The first official race of the Spring Classics is now ready to play. We begin with the Tour of Flanders, one of the most exciting races of the year. The course covers almost 270 miles of Belgium, from Antwerp to the town of Oudenaarde, around which riders take on 17 different climbs, eight of which are paved in brutally bumpy cobbles. (It’s not uncommon to see riders actually getting off their bikes and walking up the especially tricky Koppenburg climb.)
This is a hard race to predict, as it’s a real war of attrition. The only certainty is that it probably won’t end in a bunch sprint – the run to the finish line hasn’t been contested by a group of more than four riders in 18 years! More common is either a small group, or a lone rider who wears down his opponents and finds the opportune time to strike.
That said, here’s some advice on picking your roster:
- Zdenek Stybar: Dude’s been on fire lately, having already won two Spring Classics races.
- Peter Sagan: A guy who can win any race, but who’s been a bit shaky so far this year.
- Niki Terpstra: Last year’s breakaway winner
- Wout Van Aert: A cyclocross champion who’s been oh so close in many races this year, but hasn’t quite broken the seal
- Alexander Kristoff: A strong, climbing sprinter who’s been on the slides in recent years but who just won the Gent - Wevelgem race last week
- John Degenkolb: Second in Gent - Wevelgem last week, another strong sprinter
- Matthieu Van Der Poel: Another cyclocross champion, making his Flanders debut
- Oliver Naesen: Would be among the Top Picks, except he’s been battling bronchitis
- Alejandro Valverde: The World Champion in road racing, he is –astonishingly – just making his Flanders debut, at age 38.
- Michael Matthews
- Matteo Trentin
- Tiesj Benoot
- Alberto Bettiol
- Philippe Gilbert
Of course, it could be absolutely none of these guys, but rather some unsung stallion who finds himself in the right place in the middle of cobbled carnage. We’ll see.