The Muur is back. 1km of cobbled steep, 20% in some sections, more than 9% average. The wall. No. THE WALL. An icon. And it’s back in the race.
It’s Ronde van Vlaanderen weekend.
I don’t know if you’ve been paying any attention to the pro-season, but if not, now is probably the time to tune in. We’ve seen Greg van Avermaet and Peter Sagan trading punches, but some other strong men in the mix, too.
This is sort of a throw back Group Ride. We used to do predictions before all the big races, but have gotten away from that over the last few seasons. I’m excited about this Tour of Flanders, not to mention the Paris-Roubaix that follows.
Maybe what makes this year’s Ronde so exciting is the clear rivalry now established between Sagan and van Avermaet, reminiscent of the battles between Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara that were so great to watch before the latter’s retirement.
Who will win?
Sagan has been super strong, winning Kurne-Brussels-Kurne the day after van Avermaet opened his account at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together since. You get the sense he thought he was strong enough to do all the work in the big races and still win the sprint, but that strategy didn’t pan out at Milan-San Remo, where Michal Kwiatkowski was savvy enough to sit on Sagan’s wheel and then pip the Slovakian at the finish. Was it hubris? Poor judgement? Whatever it was, Sagan will be super motivated to get it right at the Ronde.
Greg van Avermaet won’t care. He’s got the Omloop, Gent-Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke in his pocket already and form to burn. At 31, the Belgian is in the form of his life. Is he even beatable?
And then there are the rest. Boonen is still around, and should a crash or tactical mistake affect the favorites, his experience could be the winning ingredient.
John Degenkolb’s mustache holds secret powers, and he’s got top tens at Gent-Wevelgem and Milan-San Remo to suggest he’s strong enough to stick with the strongest.
Philippe Gilbert has priors with the classics, and he’s riding like he has some legs under him. Alexander Kristoff has won this race before, and there are more, Jens Keukeleire, Matty Hayman, Sep Vanmarcke, Ian Stannard, Lars Boom, so many second fiddles, but anything can happen in the cobbled classics. It’s part of their charm.
So there it is. This week’s Group Ride asks, who will win the 2017 Tour of Flanders? Who will show? Who will place? Will you be watching? And if not, why not?
Image: Jérémy-Günther-Heinz Jähnick