Can Peter Sagan (Cannondale) win the Tour of Flanders? That, perhaps above all else, is the question that fans are asking of Sunday’s (March 31) northern European Classic.

Last year, the landscape looked very different going into De Ronde Van Vlaanderen. Local hero Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) was on scintillating form, having already won E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem before taking Flanders and then going on to win Paris-Roubaix. Such was his dominance in the classics that other riders simply didn’t get a look in. Twelve months later, and an off-season plagued by illness and injury has taken its toll on Boonen.

This year, Sagan has appeared to be a cut above his classics rivals, almost toying with his fellow contenders in the races leading up to Flanders. A win in Ghent-Wevelgem and a stage victory in the Three Days of De Panne this week, allied to second places at Milan-San Remo and E3 Harelbeke show he’s a man for all courses and all weathers. But being a runaway favourite has one massive disadvantage – he’ll be a heavily marked man. And he lacks the experience of riders like Boonen – nine years his senior – relying instead on brute power.

Although Sagan’s Cannondale outfit has some strong riders, there’s no comparison with the strength-in-depth of Boonen’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep set-up. Sylvain Chavanel and Niki Terpstra are both in good shape, with Chavanel coming into Flanders fresh from winning the Three Days of De Panne on Thursday.

Winner of Flanders in 2010, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) has also shown more than a glimmer of previous form, taking a solo win at E3 Harelbeke. Unlike Sagan, Boonen and Chavanel, he sat out riding in De Panne so goes into Flanders with fresher legs. He’ll be hoping to avoid the feed zone crash that saw him forced to withdraw from the race last year.

Sky will be there to upset the party en masse, and will be looking to improve on their solid start in the classics that has so far been without a win. Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Bernhard Eisel and Mat Hayman have all been in the mix in races leading up to Flanders, and will be hungry to step up onto the podium.

Watch out also for Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) who was leading in De Panne before Chavanel overturned him in the final time trial. He rode aggressively all week and could be the surprise package in De Ronde.

Aside from British national champ Stannard and Welshman Thomas (Sky), Britain is represented in the race by Luke Rowe (Sky), Russell Downing (NetApp-Endura), Alex Dowsett (Movistar) and late addition Adam Blythe (BMC), who steps in to replace injured Taylor Phinney. David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) sits out the race due to illness.

Tour of Flanders 2013: The race
When: Sunday March 31 2013
Where: Belgium
Start/finish: Bruges to Oudenaarde
Distance: 256 kilometres

This year’s race route is very similar to last year’s, which controversially left out the Muur van Geraardsbergen for the first time since 1980. It’s a race of two halves, with a relatively flat opening 90 kilometres out of Bruges (Brugge) before hitting the first of the major climbs.

The riders then travel in and out of three loops south of the finish town of Oudenaarde, taking in 17 climbs and seven sections of cobbles.

Iconic climbs Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg are both encountered by the riders on three leg-sapping occasions. The final ascent of the Paterberg is then followed by a flat 13km run-in to the finish, during which any escape must keep up momentum to keep the chasers at bay.

Tour of Flanders 2013: Climbs
Start: Bruges 0km
1. Tiegemberg 91km
2. Taaienberg 113km
3. Eikenberg 119km
4. Molenberg 134km
5. Rekelberg 149km
6. Berendries 154km
7. Valkenberg 160km
8. Oude Kwaremont 182km
9. Paterberg 186km
10. Koppenberg 192km
11. Steenbeekdries 198km
12. Kruisberg/Hotond 209km
13. Oude Kwaremont 219km
14. Paterberg 223km
15. Hoogberg/Hotond 230km
16. Oude Kwaremont 239km
17. Paterberg 243km
Finish: Oudenaarde: 256km 



Tour of Flanders 2013: Teams
Tour of Flanders 2013: Start list>>
Accent.Jobs-Wanty
Ag2r-La Mondiale
Argos-Shimano
Astana
Blanco
BMC Racing Team
Cannondale
Crelan-Euphony
Europcar
Euskaltel-Euskadi
FDJ
Garmin-Sharp
IAM Cycling
Katusha
Lampre-Merida
Lotto-Belisol
Movistar
NetApp-Endura
Omega Pharma-QuickStep
Orica-GreenEdge
RadioShack-Leopard
Saxo-Tinkoff
Sky
Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise
Vacansoleil-DCM
Vini Fantini

Tour of Flanders 2013: TV guide
Digital and satellite channel British Eurosport will broadcast live coverage of the 2013 Tour of Flanders.
Sunday March 31, 10:45-16:00, Tour of Flanders LIVE, British Eurosport
Sunday March 31, 20:00-22:00, Tour of Flanders highlights, British Eurosport 2

Tom Boonen (centre): winner in 2012, 2006 and 2005

Tour of Flanders: Recent winners
2012 Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
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

Tour of Flanders: Last year’s top ten (2012)
1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
2. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Farnese-Vini
3. Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing at 1 sec
4. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing at 38 secs
5. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
6. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
7. Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha
8. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar
9. Matti Breschel (Den) Rabobank
10. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at same time

Related links

Tour of Flanders 2013: Start list

Gilbert and Phinney out of Flanders

Spring Classics 2013: Coverage index

2012: Boonen wins Tour of Flanders