The weather forecast ahead of the 94th edition of the Tour of Flanders is promising - promising that is for riders who love the typical April Flemish weather: cold, wet and windy.
With scattered rain showers and even hail predicted, temperatures not expected to make it over 10° Celcius and squalls up to 65 km/h coming from the east/south east, the conditions could throw a random element into the racing.
Those weather should result in an automatic selection between normal professional cyclists and true flandriens; a popular cycling term used to describe the legendary stubborn Flemish laborers of the road.
The course leads the peloton towards and then along the coast during the first thirty kilometers, where headwinds should discourage early attackers during the first hour of racing. As always, there will be a fierce battle to make it into the early breakaway which will be the first thing viewers see when the television coverage begins.
Upon leaving the coastline in Oostende and turning inland, the top favorites will have to ride attentively because there will be crosswinds torturing the peloton for about fifty kilometers. The stronger teams might want to make use of this section to see whether everybody's well awake on Sunday morning. It wouldn't be the first time that a favorite is distanced early on by ending up riding in a second or third echelon.
90 kilometers into the race the course heads due east where riders will encounter the first cobbled sections including the passage through Desselgem, village of the Ronde 2010. Desselgem was the home town of the iconic Belgian rider Alberic Briek Schotte, winner of the Ronde in 1942 and 1948. Exactly six years ago Iron Briek passed away on April 4, which was then also race day of the Tour of Flanders. The small town is hosting a series of activities, making it an interesting stop along the course for many fans.
For the riders there's no time to stop as the tailwind will blow the riders at high speed towards the foot of the first helling, one of the typical short and sometimes cobbled climbs in the Flemish Ardennes region near Oudenaarde.
Before arriving at the 2000 meters long cobbled street of the Varent after 150 kilometers of racing, the top favorites ought to make sure they didn't make one pedal stroke too many. From then on the race twists and turns through the Flemish Ardennes, tackling a total of fifteen climbs.
Stijn Devolder, the Quick Step rider who stands to become the first rider since Fiorenzo Magni in 1951 to earn three wins in a row said to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad that he has ridden the finale almost every day since Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
Peter Van Petegem, another double winner of the Ronde in 1999 and 2003, explained how important it is to know the course. "I understand really well why Stijn Devolder trained like a madman on the course of the finale. Everybody knows all the climbs of the Ronde but the question is how to tackle those hills. At the top you must know what follows: a big road or a small street, where's the wind coming from? The fresher you are, the better you can decide," Van Petegem wrote.
With 12km from the top of the last climb, the Bosberg, to the finish, attackers will benefit from a strong tailwind en route to the finish at the Hallebaan in Meerbeke.