Preview: 2012 Dwars door Vlaanderen

Last month’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne should have whetted your appetite for the Belgian Classics and on Wednesday, major cycling returns to the home of cobbles, bergs, frits and fine beer with Dwars door Vlaanderen. The Belgian race kick-starts a month-long block of racing that includes E3 and Gent-Wevelgem, before reaching a crescendo of cobbled-action with the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

The race is somewhat of a mid-way point in the Classics season as riders head north from their efforts at Milan-San Remo to do battle with the more of the cobbled specialists.

Cavendish leads Sky

Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) and Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) lead an all-star line up, and both riders will have points to prove after disappointing results in Italy, while last year’s breakaway duo of Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank) and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) are both absent – the Belgian recovering from injury and the Sky rider concentrating on his track preparations ahead of the World Championships in Melbourne next month.

Matthew Goss (GreenEdge), Oscar Freire (Team Katusha), 2008 winner Sylvain Chavanel, 2010 winner Matti Breschel (Rabobank), Sep Vanmarke (Garmin-Barracuda), and John Degenkolb (1T4i) are all pencilled in to start. However Tom Boonen (Omega-Pharma QuickStep) and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Nissan) are both absent.

As in previous years the first few hours of the race take in flat country roads from the start in Roeselare before the first climb, the Nieuw Kwaremont at 87 kilometres. By then a break will have likely formed but the first climb, with the Kattenberg and Leberg coming in quick succession, will see the pace ramp up as the strongmen and their teams battle for position at the front of the peloton. The two cobbled sections – Holleweg and Haaghoek – between the Kattenberg and the Leberg may also prove decisive.

However, the most challenging sections are yet to come, with the Eikenberg at 140 kilometres, starting a run of six bergs in 40 kilometres of racing, with the Paterberg at 179 kilometres, sure to see fireworks. But another key point could arrive just after the Paterberg, with a two-kilometre stretch of cobbles leading into the final set of climbs.

There are three more climbs before the finish: the Vossenhol, Hostraat and Nokereberg, with the climb summit seven kilometres from the finish in Waregem.

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