing to back him up. They also have a newcomer to the European peloton in Dominique Rollin, who is a big man that also has the engine to get himself over the hills.  Rollin was looking particularly strong last weekend.

Niki Terpstra for Milram will be looking to make the front group on Sunday, and will hope to have former Paris-Roubaix winner Servais Knaven to help guide him through.

Garmin Slipstream's Martijn Maaskant is a big question mark this year, and missing Magnus Backstedt won't help matters. Svein Tuft could prove to be a classics man in his Flanders debut, and give Maaskant the help he needs. The tough Canadian rider earned a spot on the team this year with his proven toughness and consistency on the North American circuit. Tyler Farrar will have a chance to show what he's made of, but will likely have a better chance to come out and play in Roubaix next weekend.

Regardless of the outcome, you can be sure the 261.5km race with it's 16 climbs will live up to it's "Superbowl" status.


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