Like a hardened Flandrien domestique, the behemoth that is Flanders Classics has shown no qualms about using its elbows to position its events precisely where it wants them. Over the past decade, the Belgian Classics calendar has been gradually reshaped to meet the wishes of Flanders Classics owner Wouter Vandenhaute, starting with the 2010 decision to move Gent-Wevelgem to the Sunday preceding the Tour of Flanders. It was only a matter of time before attention turned to the prime real estate in the week leading up to the Ronde, occupied by the Three Days of De Panne since 1977.
For years, the Velo Club De Panne, rather like Asterix and his village of indomitable Gauls holding out against the Romans, gamely resisted the pressure to concede their slot on the calendar to Dwars door Vlaanderen, another Flanders Classics event, but they were eventually compelled to lay down arms last year. The rebranded Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne, now a one-day event, moved to the Wednesday after Milan-San Remo, a blow softened only in part by its elevation to WorldTour status this year, as well as the addition of a women’s WorldTour race.
Dwars door Vlaanderen, which previously marked the beginning of a 10-day countdown to the Tour of Flanders, is now stationed as the final tune-up for Belgian cycling’s most hallowed day. Coming just four days before De Ronde, its distance was shaved back accordingly last year, though its difficulty and prestige remain undiminished.
After being caught on the back foot for much of Sunday’s high-speed edition of Gent-Wevelgem, Deceuninck-QuickStep will surely look to dictate the terms of engagement in the Flemish Ardennes on Wednesday. Lampaert, Philippe Gilbert and Bob Jungels lead the line for Patrick Lefevere’s team and will again be the team to beat. Lampaert and Gilbert, in particular, will be itching for an opportunity to claim a win after finding themselves in supporting roles in recent weeks.
Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale) rode cannily to finish on the podium at Gent-Wevelgem and the terrain on offer here is infinitely better-suited to his talents. Niki Terpstra (Direct Energie) has claimed Dwars door Vlaanderen on two previous occasions but has yet to win in the colours of his new team. It would be a fine place to start.
UAE Team Emirates saved their spring with Alexander Kristoff’s Gent-Wevelgem win, and the Norwegian is again joined by Fernando Gaviria and Jasper Philipsen here. Luke Rowe highlighted his form when he bridged across to the break at Gent-Wevelgem, and the Welshman heads a Team Sky squad that also includes a hitherto subdued Gianni Moscon.
The start on Roeselaere’s striking Grote Markt is one of the most boisterous of the entire Flemish campaign – another sort of a warm-up for the main event in Antwerp on Sunday morning. After being flagged away from the start, the peloton race for 82 kilometres before hitting the first of the day’s eleven climbs, the Nieuwe Kwaremont.
The redrawn Dwars door Vlaanderen’s principal difficulties, however, are shoehorned into the final 65 kilometres. The race gets very hard very quickly with 60km to go, when the Knokteberg and Kortekeer are followed in rapid-fire succession by the cobbles at Maria Borestraat, the climb of Steenbeekdries, the Stationsberg cobbles and the ascents of the Taaienberg and Berg Ten Houte.
Dwars door Vlaanderen may be ‘only’ 182 kilometres long, but the reduced distance does little to dampen its difficulty.
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