What Is a Real Ronde?

Patrick Verhoest

With the season so messed up by weather, and snow hanging over Flanders, it's time to ask, what would we prefer? Because thinking about the weather you wish you had is sometimes what we do.

I stayed home sick today (for real) and spent a few hours doing exactly what you'd expect -- watching old Ronde van Vlaanderen reruns. One thing led to another, and there I was being completely engrossed in the 2007 edition, a wonderful battle full of people taking risks and doing great things. Up the Muur, to be sure, but putting that aside, if 2007 wasn't a real Ronde -- or 2011, for that matter -- then I don't know.

And those races were in shirtsleeves.

For years around here we've wished for (and not gotten) sheit weather around the major classics, and now that it's an actual possibility, I'd like to parse it out a bit more. Paris-Roubaix? Sure, bring on the slop. A "real Roubaix" is 1985, with Greg LeMond looking like he just came from a minstrel show. It's mud, slips and slides, a tough day out made tougher. Because all that race is is pure power against the elements. More elements = better.

The Tour of Flanders is more similar than not, but the differences are pretty important. If the Koppenberg gets any sloppier, it's out of the race. If the corners are unnavigable, people chill out. I don't think we want rain on the Tour of Flanders. I know we don't want snow.

Wind and cold are another matter. I'm fine with it being a tough day out there. Or I think I am. The Ronde van Vlaanderen is at its heart a very tactical race, so whatever sets the peloton free to fly is what we want. Nice weather has worked well. Boonen and Ballan in shirt sleeves, using their teams to reel in Cancellara and stage a phenomenal finale, that's good. People sitting around waiting for someone to make a move, that's bad.

I'm optimistic we will see a good race. Weather-wise, nothing dramatic is on tap, just a cool, grey day. The moisture that's been around should mean that the spaces between the cobbles are muddy, which will make for some slipping and sliding on the Koppenberg, but nothing too outrageous. Then there's the course design -- last year it was an unknown and the race proceeded with caution. But the array of closing climbs is meant to encourage attacks, particularly since none of the climbs is as strenuous as the Muur and there's no reason to wait for that one moment. Saving it for the Paterberg is tantamount to accepting a sprint. Yes, it's steep, but for these guys, if you're at the front of the race by then, chances are another 375 meters of hell won't kill you. So I personally expect teams to take chances.

Unless Cancellara takes off from 45km and is never seen again. If he's that strong, neither snow nor rain nor heat will keep him from completion of his appointed Ronde.

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