What happens in Waregem stays in Waregem said absolutely no one ever. How could they? Firstly, barely anyone has ever heard of Waregem and secondly, what happens there really does continue to have an effect elsewhere. At least when we're talking about Waregem as the home to the classic Dwars door Vlaanderen race. Just look at the latest winners. Last year the race was won in commanding fashion by Niki Terpstra who then went on to be a force in the monuments, 6th in de Ronde and almost hanging with Tommeke in Roubaix. Before that it was Nick Nuyens who won and he took that as a warmup to winning the whole damn Tour of Flanders. The same would no doubt have happened in 2010 when Breschel won Dwars only to have his almost 100% certain victory in RvV (that's my story and I'm sticking to it) disappear as his Keystone Cop- DS fumbled a simple bikechange. So Dwars is certainly going to provide us with some interesting answers.
The course is more or less exactly the same as last year. It's a hard meander in the well known area around Oudenaarde(rather than the straight dash across Flanders it's advertized as) taking on most of the classic hellingen save for Koppenberg which seems to be the sole property of the Ronde van Vlaanderen for whatever reason. On paper it doesn't look so bad.....
The race passes four significant clusters of hills. First the paved climbs around Brakel that probably serve mainly as leg-sappers the way they're placed. Then comes the Eikenberg/Stenbeekdries were the active teams should be starting to pile on the pressure and any long break sitting out there should be getting in serious trouble. The Eikenberg in particular is long and mean and perfect for stronger riders to force a selection. The deciding challenge then comes with the two long Knokteberg and Oude Kwaremont climbs followed by the crazy Paterberg. This is where anyone on a super-day will be going all in. Dwars can very well end up in a fairly large group sprint though but conditions and what happens on the Paterberg and the plateau just after could very well determine if that happens. After the Paterberg the riders face three easier climbs but at this point in the race they certainly won't feel that way. If nothing else they do pose a challenge for a bigger group trying to keep the race together for a sprint finish. With only about 8 km from the final hill, the 500m at 5,7% Nokereberg the late attacker has a tempting launchpad depending on wind conditions. Tomorrow looks like a slight headwind if reports are correct though.
Who to look for?
For this year there are a bunch of likely candidates for the revelation of the year title. I dunno,maybe we say this every year but when you take a look at the field there is just such a stacked list of guys who could break through. Sadly the rough Milano Sanremo shaved a few big names off the final startlist so Dwars now looks more open than ever. If I were to throw a few names in the ring I'd go with the following:
Next to Our Lord and Saviour Sep is there any guy we've been hyping here more than Thomas? Probably not but after that top 10 at Ronde van Vlaanderen two years ago and the good prep his had this winter I can only assume that this is when he actually follows up with a win. He just barely lost out here to Nuyens in 2011 and he has the ability to win, both from a solo/group-attack and from a bigger group sprint. *Disclaimer* If the guy actually races at all that is? It seems a bit up in the air at the time I'm writing this.
This guy is starting to define the old "there or thereabouts" meme without ever scoring that definitive win. In this kind of field and if the race is made hard enough he should be one of the strongest if he has managed to time some form. Not sure how the team dynamics (if any) with new teammate Flecha will play out but it's time for Leukemans to deliver.
Should this race stay together for a decent size groupsprint of 20-30 riders my money is no doubt on the Norwegian who is looking more impressive every race that goes by. Originally thought of as a pure sprinter he is really looking like a complete one-day rider these days. You can bet that he can count on some useful help from his Katusha team as well.
The Radioshacker gets my vote for total outsider. Plagued by bad luck last year he still looked impressive. I never pegged him for a cobbles man but he surprises you. I'm not even sure what types of races he is hoping to focus on but he clearly has what it takes and on RSL there's room for people to step into leadership when Cance is not around. Not that he's alone, their roster also has Roulston who likes the nasty conditions and the new hotshot Jungels who is making his classics debut. And that special guy who's return to greatness I've stopped projecting.