Will Victor Campenaerts win the Tour of Flanders with a 58-tooth chainring?

The Belgian Hour champion has been using a time trial chainring for his Classics campaign - will it make the difference for him at 'De Ronde'?

Victor Campenaerts rides away from Tiesj Benoot at DDV 2022
(Image credit: Getty / Peter De Voecht)

As the current Hour record holder Victor Campenaerts (Lotto-Soudal) knows a thing or two about sustained efforts at high speed. And it appears that he’s now applying his successful approach against the clock to the road.

Currently in the midst of a full Spring Classics campaign, the Belgian rider has featured prominently thus far on his home roads, with top-10 finishes at both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Le Samyn. At yesterday’s Dwars Doors Vlaanderen he again animated the race, notably pulling clear from the lead group of five as he attacked on the descent of the Holstraat inside the final 10km. He'd previously attacked on the downhill after the Nokereberg with around 20km still to go.

Hitting 80kph he distanced a select group that included eventual race winner Mathieu van der Poel , TT specialist Stefan Küng, a red hot Tiesj Benoot and Tom Pidcock. It was Pidcock who attempted to close the gap on Campenaerts but to no avail. Only a shared effort from MVDP, Pidcock and Benoot prevented him from staying away, eventually extinguishing Campenaerts' flame with 4km to go.

So what trick did the Lotto-Soudal rider have up his sleeve, allowing him to gap such big hitters at a crucial stage in the race?

It turns out Campenaerts was using a 58-tooth chainring.

When compared to the 53t and 54t chainrings of his rivals it’s a veritable dinner plate, with the advantage of offering heavier resistance, which in turn translates into greater speed on the descents.

“I knew there could be a gap in that descent from Nokere,” he told Het Niewusblad after the race, where he eventually finished fourth behind Van der Poel, Benoot and Pidcock. “Nobody is as aerodynamic as me, nobody has such great resistance as me,” he continued. 

Utilising the lessons he’s learned from his time trial successes is clearly paying dividends in one-day races. Regarded as one of the most aerodynamic riders in the peloton, his painstaking approach to shaving seconds and saving watts encourages him to push hard on the descents, where the difference can be made. 

Alongside the large chainring, which he’s been riding all season, he uses particularly narrow bars with the shifter hoods angled sharply inwards that appears to allow him to lower his front end, thus reducing his CdA (coefficient of aerodynamic drag). The Flandrian, currently based in Antwerp, has always been comfortable embracing new ideas, riding TTs with no socks and a visor-less helmet after testing proved he was faster without both.

But technology alone won’t win races. Campenaerts combines his equipment and good legs with an instinctive reading of the race, even if it’s sometimes against team orders.

“That was against the wishes of Nikolas Maes,” he said of his attack in DDV. “My sports director had told me that I was only allowed to attack after Van der Poel had attacked twice, but nothing happened. I couldn't keep waiting,” he said. He also acknowledged his current form that saw him at the sharp end of the race when it mattered . “Well, if I had attacked the world hour record today, I would have broken it,” he said, “ but in the race you also have to be lucky.”

His competitors' reaction to his TT chainring ran the gamut. When Pidcock was asked about Campenaerts downhill attack in a post-race interview, he acknowledged that following him had proved problematic.

“Yeah, Mr Aero,” Pidcock said of Campenaerts on the descent of the Holstraat. “I was going full gas and he was just riding away from me. I don’t know if he was close to the motorbike but he was going down there.”

When told by the interviewer that the Belgian was using a 58t chainring, Pidcock looked somewhat relieved.

“Ah that’s why. I was on a 53.”

However, van der Poel was less surprised when asked about Campenaerts’ ability to gap the group on descents. “Whether I had the impression that he was spinning in a different gear? Yes, I already knew that," he said. “I spent two or three weeks in Spain with Campenaerts and he did the same to me a few times. It's a punishment what he does. It is almost impossible to follow him downhill.”

Next up for Campenaerts is the Tour of Flanders. Armed with a 58t chainring at de Ronde, perhaps an attack off the Paterberg allowing him to time trial the final 14km to victory isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem?

“Sunday is the Tour of Flanders, so maybe I can get a good result there. Let’s go for that,” he said after DDV. “Racing in Flanders is always exciting and I feel I have good legs and the shape to follow the best riders on the hills and we’ll see what it gives after 200km on Sunday.”

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Luke Friend has worked as a writer, editor and copywriter for over twenty years. Across books, magazines and websites, he's covered a broad range of topics for a range of clients including Major League Baseball, the National Trust and the NHS. He has an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University and is a qualified bicycle mechanic. He fell in love with cycling at an early age, partly due to watching the Tour de France on TV. He's a passionate follower of bike racing to this day as well an avid road and gravel rider.