Predicting the winners of bike races can be a fool’s game.

But Cycling Weekly stuck it’s neck on the block before the Tour of Flanders and came up with a list of ten riders we thought would be in the mix at the finish.

So, how did we fare? Well, all ten of our tipped riders made the final cut and finished in the top 23, within 21 seconds of the winner, Stijn Devolder.

Not bad, we think, although we know that in cycling you’re only as good as your last result. Come back tomorrow (Tuesday) to see who we think will do well at Ghent-Wevelgem. Then laugh and point at us when our tipped riders do badly.

In the meantime, forgive us if we bask in a glow of slight smugness as we take a look at how our favourites fared in Flanders…

1 Fabian Cancellara

23rd at 21sec

We said:
Awesome form. Can he match the pace and go with the moves on the Muur?

How he did: Looked superb on the Molenberg early on, made it across to the big move on Berendries just behind Boonen but came unstuck on the Muur. As they rode through the town he was on the front of the bunch, by the Kapelmuur at the top, he’d lost two dozen places and had to chase hard to get back to the front for the Bosberg. By then, he’d cashed in all his chips.


2 Alessandro Ballan

4th at 21sec

We said:
Lack of back-up from his team in the latter stages.

How he did: They said the Italian would go missing in the cold and wet but he was one of the most aggressive riders in the latter stages – the one Boonen was most concerned about marking.

3 Leif Hoste

19th at 21sec

We said:
Great team back-up. Certain to be in the mix in the final stages without having to make much effort early on.

How he did: Had a mechanical problem when he rear derailleur failed on the cobbles at Steenbeekdries. Stuck with only Johan Van Summeren as support, he couldn’t even commandeer his giant 6ft 5in team-mate’s bike because it was too big. Chucked his own bike in the hedge in disgust but did manage to catch back up. The effort took too much out of him though and any chance of victory had gone.


4 Tom Boonen

17th at 21sec

We said:
By his standards poor form so far this season. Huge weight of expectation on his shoulders. Will be marked tight. Team strong but can’t afford a repeat of Het Volk, where they went missing.

How he did: Only really showed himself when he went across to the very dangerous, and powerful break, with a blistering acceleration on Berendries. It was powerful but it wasn’t as effortlessly smooth a style as we’ve seen from Boonen in the past. He then played the faithful team-mate superbly, knowing that no one in his group would want to tow him to the finish.

5 Filippo Pozzato

6th at 21sec

We said:
May be isolated later on, unless Manuel Quinziato can stay with him.

How he did: Boonen’s quip that Pozzato would shrivel in the rain because he wouldn’t want to get his shoes dirty was only a joke. Liquigas did a lot of chasing when the five-man group (Ballan, Devolder, Cancellara, Hincapie, Langeveld) was away, so presumably Pozzato was feeling good. Quinziato was excellent, particularly when he marked the Hushovd-Chavanel move. Pozzato’s moment to act was when Flecha set off in pursuit of Devolder. All the Spaniard needed was another pair of legs to help out and they’d have caught him.

6 Philippe Gilbert

15th at 21sec

We said:
For: Pure aggression. Never-say-die spirit. Against: The fact the element of surprise has been negated.

How he did: Deserves credit for racing without arm warmers (like Boonen). His arms were almost see-through they were so blue with cold. Tried a couple of little attacks but nothing on the scale of his Het Volk epic. Seemed to drown when it got choppy later on. Considering the state he was in when CW saw him on the Molenberg, it was impressive he even saw the front again. On Molenberg he was 60 riders back, weaving all over the place. He bumped into a Caisse d’Epargne rider, got a shove in the back for his troubles, then fell into the backing when he lost control.

7 Nick Nuyens

2nd at 15sec

We said:
[He has] a sharp tactical brain to take advantage if he finds himself in the right move.

How he did: Chavanel was talked up as Cofidis’ big threat but it was always going to be more about Nuyens. He’s improving all the time and although he didn’t win, he took responsibility when it mattered (unlike some other favourites). However, he couldn’t assist the Flecha chase in the final kilometres and the way he kept checking over his shoulder suggested he was really only concerned about making the podium at that stage, rather than winning.

8 Juan Antonio Flecha

3rd at 15sec

We said:
He’s the best hope of victory in a strong, but not sensational, Rabobank team. Better suited to Paris-Roubaix. May keep his powder dry.

How he did: It’s impossible not to like the way this Spaniard rides. Far be it for us to suggest that Devolder benefited from riding a bubble created by half a dozen motorbikes while Flecha ploughed on with nothing even 100 metres in front of him. He got within nine seconds of Devolder before blowing completely. Needed someone to go with him when he launched his last attack with four kilometres to go.


9 Stijn Devolder

1st

We said:
Could be the decoy if Boonen is feeling below par or is marked out of it. Would be the ideal man to put in a powerful break around mid-way. A bit brainless when it comes to racing and thinking on his feet. Will be tied to the Quick Step game plan and probably put at the service of Boonen.

How he did: Well, he was some decoy. He attacked a bit later than halfway but it really cast a seed of doubt among the other teams, who did not have the luxury of a duo as collectively strong as Boonen and Devolder. It was a powerful ride, that’s for sure, but it can’t have been Plan A. The idea was to send him away, force others to chase and set it up for Boonen. But when the hesitated, suddenly Devolder had an opportunity. He faded badly on the Muur and came perilously close to being caught.

10 Andreas Klier

20th at 21sec

We said:
Knows his way around. Has been in the top 10 three times. A better bet than Hincapie.

How he did: He wasn’t a better bet than Hincapie. It was a quiet day for Klier but a respectable result on a day when High Road seemed spoilt for choice.

THE DARK HORSES
Gert Steegmans – 61st at 9-14
Big man did his work early on for Quick Step, then sat up as the hills started to come thick and fast.

Karsten Kroon – 41st at 3-29
CSC man should have been to Cancellara what Boonen was to Devolder – and could have profited himself – but he just looks a bit fragile on the hills.

Enrico Gasparotto DNF
Talked up because of his ride at De Panne – he found that the Tour of Flanders is a very different beast. Not ready for this yet.

Sylvain Chavanel – 30th at 3-18
Another one in great form. Tried a couple of little moves but was definitely number two to Nuyens in the Cofidis game plan.

Thor Hushovd – 27th at 3-18
We said he always pops on the final climbs and after an impressive looking late-ish attack, that’s exactly what happened. Could be a big danger at Paris-Roubaix though.

Tomas Vaitkus – DNF
Astana’s main man was Gregory Rast in the end. Vaitkus was busy early on but quit.

Oscar Freire – 40th at 3-18
Launched a great attack and kept it going for a good few kilometres. A classy rider, has it in him to win here one day.

Vladimir Gusev – DNF
Anonymous, crashed and packed. Should do better at Paris-Roubaix ? but won’t because Astana are barred by ASO.

George Hincapie – 5th at 21sec
Did much better than we expected, got in a super-looking move. Seemed to relish being in a team that actually gives a damn about the Classics and stepped up.

Roger Hammond – 32nd at 3-18
Crashed but was looking good on the Molenberg and still pretty comfortable on the Muur as he passed in second place. His form is good for Wednesday and Sunday.

CAUGHT OUR EYE
Sebastian Langeveld
Impressive ride by a little-known Dutchman on the Rabobank squad. Tried so hard to bridge across to Devolder having been on the attack earlier on.

Martijn Maaskant
We chortled a bit when Jonathan Vaughters told us that Maaskant would be a big player in the cobbled Classics in years to come. Maaskant won the European Continental Tour last year (the next rung down from the ProTour) and joined Slipstream from Rabobank’s feeder squad. The Dutch may be regretting letting him go.

Janek Tombak
Mitsubishi-Jartazi’s Estonian rider was in the early break, then went with the late Hushovd move. Nice work.

Simon Spilak
A reader from Slovenia, Rajko Petek, writes to say: “He’s only 21 and for me is the biggest talent for the Belgian races. This year is his first with a ProTour team [Lampre] and in his third race (ever) in Belgium, he finished ninth in the Ronde! He lost fourth place by only a centimetre or two. His second race in Belgium was De Panne, where he was fifth. He’s young, inexperienced and doesn’t know the roads of Belgium yet. What do you think about that?”

A good point well made by our Slovenian friend.

RELATED LINKS
Reports and reaction
Report: Stijn Devolder clinches Flanders
Reaction: Devolder celebrates dream win
Reaction: How the British riders got on
Report: Judith Arndt wins women’s Tour of Flanders

Previews
Hammond ready
Boonen can handle the pressure
Bad weather won’t hold back Ballan
The Big Preview: We assess the favourites

Tour of Flanders 2008 photo gallery>>