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Ronde New Course: Take two

Ronde van Vlaanderen There are a lot of races that we like here at the Café, but none more than this one. The enthusiasm by the regulars for this race is unmatched and newcomers here are quickly swept up in it. It might not be everyone’s favorite race, but it’s certainly in most of our top 5’s.

Fotoreporter Sirotti

The 2013 edition has all the build-up one could hope for. Most of the big guys have shown some form in the early season, but the weather has been such a factor that it’s hard to say definitively who has the biggest advantage. Sagan and Spartacus threw down their respective gauntlets at E3 and GW. Others have shown good form but everyone will be focused on the wheels of Cancellara and Sagan.

With only one edition of the new route, it’s really hard to know what to expect. The Muur van Geraardsbergen was famously removed from the route last season (and a “Flanders Classics Wing” was opened in hell) in favor of a circuit that includes facing the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg three times each.

I know that change is bad, and new things are scary, but I actually like the course. Sure I miss the Muur, and that will likely grow with each Ronde that excludes it- but we’re not here to dwell…

So what can we use about last years race that we can apply to this one? Certainly it was ridden cautiously- the only thing of significance before 40km to go was Cancellara breaking his collarbone in a feedzone mishap.

It wasn’t until the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont that things starting to shake out. Until that point, all the heavyweights were content to keep things under control. But when Lord Sep hit the gas as the climb transitioned from pavement to cobbles, things got interesting. This reduced the peloton significantly but there were still around 25 guys fighting for position at the base of the Paterberg. When Johan Vansummeren bounced off Niki Terpstra and went into the barriers blocking the way for everyone behind, the ten riders that emerged in front of the carnage had a huge advantage.

Peter Sagan made a remarkable effort to bridge up to the leaders, but not without cost. While Sky was able to bring the group together before the final trip up Oude Kwaremont, the group quickly exploded on the climb. Allesandro Ballan opened a gap, which was chased down by Filippo Pozzato with Tom Boonen in tow. These three came together at the top of the climb and the podium was set.

While the old course offered spectacle, which was not diminished by the predictability of the race being oft decided on the Muur, the new course gives us something different. I think it’s harder, but in a different way. Once they hit the circuit part of the course, there really isn’t much of a chance to rest. Yes there is a 17k gap from the Paterberg back to Oude Kwaremont, but there is the Hoogberg to deal with and any easing of the pace at the front can quickly negate any gains made on the climbs.

Each climb is costly, and the toll accumulates. If someone gets dropped on the Paterberg, they may catch up by the time they reach Oude Kwaremont again, but being dropped and having to chase back on makes the tank that much emptier for the next attempt. To paraphrase Sean Kelly during last years broadcast, “if you can’t make it up the climb with the leaders on the first attempt, it’s unlikely you’ll do it the second time.”

I think we’ll see teams use their riders earlier this year. The Vandenbergh’s, Stannard’s, and Burghardt’s of the peloton will need to get their leaders into a good position before they hit Oude Kwaremont, because if they wait until later, they may never get an opportunity.

That being said, there are sure to be some teams that will be invested in keeping things together and hoping for the best. If you’re Garmin, or Saxo, or Blanco, FdJ, Europcar…you’re going to need some luck in this race to do well. It’s hard to find luck when you’re not represented in the final selection- so maybe they want to delay that selection as long as possible.

I also think the crashes that occurred last year will be remembered. More riders fighting for limited space on narrow roads can lead to problems- a situation that was reinforced by Tom Boonen going down in GW.

Anyone that wants to win is going to have to isolate Cancellara and Sagan early. Neither of them have great teams- although the Cannondale effort to save Sagan’s day at G3 was impressive. The teams with depth have to get dangerous riders up the road early and force the issue. That’s really the only way I see this not becoming a Cancellara, Sagan smackdown- but on second thought, that sounds good too… So much to love about this race!

As for favorites, this isn’t a race that allows for surprises. The new course, I think, even less so than the old. Expect to see Cance and Sagan there. Beyond that it’s really hard to say. Pozzato looked really strong on this course last year, but didn’t look great at E3. Greg Van Avermaet has been seen at the front a lot, Heinrich Haussler is making an effort to get his “G” back. Sky will likely have someone, but it’s anyone’s guess whom it will be. Boom has been all but invisible, Boonen’s recovering from his GW mishap- which might put Chava or Terpstra into a more featured role.

There’s a chance that Cancellara and Sagan could negate each other. I can’t see Fabian towing Sagan to the line, and I can’t see Peter being able to drop the Swiss Bear and make the mostly flat 15k run to the finish solo. Maybe this allows for someone else to get away?

I’m just happy it’s almost here.