The Tour of Flanders takes place on Sunday (April 6), the biggest Flemish race of the year and the second of the five great cycling monuments.
Along with the following weekend’s Paris-Roubaix, Flanders always attracts a top-class field of riders in the peak of form.
Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen have won five of the past 10 editions of the race, and are still highly ranked among the favourites. Can someone else stand on the top step this year? There are certainly some strong candidates…
Fabian Cancellara, Trek
Cancellara may be without a win all season, but his rides in recent weeks suggest that he is close to the imperious form he is displayed to win the Ronde in 2010 and 2013. The Swiss rider looked extraordinarily strong as he worked his way up the field in the E3 Harelbeke after suffering a mechanical at a crucial moment, and if he avoids similar bad luck on Sunday, he will be the man to beat.
Peter Sagan, Cannondale
The Slovak has become so good he’s starting winning races even when he doesn’t intend to, as was the case in the first stage of the Three Days of De Panne, where he delivered a lead out so fast that designated sprinter Oscar Gatto could not pass him. He has found it harder to pull off the bigger races, though his win last week in the E3 Harelbeke suggests Cancellara may have a harder time dropping him than he did last year.
Sep Vanmarcke, Belkin
Vanmarcke looks like the next big thing in Belgian cycling, although he may still be a little way off winning a monument. With top five finishes in all four classics he’s competed in this season, no rider can match the 25-year-old for consistency this season. Another top five beckons on Sunday.
Tom Boonen, Omega Pharma-QuickStep
With personal tragedy and physical injury marring his run-in, it looks a tall order for Boonen to win a record breaking fourth Tour of Flanders this year. But Tommeke has overcome adverse circumstances in the past, and only a fool would write him off.
Niki Terpstra, Omega Pharma-QuickStep
If Boonen isn’t in top shape, one of his many strong team-mates could have a chance to go for personal glory. Terpstra looks the best of the lot this year, having won Dwars door Vlaanderen with a Cancellara-esque solo attack, and ought to be heavily marked by other teams.
Geraint Thomas, Sky
Following the injury-related withdrawal of Ian Stannard, Thomas is Britain and Sky’s best hope for glory on Sunday. His vast potential has been checked in recent years by a series of badly-timed crashes, and yet another forced him to abandon Paris-Nice when lying in second place. But a podium finish in the E3 Harelbeke suggests he has recovered, and a high placing on Sunday is likely should he avoid falling. Will now be joined by Bradley Wiggins on Sky’s roster for the race.
John Degenkolb, Giant-Shimano
Only Alejandro Valverde and Andre Grepiel have won more races than Degenkolb this year, and he displayed an affinity for cobblestones in his victory at Ghent-Wevelgem. To win in Flanders, however, he’ll probably need the race to end in a large sprint, which is a very uncommon occurrence.
Stijn Devolder, Trek
With only one win in over three years, the 34-year old is a long shot for the win, but he has shown his best form for years over the past few weeks. He has pedigree, having won the Ronde back in 2008 and 2009 working as a decoy for teammate Boonen, and should he be used in a similar way by current team-mate Cancellara, could have the legs to pull off another surprise victory.
Bradley Wiggins added to Team Sky's roster for Sunday's Tour of Flanders
Belkin's Sep Vanmarcke is now ranked by bookies just behind Cancellara, Sagan and Boonen for Sunday's Tour of Flanders