Tom Boonen is the Belgian favourite, if not outright favourite, to win Tour of Flanders on Sunday (April 4) in Belgium. But other Belgian favourites are standing in the wings and waiting to pounce on Boonen for the biggest race north of the Flanders/Wallonia divide.
Boonen is prepared for the fight to take his third Tour of Flanders win. He said yesterday, "I am not afraid of anyone."
He has the experience to back up his words, ruling the race in 2005 and 2006. In the last two years, he has taken the hard-man's classic over the border in France, Paris-Roubaix, after helping team-mate Stijn Devolder win Flanders.
"I am a favourite, yes, and that means I have done my work over the winter," he continued.
Boonen and Devolder once again share captain status at Quick Step heading into the 262-kilometre race. Boonen said he will support Devolder, despite the press reporting a fraction between the two Belgians.
"He's won it twice already and he can do it again," Boonen said. "If he attacks I will work for him, following the wheels of those who chase. I am not the only one in this team who has the right to win."
"There is no rivalry between us," Devolder added, "he helped me two years in a row to win Flanders and I would be more than happy to lose to him."
Nick Nuyens, Leif Hoste and Philippe Gilbert, from Wallonia, are the other Belgians poised to win. Gilbert ended last season red-hot, taking Paris-Tours and the Tour of Lombardy.
"He is not the same at the end of last season," Boonen continued. "Also, if he wants to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège [in three weeks] then he can't be in top form now."
"I am not a top favourite," admitted Gilbert. "That right is reserved for Boonen, [Fabian] Cancellara and [Matti] Breschel. However, the Tour of Flanders is more than just about being in top shape physically, there is also a tactical aspect that allows for some opportunities."
Gilbert's Omega Pharma team-mate, Hoste, has finished second three times in Flanders, but never on the top podium step. He suffered from a light hernia at the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy, which delayed his training.
"I spent the day in bed Last Friday with the flu and a stomach bug, but I started in E3 Prijs [Saturday]. I lost five kilograms in three days," said Hoste.
"I am not the favourite for Ronde. I will help Philippe and then it will be my turn will come in Paris-Roubaix."
Nuyens looks just as unlikely to win as Hoste. Team Rabobank's leader crashed twice Saturday at the E3 Prijs, destroying his morale.
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