Even before all children start their easter-egg hunt, the international cycling peloton will wake up in the centre of Antwerp for the second monument of the season. The start sign of the Tour of Flanders (1.UWT, 4/04) will be given at 10h along the empty riverside of the Schelde. The riders know exactly where their Easter present is waiting: in the Minderbroedersstraat in Oudenaarde, at the end of a 254.3 kilometer battle with nineteen hills and six cobble sections.
After a warm up of 10 kilometer, the peloton will be released to cross the regions Waasland and Scheldeland. An early breakaway might be formed during those first 85 kilometer before entering the Flemish Ardennes via the inseparable cobble sections of Lippenhovestraat and Paddestraat. It is immediately serious business, with the first passage of the Old Kwaremont scheduled after 120 kilometer. The climbs and cobble sections follow each other quickly. It is remarkable that the Muur van Geraardsbergen is again left out of the route after last year's autumn edition. This offers the riders somewhat relative rest and time to refuel during the fifth race hour, before attacking the feared duo Old Kwaremont and Paterberg. The Koppenberg, Steenbeekdries, Taaienberg, Kruisberg/Hotond, the third passage of the Old Kwaremont and the Paterberg will skim the peloton during the final 45 kilometer, until only gladiators are left to battle for the victory in cycling city Oudenaarde.
Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux selected seven riders to build on its performances of the previous classics. Aimé De Gendt, Danny Van Poppel and Loïc Vliegen have shown in Milan-San Remo and the Flemish classics that they're able to follow the favorites on the climbs. Since his performances at the first monument of the season, and a couple of days later again at the E3 Classic, Dutchman Taco van der Hoorn is known as an early breakaway specialist. Boy Van Poppel sprinted to 12th in Dwars door Vlaanderen last Wednesday and has proven several times to be of essential value for the team leaders, just like Wesley Kreder and Pieter Vanspeybrouck. Also sports directors Hilaire Van der Schueren, Steven De Neef and Aike Visbeek are preparing themselves for the big event.
Aimé De Gendt:
« The Ronde van Vlaanderen does not hold secrets for me anymore, even though I've only participated twice. I did the course recon once this year, but we've crossed all roads in the Flemish Ardennes in all possible directions during the last couple of races. In addition, they're my training roads. On our way to the first cobble sections, I'll only be 5 kilometer away from home. It's unfortunately a little too far for my family to watch me live. It's been a very intense period with almost races every other day since Milan-San Remo. So I focused on recovery in-between those races.»
« Strong riders are always automatically isolated at the front in long and hard races such as the Ronde. If you want to be one of them, there's only one recipe. As my course knowledge is good already, having a good day is the starting point. The quick succession of climbs has no mercy, so I think we'll already be much wiser about the condition of our legs once we're on the Koppenberg. Next to good legs, you also need to be lucky in avoiding crashes and punctures. And finally, if you also manage to position well with your teammates on key points, you are ready for a great performance. And that's what I want to realize next Sunday! »
Hilaire Van der Schueren (Sports Director):
« Flanders' Finest is always a special race and the coincidence with Easter adds another dimension to the event this year. In my opinion, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are the main one day races on the highest level. I have to admit that even after all those years, they still give me goosebumps. In order to be ready to assist our riders, I've done the recon this Friday. It's a pity that fans are again not allowed to come to the race, but thanks to the absence of VIP villages it was possible to see each part of the course. »
« The Muur van Geraardsbergen is not part of it for the second time in a row. This iconic hill always provides sensation, even far away from the finish. Everyone remembers Gilbert's solo attack in 2017. Before, I was sceptic about the elimination of the Muur and the Bosberg from the final of the Ronde. So much history was written in front of my doorstep. But I've learnt that the duo Kwaremont and Paterberg also have their own charm! »
« It is on that Kwaremont, during the second passage, that our boys will have to be ready for the first splits. Wesley Kreder, Boy Van Poppel and Pieter Vanspeybrouck need to make sure that our leaders start the final in the best possible circumstances, because the riders will already suffer during those first 200 kilometer. We want to continue our performances and strategy of the past couple of classics and show our team colors. Taco van der Hoorn is the perfect rider to do this in the early breakaway. But we've learnt in Dwars door Vlaanderen last Wednesday and in the previous editions that it's not an evidence to form an early breakaway. It's difficult to create a gap when the peloton is racing at a speed of 50 kilometer per hour! There will be a lot of candidates for only five or six available sports. If all is going well, I count on Aimé De Gendt, Danny Van Poppel and Loïc Vliegen to represent our team in the final. »
Aimé De Gendt
Taco van der Hoorn
Boy Van Poppel
Danny Van Poppel
Hilaire Van der Schueren
Steven De Neef