Tour of Flanders 2016 race preview

100th edition of race features a packed field of potential winners

Cyclingnews will have live coverage of the 100th Tour of Flanders along with a full race report, results, photos, and news from the Belgian monument.

Since its 1913 introduction to the cycling calendar, the Tour of Flanders has worked its way into the hearts and minds of fans and cyclists the world over. The Belgian monument is characterised by its narrow Flemish roads that twist and turn through the countryside with cobble sectors and Hellingen (climbs) adding to the difficulty of the 250km plus length route.

Paul Deman is recorded in the annals of cycling history as the first winner of the Tour of Flanders with the Flandarian Marcel Buysse, who disobeyed orders from his French Alcyon team to enter the race, winning the 1914 edition. A four-year hiatus followed for the First World War and remains the only break in the history of the race that was held with German permission through the Second World War.

From the 1950s onwards, the Belgians would be matched by their foreign rivals who started to regularly taste victory on the Gentbrugge finish line and then from 1973, in Meerbeke. A rivalry between Eddy Merckx and Eric Leman added to the already rich history of the race in the early 1970s before a Dutchman was winning almost every other year into the 1980’s.

It was Belgian Eric Vanderaerden who restored order though, winning the epic 1985 edition of the race that saw just 24 riders finish due to the severe weather. Claude Criquielion was the next Belgian winner in 1987 and to this day, remains the last Walloon to taste victory in the Tour of Flanders.

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1993 heralded the ‘Lion of Flanders’, as Johan Museeuw won the first of his three titles ahead of Frans Maassen. Peter van Petegem then carried the flag for Belgium with two victories before the emergence of Tom Boonen with back-to-back wins in 2005 and as world champion in 2006. Stijn Devolder also won consecutive titles for Patrick Lefevere before Fabian Cancellara won an epic 2010 edition of the race ahead of Boonen after the duo went mano-a-mano on the Muur.

In the last decade, Flanders has been twice won by Cancellara with single titles for Nick Nuyens, Boonen and reigning champion Alexander Kristoff.

The 100th edition of the race is shaping up to deliver a race deserving of the occasions despite some ongoing hesitation regarding the parcours that was changed in 2012 and has remained relatively similar since.

Tour of Flanders 2016 race route

The peloton will roll out of Brugge with the race officially starting in Loppem, before heading south to the Oudenaarde finish which the riders will pass by on their way to the finish circuits, just south of the former tapestry powerhouse.

The first of the cobble sectors comes 82km into the day with the 1600m Huisepontweg before a straight run into and out of Oudenaarde, but once the riders exit Berchem, its twisty, turning narrows roads, cobbles and climbs that await the peloton with the 1500m Oude Kwaremont the first serious test of the race.

The Kortekeer, Eikenberg and Wolvenberg follow in quick succession where riders will fight for the position they lost on the Kwaremont before sectors of pave punctuate the climbs on the way to Strijpen. More twisting and turning takes the peloton through Brakel and it’s then onto the finishing lap with the Oude Kwaremont for a second time and the Paterberg for the first, followed by the Koppenberg, all within 10km.

The final 50km of the race with six climbs and six cobbled sectors across the lap is finished off with a nine kilometre run in to the flat Oudenaarde finish where the winner of the 2016 Tour of Flanders will be crowned.

Tour of Flanders 2016 route profile

Tour of Flanders climbs

There have been several changes to the Tour of Flanders parcours over the past 99 editions with the 2012 decision to remove the Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg from the finale in favour of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg to accommodate a new finish in Oudenaarde.

There is far more to Flanders than just the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg though with 18 catergorised climbs, seven of which are asphalted, for the 100th edition of the race. The Oude Kwaremont is the first of the climbs to be tackled with the third accession of the 2.2km climb sure to be key to the outcome of the race.

The steepest of the climbs is the Paterberg at 12.5 per cent with the Koppenberg, at 11 per cent. The Eikenberg, Molenberg and Taaienberg climbs will all test the legs of the peloton but are less likely to be launching pad of the race winning move.

1. Oude-Kwaremont 103km
2. Kortekeer 114km
3. Eikenberg 121km
4. Wolvenberg 124km
5. Molenberg 137km
6. Leberg 157km
7. Berendries 161km
8. Valkenberg 167km
9. Kaperij 177km
10. Kanarieberg 185km
11. Kwaremont 200km
12. Paterberg 204km
13. Koppenberg 210km
14. Steenbeekdries 216km
15.Taaienberg 218km
16 .Kruisberg 229km
17. Oude-Kwaremont 238km
18. Paterberg 242km

Tour of Flanders Race favourites

With three wins a piece in a race that rewards experience, Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara start this year's race as favorites for a record fourth title with the Swiss getting the nod from the bookies in his final ever Tour of Flanders.

Behind the two dominant riders of the Spring Classics from the last ten years is a long list of riders looking take the mantle and herald in a new generation. Last year it was Alexander Kristoff who took the win in the absence of Cancellara and Boonen, with the Norwegian looking to be timing his title defence just right in the aftermath of a cold.

Etixx-Quick Step have been busy and influential across the Classics so far but have little to show for their strength in depth. Boonen hasn’t been at his best so far this year but a win on Sunday would quickly excuse a slow start to the year. In Nikki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin, Zdenek Stybar and Stijn Vanderberg, there is an extremely strong team heading to the race and anything less than a win will be a disappointment.

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Team Sky also head to Flanders with multiple options but unlike Patrick Lefereve’s team, are yet to experience the joy of winning a monument. Geraint Thomas is on a cobble-light diet as he targets stages races in 2016 and will be one of several leaders on the British squad who are spreading the responsibility of victory. With E3 Harelbeke winner Michal Kwiatkowski, Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard, Team Sky should be well represented in the final 50km and from there it could be as simple as backing the rider with the best legs in its quest for a monument victory.

World champion Peter Sagan is still chasing that elusive monument but his win at Gent-Wevelgem last week suggested it could be success after 17 previous attempts.

Second and third in his last two outings, BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet is looking to complete the podium trifecta in a season that has seen the 30-year-old reach new heights with wins at Omloop Het Niewsblad and Tirreno-Adriatico.

Sep Vanmarcke is a podium regular in recent years at Flanders and Paris-Roubaix and looks set to again feature at the pointy end. Lotto Soudal’s Belgian duo of Tiesj Benoot and Jürgen Roelandts are two more names to throw into the mix, while Lars Boom’s future road career could hinge on his performance at De Ronde and Roubaix 12-months on from finishing sixth.

Looking at the outside favourites, runner-up in 2012, Filippo Pozzato has been floating around across the classics with a top ten at Milan-San Remo an early season highlight. IAM Cycling's Heinrich Haussler also finished top-ten at Milan-San Remo and has a second place to his name from the 2009 edition of the race.

Cyclingnews will have live coverage of the 100th Tour of Flanders along with a full race report, results, photos, and news from the Belgian monument.

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