Charcoal skies and chilly temperatures greeted the riders as they assembled in Brugge for the start of the Tour of Flanders, but mercifully the threatened rainfall had yet to materialise. As ever, enormous crowds were waiting from early morning to catch a glimpse of the stars of De Ronde, as Belgium grinds to a halt to enjoy the day of .
The home-based favourites received the loudest cheers of all as they rode to Brugge’s Markt to sign on. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) is the man charged with stopping Fabian Cancellara taking a second Flanders triumph, but Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) may well be the man to shine on the road to Meerbeke. Belgian champion Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank SunGard) will also be looking to make an impression on this day of days for Flemish cycling.
Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) was given generous applause as he rode to the start, in spite of criticism of his tactics in the Belgian media, and the Italian is desperate for a big performance today. Former winner Alessandro Ballan (BMC), dark horse Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and the Garmin-Cervélo trio of Thor Hushovd, Tyler Farrar and Heinrich Haussler are other foreign riders hoping to take home the spoils from Flanders.
However, the man to beat is last year’s champion Fabian Cancellara. As usual, the big Swiss rider was one of the last men to leave the team bus to sign on. Even though he may break Belgian hearts by the time the day is out, Cancellara was warmly cheered all the way to the rostrum, and those cheers will be ringing in his ears all day long, as over 800,000 people line the roads for one of cycling’s most precious occasions.