This week's first taste of cobbled classicdom comes with the traditional Vlaamse Wielerweek opener and tragically misnamed Dwars door Vlaanderen, a/k/a straight across Flanders. This year's hopelessly meandering route will nonetheless take in a wee bit more pain than the standard Dwars route and provide an excellent place to test the Ronde van Vlaanderen form. And if you're not clear on that point, recall that last year's Dwars winner was... Nick Nuyens.
Some course details on the flip. We will have a complete preview of the field in a separate post. For now, let's just put the race in its proper perspective.
Dwars door Vlaanderen is always around 200km, always hilly, generally sorta cobbly. The climbs are late -- more like de Ronde, less like its closest counterpart E3 Prijs scheduled for Friday, which finishes a good 5km further from the nearest climb. Without running the numbers, I believe E3 is a tad more cobbled overall and late in the game, so I suppose you could say E3 is a bit stronger in the stones preview and Dwars in the climby bits. But this is a distinction with barely a difference. Bottom line is, both race start and end in Greater Kortrijk and spend 200 km (a significant threshold) connecting kasseien (cobbles) and hellingen (hills) in the Vlaamse Ardennen (there will be a quiz).
Here's this year's course. Click on it, it should grow nice and big. Even I at my advanced age can read the original.
Compared to last year, it's got one extra early climb (the Berendries) and five fewer km. The final climbs are not particularly daunting. Working backward, the Nokereberg should be the last gasp at a selection, coming with 9km to go. It's 500 cobbled meters in the 5-6% range. Before that is the Vossenhol - Holstraat double, both paved, but both a full km+ in length. That's a lot of climbing at/just under 20km to go. Prior to that will be the biggest set of challenges:
- Knokteberg, km 156. It's paved, but it's 1.7km with a 13% stretch;
- Oude Kwaremont, km 163. Cobbled, brutal early bit (11%), 1.1km;
- Paterberg, km 167. Nasty, brutish and short;
- Brugstraat, km 171. 2000 meters of flat cobbles.
In other words, when the Vossenhol-Holstraat climbs hit, legs will be very, very heavy. Assuming the intense competition means a high pace coming in, these patches of activity should all be huge deciders in the race. Weather looks good all week, so that high pace... yeah.
Photo by Patrick Verhoest for the Podium Cafe