2010 Tour of Flanders Preview: Punishment on the Pavé
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Saturday, April 03, 2010

2010 Tour of Flanders Preview: Punishment on the Pavé

by Steve Jones at 8:20 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Tour of Flanders
 

This Sunday’s Tour of Flanders will mark the second Classic of the 2010 season and, like Milan-Sanremo, the list of possible winners is long and distinguished. This year’s course offers up some changes from last year’s edition, namely the omission of the Eikenmolen climb, the launching pad used by Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) for his successive victories in 2008 and 2009. This year will see the peloton take in 15 short, steep climbs referred to as 'hellingen', over the 262 kilometer route. Legendary cobbled climbs like the Oude-Kwaremont, the Koppenberg, the Tenbosse and the Muur create a formidable journey across the Flemish countryside which ensures that only a worthy race winner will emerge.

Not unlike La Primavera, Belgian Tom Boonen will start the day as the number one favorite, although this time the battle will be on home soil, and his Quick Step squad will also start with the strongest team. Last year Boonen was in the same position, but the tactics allowed his teammate Devolder to take an opportunistic win. It was Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) who neutralized Boonen by shadowing him in 2009, but a bout with the flu will see the Italian miss the start. Devolder has ridden anonymously so far this season, but has said he’ll be ready to defend his title. With his track record, he isn’t someone that can be ignored.

The Quick Step team will also have Sylvain Chavanel, who rode impressively throughout the spring last year, but has yet to pull off a result for 2010. The Frenchman said earlier this week that his form is coming along and he’ll be ready for the test this Sunday.

Rival Belgian team Omega Pharma-Lotto will have the duo of Philippe Gilbert and Leif Hoste to challenge. Gilbert will lead the team for the Ronde, and with strong performances in Gent-Wevelgem and the Three Days of De Panne in the past week, he looks to have timed his form well. Hoste has been sick over the past week, telling the press that he’s spent more time sitting on the toilet than on his bike. However he’s twice been runner-up in the event, so if he’s sufficiently recovered, he could be a big factor in the team’s performance.

The biggest threat to a Belgian victory is likely to come from the Saxo Bank team and their leaders Fabian Cancellara and Matti Breschel. Both riders took convincing wins recently, Breschel was first with a 20 kilometer solo move in Dwars door Vlaanderen, and then Cancellara, with a combination of power and savvy that left his fellow breakaways Boonen and Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) to fight out the two lesser steps on the podium of the E3 Prijs.

They will also have an experienced team behind them that includes former Paris-Roubaix winner Stuart O’Grady, Frank Hoj and Gustav Larsson.

Rabobank will enter the day with one of the strongest squads collectively, but is missing a leader to rally around. Belgian Nick Nuyens showed promise in Het Nieuwsblad, but three flat tires deflated his chance for a result. He has seen more pavement than shown promise over the past week, but if he can pull himself together and keep the rubber side down, he might put himself in with a chance for a solid result.

The Dutch trio of Lars Boom, Sebastian Langeveld and Joost Posthuma have all shown the potential to ride to a big win, but to do so they’ll have to rid themselves of the race favorites. Their compatriot Rick Flens showed strength with his ride to second place in an epic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne at the end of February, so his presence in an early break could be a good option.

Sunday will mark the second monument for the new British Team Sky, only this time the race will take place in senior sports director Scott Sunderland’s old stomping grounds. Having already won the Belgian season opener Het Nieuwsblad with Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha, their motivation and experience in the cobbled classics shouldn’t be underestimated. This time they will be without Edvald Boasson Hagen due to an Achilles tendon problem, but will have a solid core with Kurt-Asle Arvesen, Matthew Haymen and Ian Stannard. Stannard, at 22, is a bit young to pull off a big result in Flanders, but with his ride in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne earlier this year showed that he has what it takes to help his team.

BMC Racing will be led by 2007 race winner Alessandro Ballan, who will be surrounded by US national champion George Hincapie, Marcus Burghardt and Karsten Kroon.  The quartet has a wealth of experience and horsepower behind them, which will serve them well if they have the form to back it up.  Ballan says he’s fit and ready to go for his second win in the race, while last weekend in Gent-Wevelgem Hincapie showed that his preparation was right on track for good rides in both Flanders and Roubaix.
 

There are many other challengers for this weekend’s Ronde capable of pulling off a surprise result.  Among the list are Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam) who has had a late start this year due to illness, Gent-Wevelgem winner Bernhard Eisel (HTC-Columbia), the strong Astana trio of Enrico Gasparotto, Andriy Grivko and Maxim Iglinskiy, as well as the Liquigas threesome of Daniele Bennati, Daniel Oss and Manuel Quinziato.  Wildcards such as Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil), Simon Spilak ( Lampre-Farnese Vini), David Millar and Martijn Maaskant from Garmin-Transitions could also find themselves at the top end of the results.  The x-factor could be the momentum that has shown a resurgence in French cycling, which Chavanel is a part of, as well as the strong Bbox Bouygues Telecom team led by Thomas Voeckler and Three Days of De Panne stage winners Steve Chainel and Sébastien Turgot.

With a fifty percent chance of rain and 20kph winds expected for Sunday, this year’s Tour of Flanders has the potential to play out as most feel a northern Classic should – in bad weather. The peloton is expected to stay together until the last 70 kilometers of the race where, beginning with the Koppenberg, the onslaught of climbs will work to separate the pretenders from the contenders. The quick succession of the Taaienberg (km197) and the Eikenberg (km202) could provide the venue for the first big attacks to take place, with the Muur being the last major obstacle situated just 16 kilometers from the finish.

The Ronde van Vlaanderen is Belgium’s biggest bike race, and for many, especially Belgian teams like Quick Step and Omega Pharma-Lotto, a win here would mean a successful season. With the cycling-centric country still yet to have one of their heroes get a win at home this year, they will no doubt have extra motivation for Sunday’s monument.

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The climbs in the 2010 Ronde van Vlaanderen, with kilometers (first number in parentheses is length of climb):

1 Den Ast km131 (450m - avg 5.7%)
2 Kluisberg km165 (1800m - avg 6.3% - max 14%)
3 Knokteberg km172 (1100m - avg 8% - max 13%)
4 Oude-Kwaremont km179 (2200m - avg 4% - max 11,6% - 1500m cobbles )
5 Paterberg km183 ( 360m - avg 12,9% - max 20,3% - 360m cobbles)
6 Koppenberg km189 (600m - avg 11,6 % - max 22 % - 600m cobbles)
7 Steenbeekdries km195 (700m - avg 5,3% - max 6,7% - 700m cobbles)
8 Taaienberg km197 (530m - avg 6,6% - max 15.8% - 520m cobbles)
9 Eikenberg km202 (1100m - avg 6,2% - max 10% - 1000m cobbles)
10 Molenberg km217 (463m - avg 7% - max 14,2% - 300m cobbles)
11 Leberg km224 (950m - avg 4,2% - max 13,8% )
12 Berendries km229 (940m - avg 7% - max 12,3%)
13 Tenbosse km236 (450m - avg 6,9% - max 8,7%)
14 Muur - Kapelmuur km246 (475m - avg 9,3% - max 19.8% - 475m cobbles)
15 Bosberg km250 (980m - avg 5,8% - max 11% - 400m cobbles)

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