Who will win the Tour of Flanders?

Who’s going to win the Tour of Flanders on Sunday?

The team at Cycling Weekly spent last night getting in the Flandrian mood. Over a glass of Leffe and a steak, we combined our expertise, analysed the recent form and argued a bit.

Not for us a lengthy list of possibles and probables. Instead, we’ve stuck our necks on the block and have attempted to predict the top 10. Foolish, we know, but hopefully it will put all the pre-race chatter and excitement into some kind of context.

Of course, the top ten of any big Classic isn’t necessarily packed with all the pre-race favourites. Some will fall by the wayside on the cobbled bergs on Sunday, making way for some less-fancied riders to come to the fore. So, not only have we attempted to predict the winner, but we’ve used our crystal ball to see who the emerging names are going to be. We must be mad.

Whether you’re travelling to Belgium to sample the atmosphere (hot frites, beer and cigarette smoke mostly) or watching at home on television, enjoy the race. Hopefully it’ll be one of the greats.

Switzerland / Saxo Bank / Age 29
Best Tour of Flanders 6th in 2006
Form Last year Cancellara cut a slightly bemused figure as he walked up the Koppenberg wheeling his bike with the remains of its chain in his hand. The chain had snapped as he hit the climb. Race over. You can make a case for arguing that Paris-Roubaix represents a better chance for the Swiss rider than Flanders, but that was until we saw him win the E3 at Harelbeke. He was stronger than either Boonen or Flecha, and cleverer too. When on the front, Cancellara has an instinct for finding the quickest line round a corner or across a roundabout that opens a gap and forces those behind him to expend energy without realising they’re doing it. Added up over the final third of a big race it can be a significant advantage. He also has one of the serious dark horses, Matti Breschel, as a team-mate. And, unlike their rivals at Quick Step, the Saxo Bank duo have not spent the past couple of weeks squabbling.

Belgium / Quick Step / Age 29
Best Tour of Flanders 1st in 2005 and 2006
Form Boonen is enjoying his best spring for a while. The past couple of years, he has been marked out of the Tour of Flanders, allowing his team-mate Stijn Devolder to win. Of course, neither campaign was a disaster because he won Paris-Roubaix both years. However, Flanders requires more punch to win, especially if you’re closely watched. This year, Boonen has begun very well. Second place at Milan-San Remo and then the Grand Prix E3 show he is coming to the boil. The question is whether there’s any harmony in the Quick Step ranks. We can’t see him being happy if Devolder rides away from everyone again.

Belgium / Omega Pharma / Age 27
Best Tour of Flanders 3rd in 2009
Form About to hit a big peak, we feel. Looked lively at the end of Milan-San Remo, then finished third at Ghent-Wevelgem last week. For a long while we felt the races of his native Ardennes, such as Liège-Bastogne-Liège, would suit him better, but he seems more at home on the cobbles. His team-mate Leif Hoste may not have much in the way of form but he’s an experienced man to have alongside him.

Spain / Team Sky / Age 32
Best Tour of Flanders 3rd in 2008
Form With Edvald Boasson Hagen missing the race because of injury, Flecha’s status as Team Sky’s number one is undisputed. Is as strong as an ox on the flat, as he showed at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. At the Grand Prix E3 last week he did less work in the break with Cancellara, Boonen but made a tactical error by taking up the chase when the Swiss rider attacked, instead of waiting for Boonen to close the gap. His other problem is that in a small group, he is almost always the man with the weakest sprint.

Denmark / Saxo Bank / Age 25
Best Tour of Flanders 6th in 2009
Form A seriously dangerous rider. If everyone watches Cancellara, they could allow Breschel to ‘do a Devolder’ and get away, either in a small group or alone. Was very impressive when winning the Dwars Door Vlaanderen recently, a race where Cancellara did a lot of work to set up the attack. Will no doubt repay the favour by working hard on Sunday, but has great form in his own right. As a duo, Cancellara and Breschel look stronger and happier to collaborate than Boonen and Devolder. And that could be the key.

Netherlands / Garmin-Transitions / Age 26
Best Tour of Flanders 4th in 2009
Form Has been a little quiet compare to last spring but he’s Garmin’s man. He has the back-up of David Millar, who is in superb form after winning the Three Days of De Panne, and Jurgen Vansummeren.

Austria / HTC-Columbia / Age 29
Best Tour of Flanders 11th in 2008
Form HTC-Columbia’s best hope is the Austrian who won Ghent-Wevelgem last weekend. The question is, can he back up one great performance with another? More likely to be in the second group on the road in the final stages at Flanders than right up at the front, nevertheless, if he arrives at the finish in a group he’s got a great sprint, giving him a good chance of a high placing.

Belgium / Quick Step / Age 30
Best Tour of Flanders 1st in 2008 and 2009
Form It’s difficult to judge whether Patrick Lefevere is playing mind games by criticising Devolder publicly. The winner for the past two years has not had a great start to the season, admittedly, but he cannot be discounted. It’s unlikely he’ll become the first Belgian to win the Ronde three years in a row because no one will fall for the same trick again. Will they?

Italy / Liquigas / Age 23
Best Tour of Flanders 100th in 2009
Form We can hear you say: Daniel Who? The Italian youngster was fifth at Ghent-Wevelgem last week, one of a handful of Liquigas riders who were in the thick of the action. The boys in lime green are going to be active in this race, whether with Manuel Quinziato or Aleksandr Kuschynski or Frederik Willems. But we’ve gone for Oss to be the surprise of the race.

Slovenia / Lampre / Age 23
Best Tour of Flanders 9th in 2008
Form So, Filippo Pozzato really was unwell and is due to return to Italy. Which means we’ve promoted Simon Spilak to tenth place.

Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana), Leif Hoste (Omega Pharma), Marcus Burghardt, Alessandro Ballan, George Hincapie (all BMC), Thor Hushovd (Cervélo), Stijn Vandenbergh (Katusha)

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