Before the 107th edition of the Tour of Flanders gets underway, three names have been on everyone's lips as the potential winners of this year’s Ronde van Vlaanderen.
Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar.
The same trio looked head and shoulders above the rest of the field at the recent E3 Saxo Classic won by Van Aert, but that doesn’t mean that someone can’t burst from the pack to spring a major surprise in the outskirts of Oudenaarde on Sunday.
As previous editions have taught us, the Tour of Flanders can be a chaotic race, where things don’t quite go as planned. The route and cobbled Bergs occasionally throw up late twists, and sometimes things go right down to the wire as we saw last year.
Ahead of the action, Cycling Weekly has already looked at the five men’s and women’s favourites for the win.
Here are five potential dark horses for the men’s title this weekend.
Søren Kragh Andersen (Alpecin-Deceuninck)
Similarly to Christophe Laporte at Jumbo, Kragh Andersen is the not so secret weapon at Alpecin-Deceuninck, and will provide an excellent foil to Mathieu van der Poel when things get going on Sunday.
While he’s yet to win a major Classic, the Danish rider has consistently been a threat in some of cycling’s major one-day races, including at the past three editions of Milan-San Remo where he’s achieved three consecutive top ten finishes. After finishing fifth in San Remo a few weeks ago, Kragh Andersen managed ninth at the E3 Saxo Classic, before a crash took him out of contention at Gent-Wevelgem.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, the Dane referred to himself as a major “dark horse” for Flanders, and he has past form to back that up. Kragh Andersen won two stages of the 2020 Tour de France, launching powerful long range attacks from a breakaway which nobody could answer.
If Van der Poel is unable to separate himself from Van Aert and Pogačar on Sunday, expect Kragh Andersen to launch a last-gasp move as Alpecin looks to ensure glory at all costs.
Neilson Powless (EF Education-Easy Post)
America’s Neilson Powless is fast becoming a one day specialist, and has sneaked two top eight finishes in major Monuments in recent years.
Earlier this week he was in the thick of the action during his debut on the Belgian cobbles, taking third at Dwars door Vlaanderen behind a rampaging Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma). Combining Wednesday's result with seventh at Milan-San Remo suggests the form is there.
Former Flanders winner Alberto Bettiol, Mikkel Honoré and Owain Doull will also provide the American with plenty of firepower to keep him in position over the various Bergs along the route, and in contention with the trio of favourites.
If Powless gets the jump on the final ascent of the Paterberg, he could spring a big surprise in the Jumbo-Visma, UAE Team Emirates and Alpecin-Deceuninck camps in Oudenaarde.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious)
Labelling Matej Mohorič as an outsider for Flanders may seem surprising, although the Slovenian is yet to find the form this spring that saw him win Milan-San Remo last year.
The Slovenian has managed some solid results in the Classics this year, but has only managed to break into the top three on one occasion at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Nevertheless, Mohorič has the raw power and strength needed to get over the cobbled climbs that feature in Flanders, and if everything goes to plan, he could well be in contention in the finale.
His best result at Flanders to date is 21st, but if anyone is going to catch out the trio of pre-race favourites, then it's him.
Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal Quick-Step)
Just like the rest of his Soudal Quick-Step team, Julian Alaphilippe has massively struggled for form this spring, and hasn’t managed to hit his past level which saw him become world champion on two separate occasions.
The Frenchman started in style by winning the Faun-Ardèche Classic, although was unable to kick on from that point. 43rd at Strade Bianche was a huge disappointment, but 11th at Milan-San Remo was a slight progression in form. Throughout recent months, the huge weight of expectation at Quick-Step won’t have helped Alaphilippe, and he’s also had to deal with regular public criticism from Patrick Lefevere.
Philippe Gilbert, a former Monument winner in the Belgian team’s colours even recently suggested that Alaphilippe could benefit from a move elsewhere to recapture his race winning form.
With all of his doubters circling, Alaphilippe may well come out swinging on Sunday, and look to silence those around him. After his crash when in a race-winning position a few years ago, Alaphilippe has a score to settle with Flanders.
It would be quite something if he was to return to form by winning ‘De Ronde’ on Sunday.
Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo)
Pedersen and his fellow teammate and Classics star Jasper Stuyven are just two riders who have suffered at the hand of Jumbo-Visma this spring.
Although Pedersen in particular is one rider who the likes of Van der Poel will be wary of, and certainly won’t want with them when the action kicks off in Flanders. Coming into the race, the Dane has accrued two consecutive fifth place finishes at Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen respectively, clearly showing that he has the form to challenge in the upcoming two Monuments.
As a former world champion, and Ronde runner-up in 2018, he won’t fear the trio of pre-race favourites, nor the tough parcours on the menu. If Pedersen can muscle his way into a select group of leaders on Sunday, he has the raw power and physicality to launch an attack, then see it through to Oudenaarde.
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