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2007 Podium Cafe Race of the Year: De People Have Spoken!

As with the 2007 Podium Cafe Rider of the Year, the popular vote nails it: the Tour of Flanders is officially your 2007 Podium Cafe Race of the Year!

In some sense this isn't an entirely fair contest: monuments will always have built-in advantages for "best day" roundups because a) they're beautiful races; and b) they're monuments, so everybody comes correct. And the Tour of Flanders has the biggest advantage of all: I doubt there is a more anticipated bike race on the planet outside the Tour de France. For weeks on end, the stars of the Cobbles are duking it out in Belgium to position themselves physically and psychologically for de Ronde. Between Het Volk and the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen races you can preview nearly the entire race, in full-on dress rehearsal mode. By comparison, Milan-San Remo is a training ride for a huge percent of the peloton, Liege and Paris-Roubaix share the spotlight with the other big events coming days earlier, and Lombardia is the racing season's last gasp.

Not that de Ronde is always the best race for distant viewers; the past two years were fine battles but lacking in dramatic results. But it never fails to draw an amazing field, it always looks beautiful, the fans bring it to life and more, ... well, can this race possibly suck?

Anyway, the riders make the race, and starting in 2007 we are seeing perhaps the highest competition levels at de Ronde. After two years of Boonen coronations, Torpedo Tom is just one of the mega-favorites. Fellow countrymen Leif Hoste, Nick Nuyens, Stijn Devolder, Gert Steegmans and Philippe Gilbert have the cobbled pedigree, with Hoste forever an inch away. Italians are increasingly falling in love with the cobbles, and Alessandro Ballan's victory this year will inspire fellow youngsters Pippo Pozzato and Daniele Bennati, as well as vets like Luca Paolini and, oh, a certain world champion who insists he wants this one missing prize. Add in Fabian Cancellara (surely to win one someday), Marcus Burghardt, vets like Stuart O'Grady, George Hincapie, Kim Kirchen, Stef Schumacher, Oscar Freire... where does it end?

This year's edition will be remembered for Cancellara's aggression, for the Lampre one-two combo, for Boonen faltering on the Muur, and for the unforgettable last 300 meters, where two champions duked it out right to the final inch. Maybe you have other memories to add, feel free. It certainly wasn't the only great race of the year, and reasonable minds will differ... but there's no question of its worthiness.