Fans will be licking their lips at the prospect of Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) vs Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) once again at the Tour of Flanders this Sunday (April 1).
Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s Belgian superstar undeniably has the form coming into the Ronde after winning both E3-Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem last week.
Yet with Cancellara looking strong in recent weeks, only a fool would bet against him being at the sharp end of the race when it blasts its way into the new finish in Oudenaarde.
The course itself could prove the star of the show. It misses out the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen for the first time since 1980, instead taking riders on three finishing circuits of decreasing length before an 8km straight to the finish.
It’s Boonen vs. Cancellara once again at Flanders
How the race unfolds on its new course is yet to be seen, but we can be sure that the narrow Flandrian farm tracks won’t be the only twists and turns in a race that seldom fails to live up to expectations.
Tour of Flanders 2012: The race
Organisers insist the controversial new finishing route doesn’t spoil the character of the race and actually improves safety and makes television coverage easier.
With the traditional start staying in Bruges’ market square, the first 110km of the race takes in flat Flemish countryside before the riders hit the bergs.
The final three circuits begin with 77km to race and will mark the point where the strongest riders will start to take the race by the horns. The iconic Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs are tackled three times each over the course of the laps, with four other climbs in between.
After the final Paterberg ascent, just 13 flat kilometers remain before Oudenaarde welcomes the Ronde.
Start: Bruges 0km
1. Taaienberg 109km
2. Eikenberg 116km
3. Molenberg 130km
4. Rekelberg 144km
5. Berendries 148km
6. Valkenberg 155km
7. Oude Kwaremont 178km
8. Paterberg 182km
9. Koppenberg 188km
10. Steenbeekdries 193km
11. Kruisberg/Hotond 209km
12. Oude Kwaremont 219km
13. Paterberg 222km
14. Hoogberg/Hotond 229km
15. Oude Kwaremont 239km
16. Paterberg 242km
Finish: Oudenaarde: 255km
Tour of Flanders 2012: The favourites
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep)
Putting a dismal 2011 behind him, Tornado Tom is back to his best. He looks strong on the cobbles and, despite its savagery, fast in the sprint. He’s done everything right leading up to Flanders.
Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek)
The Cancellara engine ran out of luck rather than steam at E3-Prijs, and it’ll be out to make amends for the disappointment of last year. If we needed proof, Milan-San Remo showed that Cancellara’s wheel will be a tough one to follow.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)
It would be an upset, but after a fourth in Milan-San Remo and second at Ghent-Wevelgem, the Slovak sensation goes into Flanders with good odds. Currently racing at the Three Days of De Panne.
Boonen will be the leader but as recent weeks have showed, Omega Pharma-QuickStep have no shortage of reserves. Sylvain Chavanel is on top form, and Niki Terpstra simply rode away at Dwars Door Vlaanderen.
Matti Breschel (Rabobank)
The Dane’s third place at Ghent-Wevelgem looks to have concluded his recovery from a knee injury that ruled him out of almost all of 2011. A top ten looks possible but he lacks a recent win; his last came in August 2010.
Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing)
Given that the BMC big guns Hushovd and Gilbert are looking off colour, Ballan could be the super team’s best bet. Looked strong at the Strade Bianche before he made a wrong turn.
Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda)
The 23 year-old outwitted Boonen at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and has kept his form going throughout March. He’ll be without the help of David Millar though, and could find himself playing super domestique to Heinrich Haussler and Johan Van Summeren should they get up the road.
Edvald Boassan Hagen (Sky)
Finally freed from Cavendish duty, Sky’s strong man could relish the role as leader and convert his form into a high-profile result.
Filippo Pozzato (Farnese-Vini)
The Italian has bounced back from his broken collarbone at the Tour of Qatar with aplomb, putting in fine performances in the early season races so far. Although his Farnese-Vini squad lack World Tour experience, they’ve proved themselves more than capable this year when the going gets cobbled.
Also watch out for…
Bernhard Eisel (Sky)
Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing)
Oscar Freire (Katusha)
Ian Stannard (Sky)
Tour of Flanders 2012: Teams
Accent Jobs-Willems Verandas
Ag2r La Mondiale
Farnese Vini-Selle Italia
Nick Nuyens wins the 2011 Tour of Flanders
Tour of Flanders: Recent winners
2011 Nick Nuyens (Bel) Saxo Bank
2010 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank
2009 Stijn Devolder (Bel) QuickStep
2008 Stijn Devolder (Bel) QuickStep
2007 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre
2006 Tom Boonen (Bel) QuickStep
2005 Tom Boonen (Bel) QuickStep
2004 Steffen Wesemann (Ger) T-Mobile
2003 Peter van Petegem (Bel) Lotto
2002 Andrea Tafi (Ita) Mapei
Tour of Flanders: Last year’s top ten (2011)
1. Nick Nuyens (Bel) Saxo Bank
2. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step
3. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Leopard-Trek at same time
4. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step at 2 secs
5. Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank at 5 secs
6. George Hincapie (USA) BMC
7. Bjorn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil
8. Staf Schierlinckx (Bel) Verandas Willems
9. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
10. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at same time
Tour of Flanders 2012: TV guide
The Tour of Flanders will be shown live by digital channel British Eurosport
Sunday, April 1 2012, 14.15-16.00, Tour of Flanders LIVE, British Eurosport
Sunday, April 1 2012, 21.50-22.50, Tour of Flanders highlights, British Eurosport
Monday, April 2 2012, 11.00-12.00, Tour of Flanders highlights, British Eurosport
Monday, April 2 2012, 20.30-21.30, Tour of Flanders highlights, British Eurosport