Andrea Tafi, the last Italian to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen, responded quite simply when asked about the tactics involved to win the one-day Classic. "There is one secret, stay up front at all costs. If you are in the back you are able to recuperate but it will cost you dearly."
The soft-spoken Tuscan, now 40 years-old, retired in 2005, was part of the 2002 Mapei Ronde squad that was pointing towards a victory with Michel Bartoli or Daniele Nardello. "But it finished differently," he recalled to La Gazzetta dello Sport.
"It is a record that I will take voluntarily," he continued. "I am also the last Italian to win Roubaix.
"I raced Ronde eight times. It is not only a race, all of the surroundings are special. To think that it is the only race where the announcer at the start line begins speaking at six in the morning. And the gathering point in Brugge is in the middle of town that is like an enchanting castle. You think 'The adventure starts here.'"
Tafi outlined other details of the course and who he thinks will be near the front come Sunday afternoon. "In the first part the key points are the Oude Kwaremont and the Patenberg. In the finale you need to watch out for the Grammont and the Bosberg. The last is not the hardest but there is a stretch of false-flat that is perfect for attacking. [Read about the Ronde's climbs. - ed ]
"Boonen will be a favourite but he does not seem to me to at his best. Italy has some hard-men; Bettini, Ballan, Paolini, Pozzato and Bennati are the anti-Belgians. I am disappointed there will not be [Riccardo] Riccò, he would have gone well."