Impossible not to put Cance as the top favorite after E3. We now know he can drop Wonderboy and if anything the extra 50 km is working in his favor. The only thing against him unless Sagan hangs on for a sprint is how he handles the frustration if/when the others race negatively against him.
With one exception he has been able to go with everyone on the hills so far. The others have huge respect for him by now and he is easily faster than anyone who might be able to follow him all the way to Oudenaarde.Questionmarks: Can he follow really follow Cance three times over the Kwaremont? What happens if he is in a chasegroup, will anyone work with him? And will his team be able to be there to help should the need arise?
The ultimate outsider. On better form than anyone in the field and opponents are stuck wondering about his role on OPQS. With the hierarchy and Boonen's shape up in the air the quick on-road decisions on what to do when Chavanel attacks are going to require the wisdom of Solomon in the DS cars and in the other team leaders.
Sagan and Cancellara will know better than to discount Boonen no matter what his preparations have been like. One moment of weakness on the Kwaremont is really all they have to go on. Best-case scenario he's the final dagger in an all day Omega offensive strategy as well. Downside: team-strategy can help him win even if he is a few % of his peak but we're really talking very few percent here. Any more and he's a non-factor.
Greg van Avermaet
Once again GvA is on sparkling form but not getting wins out of it. He's probably never going to have a better shot at the race than this year. Does the team have a good enough strategy to put him in the place to do it?
Paolini has been anonymous last week but he's a poacher anyway. I think he is 100% ready but he is going to need the others to keep underestimating him to get in a winning position.
Another under-performer in the warm-ups. Still the most dangerous challenger since you know this is the day he's been aiming for for a year now. He's going to be levels above what we saw in E3 I'll bet.
The Omega Pharma long game presumably? He has some fearsome solo TT abilities and he's not a man the opposition can afford to give much leash.
Impressive strength on the Kwaremont. Wouldn't be surprised a bit if he steps out of the shadows again to prove a real contender. A bit lacking in sharpness to actually finish it off perhaps though.
Unlucky so far but if the luck turns and he gets in the right group he is a dangerous wildcard with his fast finish. Lotto dearly need him to step up.
Apparently the outright leader on Sky and he certainly has the power to go with the very best, probably all the way to Oudenaarde. Does he have the weapons to finish it off though?
Juan Antonio Flecha
Pretty much the same verdict as for Thomas. He does have one extra thing going for him. One of these days the others are going to underestimate one of his long range attacks and actually not be able to reel it back in. Of course, the opposite is going to be true in 99% of cases.
I'm actually a bit wowed to be mentioning him at this point in the game but if he can harness his power and actually use it in one well timed attack rather than spread it all over the place like an out-of-control fertilizer spreader then believe it or not he's a real contender. Glorious.
He poached a Liege win with brutal strength and brilliant timing. He has the form to do the same here given an inch of room.
He's weird, he's wacky, he can win the Tour of Flanders. The real qualities of Voeckler often get lost in all the antics but make no mistake, he can very well pull off a win because he races smarter and more devious than many of the others. Plus he as a major trump in that unlike many of his opponents Flanders isn't so all-important to him that the fear of losing overpowers his willingness to gamble to win.
Chris made me write his name here. So, now I did. (Although, anyone who watched 2010 knows why he's here)
Winning Dwars puts you on the list by default and just like former teammate Pippo the others would be fools to ignore the guy who just found out what he's capable of.
Presumably number 2 on BMC and obviously ready to step up and resume responsibility. The dream of seing the rock horns in Oudenaarde still lives.
To be honest I would almost have put money on him having one won either one of OHN,Dwars, E3 or G-W this year but perhaps not be a real contender in Tour of Flanders. He's been surprisingly absent though so far but I still get the feeling there is something waiting to be unleashed this year.
Strong as an ox and clever as one too. Could benefit from a tactical move but I'd rather put money on him next week when you can win on power alone.
Edvald Boasson Hagen
Here we go again. We're waiting Edvald.
A brilliant surprise addition to this cobbles season. Has to be a few sizes to o small for a monument but how fantastic wouldn't it be to see a Costa Rican in contention in De Ronde?
Came in with enthusiasm but hasn't really been quite on the level he was pre-suspension. Needs to end up in a good group and benefit from things getting locked up by tactics behind. Otherwise, next year.
Another man on super form who can win but needs a very specific race situation to do it. Will be intriguing to follow though.
Pale but still a threat in the big races. Still think Roubaix could be his day though.
Never did well in De Ronde but he could be the one to benefit from a long range attack and tactical racing? Still, just a warmup for next week for him.
If nothing odd occurs, warming up for Roubaix. Blanco can't really afford simply to phone it in though. Maybe one to take a wild flyer with a small chance to pull it off.
Would love to be a factor but will probably mainly be soft-pedaling hoping to be fit for Roubaix. Cycling really sucks sometimes.