Race Preview – De Ronde: This Sunday is the World road championships if you are flemish – The Tour of Flanders or de Ronde van Vlaanderen is as they say: ‘Flanders’ Most Beautiful’ Ed Hood looks at the history, course and who can win this year on the steep Flemish cobbled climbs.

Watch the most comprehensive live & ad-free coverage of the Tour of Flanders 2022 on GCN+. Go deeper and get interactive with live polls & quizzes, plus rider profiles, race updates, results & more – plus stream original and exclusive cycling documentaries. Watch it all with GCN+ on any device.

The love ‘Vlaanderens Mooiste’

If the Belgian Federation decided to leave the UCi tomorrow it wouldn’t really make much difference to their overall way of things; they would still have the best ‘cross scene on the planet, the only real six day race, the kermises, the Opening Weekend, the spring semi-classics, classics and what many believe to be the world’s greatest one day race – de Ronde. All that Milan-Sanremo and Lombardia scenery and glam stuff? – PAH!

Chaos op de Koppenberg, foto Cor Vos©1998
Chaos op de Koppenberg

So winning the Ronde Van Vlaanderen is the biggest deal to Belgian riders?
This will be edition 106 of this Monument; of those, Belgian riders have won 69 times; the hellingen and kasseien were last tamed by a home boy in 2017 – Philippe Gilbert. Italy and The Netherlands are a joint, distant third on 11 wins – the most recent being respectively Alberto Bettiol in 2019 Mathieu Van Der Poel in 2020. And as for the Belgians; ask them for a straight choice – winning the Worlds or de Ronde and nine out of 10 will go for the latter; you’re Legend.

Eddy Merckx zwoegt tegen de Koppenberg in de Ronde van Vlaanderen van 1977
Merckx was a legend, but he ‘only’ won de Ronde twice

Does it really ‘tour Flanders?’
Not really; it starts up in Antwerp before a dash down to the hog’s back ridge of the Flemish Ardennes which broods above the finish town of Oudenaarde – home to the Tour of Flanders Museum – and around where the race is centred. The race approaches the ridge from multiple directions taking in some 18 ‘hellingen’ within the 272 kilometres parcours including the long, cobbled and often home to decisive splits if not race-winning moves, Oude Kwaremont three times; once early and twice late.

Not quite a tour of all Flanders

The short but savagely steep Paterberg is tackled twice as ascents 12 and 18 – with the latter almost certain to see the winning move consolidated or forged. There are two reasons for the ‘compressed’ parcours – firstly it ended the crazy driving perpetrated by those seeking to see the race as many times as possible at as many different places as possible. And, as AC/DC might say; ‘Listen to the Money Talk,’ – the finish circuit which takes in the Oude Kwaremont twice enables a huge hospitality village to be constructed there, pulling in crucial corporate revenue.

The iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen, gone from the route

Give us some history?
This will be edition 106, the first race being held in 1913; since then, six riders have won the race on three occasions, four of them Belgians. Home Boy, Achiel Buysse won in 1940, ‘41 and ‘43 – even PEZ soothsayer and mentor, Vik doesn’t remember that one. Nor does he remember Italian, ‘Lion of Flanders,’ Fiorenzo Magni’s wins in 1949, ‘50 and ‘51. However, both he and I do remember Belgian hard man, Eric Leman’s wins in 1970, ‘72 and ’73 though. And Tom Boonen’s three wins in 2005, ‘06 and ‘12 seem like yesterday; the Tornado also has a second place to his name. Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara’s wins came in 2010, ‘13 and ‘14 with second and third places to boot. But the lion with the biggest teeth is Johan Museeuw, as well as wins in 1993, ’95 and ’98 he was second on three occasions and third twice to give him eight podiums – my head is bowed in respect as I type this.

The lion Johan Museeuw

Are there any previous winners riding and can they win again?
The 2015 winner was Alex Kristoff [Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert & Norway] he’s also been twice third in 2019 and 2020, a repeat win is unlikely unless it’s a savage day.

It will have to be a hard day for Kristoff

The 2016 edition fell to Peter Sagan [TotalEnergies & Slovakia] who was initially down to ride but has withdrawn due to lack of form, perhaps as a result of his Covid infection?

No Flanders for Peter Sagan in 2022

The 2017 winner, Philippe Gilbert was not on the start list at time of writing. Dutchman Niki Terpstra [TotalEnergies] won in 2018 but since his horror high speed crash whilst training behind a motor bike two years ago has never really got back to the dominant form he used to enjoy – then there’s the fact that he’s 37 years-old. However, PEZ mentor and soothsayer, Vik reckons that Niki is ready to pull a rabbit from the hat. . .

Is a Niki Terpstra repeat possible

And let’s not overlook Niki’s French team mate, Anthony Turgis, he’s in our, ‘due a big win soon’ file – second in the Primavera he’s been fourth and eighth in de Ronde in the past, so. . .

Anthony Turgis
Outside bet – Anthony Turgis

Italy’s Albert Bettiol [EF Education-EasyPost] won in 2019, a strong Tirreno and GP E3 gave us clues that year; this year he enjoyed a great start to this year with second on GC in the Étoile des Bessèges but has been quiet since then.

bettiol flanders
A stunning Flanders victory by Albert Bettiol in 2019

Mathieu Van Der Poel [Alpecin-Fenix] won the duel with eternal rival Wout Van Aert to take victory in 20201, can MVDP repeat the feat? With third in his first race back, the 300K epic that is the Primavera then a stage win in Coppi e Bartali – it’s certainly possible.

Will we see another MvdP/WVA battle in 2022?

Kasper Asgreen [Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl] made it two victories for Denmark last year, adding to Rolf Sorensen’s 1997 beautiful win. He was also second to Bettiol in 2019 so the man knows his Ronde. This year? He was third in the Strade Bianche and in the winning move in the E3, a race which he won last year but seemed disinterested in the sprint for third spot – perhaps he’s happy with where his form is at? Aforementioned Vik and I are at loggerheads over Quick-Step; he’s all gloom and doom about the boys in blue. I had to remind him that they’ve won 17 races this season this far – however, he is correct in saying that they’ve not enjoyed their usual dominance over the cobbles this spring, ‘Tim Declerq, we miss you. . .

Will Quick-Step rely on Kasper Asgreen alone?

Who else can win?
Three letters – ‘WVA’. Home Boy, Wout Van Aert [Jumbo Visma] won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, was in imperious form in Paris-Nice, made winning the GP E3 look easy and was strong in Gent-Wevelgem – he has to be, ‘super favoriet,’ as they say in the Flatlands. BUT – no one, not even Eddy Merckx or Tom Boonen has won de Ronde in the same year as they won the Omloop. . .

Who else but Wout?

Should The Three Fates or the stifling marking which WVA will have to endure prove too much, then the Dutch squad have, ‘Plan B’ – born again ‘Fransman,’ Christophe Laporte – but it’s a long was back to 1992 and the last French win – of which more in a moment. Laporte rode very strongly again in Gent-Wevelgem but got his final all wrong and had to settle for second place; with a historic victory going to Biniam Girmay [Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert & Eritrea] – who returns home and comes back for the Giro.

The Jumbo-Visma ‘Plan B’ Christophe Laporte didn’t work out in Wevelgem

Conventional wisdom is that you have to ride Flanders at least several times to understand it before you can think about winning it – but Tadej Pogačar [UAE Emirates & Slovenia] consistently defies ‘conventional wisdom.’ His 2022 stats look like this: first UAE Tour, first Strade Bianche, first Tirreno-Adriatico, fifth Milano-Sanremo.

strade bianche 22
First ride, first win in Flanders for Tadej Pogačar?

Can he win on his debut?
As his Italian team mate and a man who won’t be far away himself, Matteo Trentin said; ‘it wouldn’t surprise me!’

le samyn
Matteo Trentin – Working for Pogačar or himself?

And a man we have to mention, he won’t win but a podium is well possible – another three letters, ‘GVA’ this time. Greg Van Avermaet, [AG2R Citroën] in common with all Flandrians would make a tryst with Beelzebub himself to win this race – 14 starts, nine top 10 placings, twice second, twice third, it would be nice to see him ‘up there’ again.

Greg Van Avermaet – Always close

Big Swiss rider, Stefan Küng [Groupama-FDJ] becomes more of a ‘Classicer’ as each year passes and if he gets the gap he’s very hard to retrieve.

Stefan Küng – Classicsman in the making

Ineos have been riding well this season and have some strong young men showing, notably Ben Turner who was again solid in Gent-Wevelgem, he should offer great support to their man for this day – Dutch 2021 Dwars door winner, Dylan Van Baarle.

Dylan Van Baarle
Dylan Van Baarle or a sick Tom Pidcock

Then there’s ever-present past Omloop, Kuurne and Primavera winner, Jasper Stuyven [Trek-Segafredo & Belgium] he should be at the sharp end.

Jasper Stuyven – Always a dangerman

But have there ever been any ‘soft’ winners?
You’re probably thinking about 1992 when France’s Jacky Durand was the triumphant last survivor of a 212 kilometre break after the peloton gave them a massive – and sorely misjudged – 24 minutes leeway. However, five hours in the break over all those cobbles and hills is perhaps stretching the definition of ‘soft’.

Jacky Durand
Jacky Durand – No ‘soft’ winners of Flanders

Who should have won but didn’t?:
The two that spring to mind are Freddy Maertens in 1977 and Sean Kelly in 1986.

flanders 77
Flemish contraversy

Maertens was away with Roger De Vlaeminck but was told by a commissaire that he was disqualified for an illegal bike change but could keep riding – a very strange decision indeed – he kept pedalling and towing the man from Eeklo, allegedly spurred on by the promise of a ‘lucky penny’ from ‘Le Gitane’. Freddy duly chaperoned Roger to the finish where winner De Vlaeminck was boo-ed on the podium. Roger, according to Freddy – and true to the Belgian interpretation of Machiavelli’s, ‘The Prince’ – welched on half the Belgian Francs agreed in the deal but there’s a little cobble above De Vlaeminck’s 1977 winner’s cobble in the display at the Ronde Museum with Freddy’s name on it as ‘moral victor’.

Freddy should have won!

Kelly was third three times in this race which was surely made for him with ’86 the biggest disappointment; the strongest all day, over-confident, he lead the sprint out too early with Mathieu’s dad pipping the Irishman on the line.

Adrie van der Poel took the sprint in ’86 – Sean Kelly should have won

Give us ONE name then?

Top favourite – Wout Van Aert

# It’s a long race so we have to be careful, I’ll be going for Belgium’s favourite beer, Jupiler – I know there are stronger, tastier and trendier options but I have to be there for the finale, not on the floor. . . And for more form clues, check out Dwars Door on Wednesday – the final ‘warm up.’ Stay PEZ for the race report on Sunday and all the news in EUROTRASH Monday. #

Ed and Belgium’s favourite – Jupiler with frites and sauce, of course

Watch the most comprehensive live & ad-free coverage of the Tour of Flanders 2022 on GCN+. Go deeper and get interactive with live polls & quizzes, plus rider profiles, race updates, results & more – plus stream original and exclusive cycling documentaries. Watch it all with GCN+ on any device.

Like PEZ? Why not subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive updates and reminders on what’s cool in road cycling?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.