After the removal of the Muur and the Bosberg climbs from the Tour of Flanders three years ago, there is another and no less significant alteration of the landscape and outcome of this year’s Tour of Flanders: the absence of both Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen.
For the bones of a decade, on courses old and new, Cancellara and Boonen won six of the last ten editions of the Ronde. The unexpected absence of both men through injury, shifts the contours of the race into a hitherto unrecognisable layout.
2015 was already touted as a year that could mark the passing of the torch from Boonen and Cancellara to the next, younger generation. Their absence accelerates the rate of climate change in Flanders. However it remains intriguingly unclear as to who is best prepared to take advantage of the new conditions.
QuickStep’s tactics, built perennially around Boonen, were the magnetic north of the Tour of Flanders: most others plotted their course accordingly. They will have to plan a different course this year. On the new finale, Cancellara was a landmark unto himself. “The last two years, basically everybody was waiting until Fabian attacked on the Kwaremont,” as John Degenkolb put it this week. However in his absence, Stijn Devolder will be Trek Factory Racing’s team leader. He will be the only rider in Sunday’s peloton who has won the Tour of Flanders, meaning it is more than likely that this year’s Tour of Flanders will crown a new Classics star.
It is often claimed that the riders, and not the route, make the race. But the climbs and cobbles of Flanders render the Ronde van Vlaanderen a unique race.
That said, the speed is high and the risks multiple – Boonen crashed out in the opening hour in 2013. Unlike last weekend at Gent-Wevelgem, the weather conditions should not have an undue effect on the racing: a dry day is anticipated although temperatures are forecast to stay in single figures for most of Sunday.
19 climbs dot the 264.2km route, beginning with the Tiegemberg after 87km before the first of three ascents of the Oude Kwaremont 20km later. A long softening up process follows, as the race criss-crosses the Flemish Ardennes by tackling the Kortekeer, Eikenberg, Wolvenberg, Molenberg, Leberg, Berendries, Kaperij and Kanarieberg.
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