CYCLING Preview: Famed Tour of Flanders comes Sunday, but who are the favorites?

The spring “Cobbled Classics” circuit is coming to an end, with two of the most famous one-day races in cycling scheduled for the next two Sundays: the 103rd Ronde van Vlaanderen – the Tour of Flanders – on the 7th and 117th Paris-Roubaix on the 14th. The winners of the five UCI World Tour Cobbled Classics so far:

02 March: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad ~ Zdenek Stybar (CZE)
27 March: Drie Daagse de Panne ~ Dylan Groenewegen (NED)
29 March: E3 Binckbank Classic ~ Zdensk Stybar (CZE)
31 March: Gent-Wevelgem ~ Alexander Kristoff (NOR)
03 April: Dwars door Vlaanderen ~ Mathieu van der Poel (NED)
07 April: Ronde van Vlaanderen ~ first held in 1913
14 April: Paris-Roubaix ~ first held in 1896

The 2019 Ronde van Vlaanderen route comprises 270 km, with 16 climbs between the start in Antwerp and the finish in Oudenaarde. The final climbs up the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg in the final 17 km are often decisive.

The all-star field includes five former winners and 10 former medalists:

● Niki Terpstra (NED) ~ Winner in 2018; second in 2015; third in 2017
● Philippe Gilbert (BEL) ~ Winner in 2017; third in 2009-10-18
● Peter Sagan (SVK) ~ Winner in 2016; runner-up in 2013
● Alexander Kristoff (NOR) ~ Winner in 2015
● Stijn Devolder (BEL) ~ Winner in 2008-09
● Greg van Avermaet (BEL) ~ Runner-up in 2014-17; third in 2015
● Mads Pedersen (DEN) ~ Runner-up in 2018
● Henrich Haussler (AUS) ~ Runner-up in 2009
● Jurgen Roelandts (BEL) ~ Third in 2013
● Sep Vanmarche (BEL) ~ Third in 2014-16

There are many more stars on the entry list, including Spain Alejandro Valverde (2019 UAE Tour runner-up); Czech Zdenek Stybar, already the winner of two Cobbled Classics this season; Yves Lampaert (BEL), who felt the two stoppages in the Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday kept him from winning a third title there; Bob Jungels (LUX), third at Dwars door Vlaanderen and a lot more.

The last 15 km are pretty flat, so whomever can survive the final hills will be in place for the sprint to the finish. Look for results here.

The 16th Ronde van Vlaanderen for women will also be held on Sunday, with a 159 km course that has 10 climbs, also including the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg in the final 17 km. The route starts and finishes in Oudenaarde and includes four cobbled sections.

This is one of the top races of the season on the Women’s World Tour and has attracted an outstanding field, with 10 former medal winners:

● Chantal Blaak (NED) ~ Third in 2016-17
● Jolien D’Hoore (BEL) ~ Runner-up in 2015
● Kirsten Wild (NED) ~ Runner-up in 2009; third in 2008-10
● Amy Pieters (NED) ~ Runner-up in 2018
Coryn Rivera (USA) ~ Winner in 2017
● Annemiek van Vleuten (NED) ~ Winner in 2011; third in 2018
● Ellen van Dijk (NED) ~ Winner in 2014; runner-up in 2013
● Gracie Elvin (AUS) ~ Runner-up in 2017
● Marianne Vos (NED) ~ Winner in 2013; runner-up in 2010; third in 2007-11
● Elisa Longo Borghini (ITA) ~ Winner in 2015

The big question going into the race is … can anyone stop the Dutch?

Four of the five Women’s World Tour races have been won by Dutch riders, with Wild taking the last two and van Vleuten and Vos winning the others. Only tour leader Marta Bastianelli (ITA) has a win among the rest, taking the title at Ronde van Drenthe – in The Netherlands! – on 17 March.

In fact, Dutch riders have won eight of the 15 medals awarded so far this season! Look for Australia’s Amanda Spratt, Kasia Niewiadoma (POL), Belgium’s Lotte Kopecky and Cecile Uttrup Ludwig (DEN) as challengers off their form this season.

Look for results here.