Tour of Flanders Preview
The 2015 Tour of Flanders will be 264.2 km long. Finishing, much less winning, will be survival of the fittest. The rugged ride from Bruges to Oudenaarde will feature six cobbled sections and 19 climbs, among which will be three ascents of the Oude Kwaremont and two each of the Paterberg and Koppenberg. In particular, the final 55 km will be grueling. Only the strong will survive.
The race’s first 87 km will be flat. The flatness will end when the riders reach the Tiegenberg. After that, they will take on the Kortekeer, Oude Kwaremont, Eikenberg, Wolvenberg, Molenberg, Leberg, Berendries, Kaperij, and Kanarieberg.
With 55 km remaining, the race’s denouement will begin. The riders will tackle the Oude Kwaremont for the second time, followed in rapid succession by the Paterberg, Koppenberg, Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg, Kruisberg, the third climb of the Oude Kwaremont and the second of the Paterberg. From the summit of the Paterberg, the winner or the winning move will have 13.2 km to ride to the finish.
Who will win the Tour of Flanders? With Fabian Cancellara (Trek) and Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick Step) not starting the race because of crash injuries, the 2015 Tour of Flanders is more open than recent editions have been. Based on form or recent performance, a number of riders could win. Two go to the head of the class. The first is Geraint Thomas (Sky). The Welshman has grown as a rider since devoting himself full-time to road racing. In 2014, the Sky man finished third at E3 Harelbeke, seventh at Paris-Roubaix, and eighth at the Tour of Flanders. This season, Thomas has finished fifth at Paris-Nice, third at Gent-Wevelgem, and first at E3 Harelbeke. He has experience, form, and confidence. He will surprise no one if he wins.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) had a breakout season last year. He won Milan-San Remo and two stages of the Tour de France and finished fifth at the Tour of Flanders. This season, the Norwegian has won the overall and three stages at Three Days of De Panne, along with stages of the Tour of Oman, Paris-Nice, and the Tour of Qatar. In addition, the Katusha man finished a close second at Milan-San Remo, fourth at E3 Harelbeke, second at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and ninth at Gent-Wevelgem. Kristoff has the form to win and a sprint that he can unleash after 264 km. If the race comes down to a sprint, Kristoff will be hard to beat.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) is under pressure to win, but he appears to lack form. In 2013, the Slovak won Gent-Wevelgem and finished second at the Tour of Flanders. Last year, he won E3 Harelbeke. This year, Sagan has won a stage of Tirreno-Adriatico and finished fourth at Milan-San Remo and 10th at Gent-Wevelgem. At E3 Harelbeke, he dropped off the pace in the final kilometers and finished 30th. Sagan’s recent results do not suggest that he will win.
Etixx-Quick Step has two cards to play. The first is Zdenek Stybar. In 2015, the Czech has won Strade Bianche and finished second at E3 Harelbeke and seventh at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Stybar can sprint well in a small group and will be a threat to win should he wind up in such a group.
The Belgian squad’s other card is Niki Terpstra. Last year, the Dutchman won the biggest victory of his career at Paris-Roubaix. In 2012 and 2014, he finished sixth at the Tour of Flanders. This season, Terpstra has finished second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Gent-Wevelgem. While not a five-star favorite, Terpstra is an experienced classics hard man who cannot be overlooked.
Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) is an up-and-coming classics rider who finished second to Cancellara at Paris-Roubaix in 2013. Last year, the Belgian finished third at the Tour of Flanders and notched four other top five finishes in classics. In 2015, the LottoNL-Jumbo man has finished fourth at Strade Bianche, fifth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Harelbeke, and sixth at Gent-Wevelgem. Vanmarcke has knocked on success’s door for some time, and it might open for him tomorrow.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) is another rider who is due or overdue for a major classics success. The BMC man won Dwars door Vlaanderen in 2012 and 2014, and he finished sixth at the Tour of Flanders in 2012 and 2014. This season, the Belgian has won a stage of Tirreno-Adriatico and finished second at Strade Bianche, fifth overall at the Tour of Qatar, and sixth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Despite his talent, Van Avermaet’s recent results have him pegged as a dark horse.
In 2014, John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) won Gent Wevelgem and finished second at Paris-Roubaix. This season, he has won Milan-San Remo. The German says that he is a few years from winning the Tour of Flanders, but his emergence as a classics star means that he cannot be ruled out. Do not be surprised to see him in the lead group on the second ascent of the Paterberg. If he is, anything is possible.
Stijn Devolder (Trek) has won the Tour of Flanders twice (2008 and 2009), but both victories occurred with Quick Step, when Tom Boonen could be an expensive decoy. Devolder has moved to Trek, and 2008 and 2009 are a seeming eon ago. Devolder finished second to Kristoff at this year’s Three Days of De Panne, but expecting him to score a third Tour of Flanders victory is asking a bit much.
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