By Jeff Jones
The Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) will be raced for the 90th time on Sunday, April 2. Starting once again in Brugge and finishing in Ninove-Meerbeke, the route takes the riders over 258 km, 17 climbs, and approximately 20 km of cobbles. The course alone makes it one of the toughest one day races in the world, but the combination of skills and fitness required to win it make it a big jewel in the crown of any rider who succeeds.
Last year, Flanders' newest hero Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) won his first Ronde with a masterful performance, attacking a lead group of six with 9 km to go to finish over half a minute ahead of Andreas Klier (T-Mobile) and perennial Ronde favourite Peter Van Petegem (Davitamon-Lotto). Boonen was in the middle of a purple patch, having won the E3 Prijs the week before and going on to win Paris-Roubaix a week later. His winning streak continued, more or less, throughout the season, and he finished in September as the World Champion in Madrid.
Boonen is back this year, and he's better than ever. The 25 year-old World Champion has 11 victories already this season, including - once again - the E3 Prijs, always an excellent form tester before the Ronde. In addition, he was a comfortable fourth in Milan-San Remo, and has ridden very strongly in all the Belgian semi-classics, where he clearly wasn't riding conservatively. He is the standout favourite this year and with a very strong team behind him, including 'alternates' Paolo Bettini, Nick Nuyens, and Filippo Pozzato.