NEWS: The 100th version of the Tour of Flanders sets out on Sunday April 3rd. We give you an overview of the course, the cobble sections, the favourites, and tv-coverage.
Tour of Flanders/Ronde Van Vlaanderen/De Ronde
April 3rd 2016
256 km (1.UWT)
TV: Eurosport from 1230 CET
As one of the five monuments in cycling, the Tour of Flanders is one of the main events throughout the season. The Belgian fans create a festival in the Flemish hills, where the riders will fight for glory. As one of the most prestigious races of the season, Tour of Flanders usually has it all. The race in 2016 is the 100th edition, and the organizers have lined out quite a celebration.
Yet again, Tour of Flanders is packed with cobblestones for the peloton. The start goes in Brugge in the Flemish region of Belgium. From there, the riders head east. After approximately 100 km, the peloton hits the final laps around Oudenaarde, where they face the main challenges.
The riders will meet 18 categorized cobbled climbs. Additionally, the organizers have put in seven flat cobble sections, totalling more than 12 kilometres.
Many of the classic climbs will again be a part of the race. Among them, Oude Kwaremont, Koppenberg and Paterberg are three of the most famous.
Oude Kwaremont (2,2 km, 4,4 % avg)
The hill will be faced three times during the race, for the first time with 152 km to the finish line. With only 16 km to go, and only three kilometres prior to the last climb up Paterberg, the Peloton hits Oude Kwaremont for the last time.
The hill is not that steep, but on the other hand the cobblestones are far from forgiving. Oude Kwaremont is the worst section for many riders, considering its length. It will definitely contribute to splitting the pack. However, it is likely that the decisive attack will not come here.
Koppenberg (600 m, 11,6 %)
Koppenberg will only be ridden once in the 2016 edition of the Tour of Flanders. With 44 kilometres to go, the riders hit the steepest climb of the day (22 % at its worst) with more than 200 kilometres already in their legs.
Most of the riders see Koppenberg as the worst cobble section. The cobbles are probably even worse than those in Oude Kwaremont. Add that to a 20 % wall, and you get the idea of how hard it is. Quite often, riders are simply not able to ride their bikes all the way up. Check out Marco Haller and Sven Erik Bystrøm giving it a go in training prior to the 2015 Tour of Flanders
Paterberg (400 m, 12,5 %),
The second steepest climb of the day will be ridden twice. Paterberg is also the final climb, with only 13 kilometres to go. After a short descent, the riders hit the wall with a sharp right turn. At its steepest, the climb hits 20 %.
The cobbles are luckily not that horrendous, and won’t do too much damage. The steepness of the climb will on the contrary really make the riders competing for the win suffer. It won’t be a surprise if this is where the race is decided.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)
The world champion probably needs no further introduction. After showing strength the entire season, the 26-year-old Slovak was finally able to lift the curse of the rainbow jersey by clinching the win in Gent Wevelgem. Sagan is probably the biggest favourite to win in Oudenarde on Sunday.
The Slovak has previously shown skills on the cobbled climbs, especially on the Paterberg, where he distanced the rest of the peloton in 2015 (Kristoff and Terpstra was already up the road). He finished 4th last year, and also has a second place below his belt, from 2013.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Segafredo)
In his final season, Fabian Cancellara wants to go out with a bang. The Swiss phenomenon has won De Ronde three times. The last time was in 2014, where he unpopularly beat three Belgians in the final sprint.
Spartacus showed strength winning Strade Bianche in the middle of March, and has since then proved himself worthy of being characterized as a favourite, last in Gent Wevelgem were he finished fourth and was decisive for the final groups survival in fighting the peloton. There is no doubt Cancellara will be up there also in 2016. The question is how strong he will be. Many will be surprised if he is as superior as in 2013, where he won with 1 minute and 27 seconds.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC)
Obviously, the rider who was 3rd in 2015 and 2nd in 2014 has to be mentioned as one of the main candidates to win De Ronde 2016. After more than often finishing number two, the Belgian seems to have turned something around this season. He impressively beat Sagan in the final of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February, and continued showing strength by winning a stage, and surprisingly also taking the overall win, in Tirreno – Adriatico.
However, Greg has yet again been unlucky, and has felt under the weather the last few days (before and after Gent Wevelgem, were he couldn’t do better than a ninth place). Hopefully, the strong Belgian will be fit for Sundays race, and will make his mark on the 100th version of the Tour of Flanders.
Sep Vanmarcke (Lotto Jumbo)
It seems like the 27-year-old belgian has been around longer than his age indicates. Already in his debut season (2010), Vanmarcke finished 2nd in the Gent Wevelgem at the age of 22.
Today Vanmarcke can look back at a Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory, a 3rd place in De Ronde (2014) and a 2nd place in Paris – Roubaix (2013). He is often one of the strongest on the cobble sections, as he once again proved in Gent – Wevelgem, where he finished 2nd. Vanmarcke looked sharp only a week before the Tour of Flanders, and will most likely fight for the win on Sunday as well.
Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha)
After a strong 4th place in the 2014 edition, Katusha rider Aleksander Kristoff finally grabbed the win in last years Tour of Flanders, easily beating breakaway companion Niki Terpstra in the final sprint. Naturally, the Norwegian has to be mentioned as one of the candidates this year as well.
Kristoff looked strong at the start of the season in Qatar and Oman. Since then, the Norwegian has had his difficulties. He didn’t impress in Paris – Nice, and disappointed in the Milano – San Remo as well. The cobblestone classics have so far also been tough for the 2015 Tour of Flanders-winner.
Kristoff also had to skip the Gent Wevelgem because of illness. Driesdag de Panne is his final preparation, where he won the first stage. Despite his win in De Panne, the Norwegian has showed a lack of form compared to his toughest opponents, and should probably not be considered as one of the main favourites. Many will be surprised if Kristoff pulls another win out of the hat on Sunday.
Luke Rowe (Team Sky)
The 26-year-old Welshman has showed enough strength this season to be mentioned as an outsider. He was outstanding in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, and grabbed a 4th place after being one of the most active riders of the day.
Already in 2015 Rowe showed his capabilities in the classics, finishing 8th in Paris – Roubaix. He also got his Tour de France debut, as an important domestique for Chris Froome. The number of hard cobble sections are all in favour of the Team Sky-rider. The more the merrier, although the steepness of the Paterberg and Koppenberg may be too much for the Welshman.
Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal)
The Belgian youngster impressed everyone last year, where he, only 21 years old, finished 5th in the Tour of Flanders. The peloton has seldom seen such a talent, and the crazy Belgian cycling fans have high hopes for Benoot. Hopefully, the Ghentian Benoot keeps his calm, because his time will certainly come.
The 22-year-old has been strong this season as well, particularly in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad where he finished 3rd. We will most likely wait a year or three before Benoot wins De Ronde, but he has proven himself more than good enough to be mentioned as one of the outsiders.
Riders worth mentioning (*)
Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) impressed on the cobbles when he won the E3 Harelbeke on March 25th. There are no doubt that the 25-year-old former world champion is strong. The question is if he is strong enough. Together with Luke Rowe, Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard, the Team sky form an interesting team for De Ronde.
Tom Boonen (Etixx Quickstep) is in the Etixx Quickstep line up for the Tour of Flanders 2016. However, Boonen has not seemed that strong this season. With three previous victories under his belt, the Belgian legend clearly has to be mentioned.
Niki Terpstra (Etixx Quickstep) finished second behind Alexander Kristoff in 2016. The Etixx-rider has not been equally strong this season, and falls out of the list of favourites. However, there aren’t many riders in the peloton with a better relationship with the cobble sections in the Flanders.
Zdenek Stybar (Etixx Quickstep) is yet another strong card in the Etixx squad. The cyclocross champion enjoys the cobblestones, and could be a wildcard for the Belgian side. With Stybar, Terpstra and Boonen, Patrick Lefevré has many possibilities for Sundays race.
Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto Soudal) will probably lead the Lotto Soudal team alongside Tiesj Benoot and Andre Greipel. Roelandts looked strong in Milano – San Remo, where he finished third.
Arnaud Demaré (FDJ), the winner of Milano – San Remo also deserves a mention. The Frenchman naturally has his aim at the upcoming Paris – Roubaix, but will also do his best in De Ronde.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Dimension Data), once upon a time nicknamed the new Eddie Merckx, could also be up there on Sunday. The Norwegian has had a renaissance in Dimension Data, and could make his mark in the Tour of Flanders 2016.
Jasper Stuyven (Trek Segafredo) impressively won the Kuurne – Bruxsells – Kuurne in February. Alongside Fabian Cancellara, the young Belgian will form a strong Trek Segafredo side.