It’s the race’s rich history that helps make it such a prestigious event. The list of previous winners is full of the great Classics riders, from Rik van Looy, Roger De Vlaeminck and Eddy Merckx to contemporary greats Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen.
At the same time, no rider has ever won here more than three times, illustrating just how difficult a race it is to triumph in. Victory here is never simply a matter of being the strongest rider, but requires a perfect cocktail of tactics, team support and luck, as well as strength.
Any race ridden over cobblestones is a challenge, but the Tour of Flanders is arguably the toughest of all. The riders face a total of eighteen cobbled climbs, each of them notorious not just for their difficulty, but for the many years of history they have observed since the first edition of the Ronde back in 1913.
Most famous of all is perhaps the Koppenberg, an absurdly difficult climb that, thanks to its maximum gradient of 22 per cent and uneven cobbles, often forces riders to hop off their bike and walk up sections of it.
Since the reimagining of the route in 2012 (when the much-loved Muur Van Geraardsbergen was removed), the Koppenberg has also been pushed back to around just 45km from the finish to play a more decisive part in how the race unfolds.
But it’s the one-two punch of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg that are the most crucial. They are both climbed in succession shortly prior to the Koppenberg, the former punishingly long and the latter punishingly steep. But it’s the last time over each, at 17km and 14km from the finish, that will be the real moment of truth of the favourites.
That said, Flanders never plays out in a straightforward manner, and the contenders will have to be alert to what is likely to be many attacks made before these final ascents.
Tour of Flanders: recent winners
2001 Gianluca Bortolami (ITA) Tacconi Sport–Vini Caldirola
2002 Andrea Tafi (ITA) Mapei–Quick-Step
2003 Peter van Petegem (BEL) Lotto–Domo
2004 Steffen Wesemann (GER) T-Mobile Team
2005 Tom Boonen (BEL) Quick-Step–Innergetic
2006 Tom Boonen (BEL) Quick-Step–Innergetic
2007 Alessandro Ballan (ITA) Lampre–Fondital
2008 Stijn Devolder (BEL) Quick-Step
2009 Stijn Devolder (BEL) Quick-Step
2010 Fabian Cancellara (SUI) Team Saxo Bank
2011 Nick Nuyens (BEL) Saxo Bank–SunGard
2012 Tom Boonen (BEL) Omega Pharma–Quick-Step
2013 Fabian Cancellara (SUI) RadioShack–Leopard
2014 Fabian Cancellara (SUI) Trek Factory Racing
2015 Alexander Kristoff (NOR) Team Katusha
2016 Peter Sagan (SVK) Tinkoff
2017 Philippe Gilbert (BEL) Quick-Step Floors
2018 Niki Terpstra (NED) Quick-Step Floors
2019: Alberto Bettiol (ITA) EF Education First
Women’s Tour of Flanders: recent winners
2004: Zoulfia Zabirova (Rus) Team Let’s Go Finland
2005: Mirjam Melchers-van Poppel (Ned) Buitenpoort-Flexpoint Team
2006: Mirjam Melchers-van Poppel (Ned) Buitenpoort-Flexpoint Team
2007: Nicole Cooke (GBR) Raleigh–Lifeforce–Creation HB Pro Cycling Team
2008: Judith Arndt (Ger)Team High Road
2009: Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Ger) Team Columbia Highroad Women
2010: Grace Verbeke (Bel) Lotto Ladies Team
2011: Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Nederland Bloeit
2012: Judith Arndt (Ger) GreenEdge-AIS
2013: Marianne Vos (Ned) Rabobank Women Cycling Team
2014: Ellen van Dijk (Ned) Boels–Dolmans
2015: Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita) Wiggle–Honda
2016: Lizzie Armitstead (Gbr) Boels–Dolmans
2017: Coryn Rivera (USA) Team Sunweb
2018: Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels–Dolmans
2019: Marta Bastianelli (Ita) Virtu Cycling