With its of more than 270 kilometres in combination with the relentless onslaught of (cobbled) climbs, the Tour of Flanders is a war of attrition if there ever was one. Virtually all ‘hellingen’ are situated in the second half of the race, while the Oude Kwaremont/Paterberg combo present the last obstacles inside the last 20 kilometres. After the Paterberg there are 13.2 kilometres left. On the flat.
Tadej Pogacar will want to get rid off any companions before the Paterberg. In the recent E3 Saxo Classic – nicknamed the little Tour of Flanders – he prevailed with Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel. But when it came down to a three-up sprint he was not able to match the sheer sprinting power of those two. Eventually Van Aert took the spoils, although he was the lesser rider in the climbs.
Usually, the decisive move in the Tour of Flanders happens inside the last 50 kilometres. Philippe Gilbert tops the list of long-range attacks in the last decade. In 2017, the now retired Walloon rode alone for more than 50 kilometres before winning the race in heroic style. Other solo winners are Peter Sagan (2016, attack on the Paterberg), Niki Terpstra (2018, attacks on Kruisberg/Hotond) and Alberto Bettiol (2019, attack on Oude Kwaremont).
Two-up sprints are more common in recent editions. Three years ago Mathieu van der Poel outsprinted Wout van Aert and the Dutchman was pipped by Kasper Asgreen in the following edition. Arguably, last year’s race came down to a sprint-à-deux also…
Tadej Pogacar and Mathieu van der Poel were taking turns at the front after the Paterberg. They played it well, that is, until the 200 metres. Pogacar kept sitting in the wheels of Van der Poel, reluctant to make a move, and then Dylan van Baarle and Valentin Madouas materialised out of thin air. Van der Poel kicked at that very moment, Pogacar was boxed in, and the two-up sprint suddenly became a four-up sprint with Van der Poel taking his second win in three editions.
Wout van Aert will return to De Ronde after a one year’s absence. Last year, his world came down when he tested positive for COVID-19 two days before the race. So his moral will be extra high, especially after his brilliant performances in the E3 and Gent-Wevelgem, in which he gifted the victory to his team mate Christophe Laporte.
The Flemish classics of this season were won by Van Baarle (Omloop Het Nieuwsblad), Benoot (Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne), Philipsen (Brugge-De Panne), Van Aert (E3 Saxo Classic) and Laporte (Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen), while Mathieu van der Poel (Milan-Sanremo) and Tom Pidcock (Strade Bianche) were successful in the Italian Classics.
Favourites 2023 Tour of Flanders
***** Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogacar, Mathieu van der Poel
**** Tiesj Benoot, Søren Kragh Andersen, Matej Mohoric, Tom Pidcock
*** Neilson Powless, Kasper Asgreen, Valentin Madouas, Christophe Laporte
** Stefan Küng, Julian Alaphilippe, Tim Wellens, Jasper Stuyven, Matteo Jorgenson
* Mads Pedersen, Michael Matthews, Dylan Teuns, Iván García, Sep Vanmarcke, Magnus Sheffield