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Notes From the Oudenaarde Desk

Fotoreporter Sirotti

It's Flanders Week! I said IT'S FLANDERS WEEK!!!

I haven't been paying tons of attention to Driedaagse De Panne (Three Dogs of De Panne) but I can tell you we've had the usual reduced sprints with a time trial guy lurking strategy playing out. This year's Honorary Dogs include opening stage winners Peter Sagan and Sascha Modolo, with a special bark-out to Oscar Gatto, yesterday's almost-winner. Sagan attempted to give the victory in the sprint to his teammate Gatto, even looking back to make sure he was there and, upon confirmation, touching his brake. But it was not to be; the magnetic force that brings Sagan to the line first was too powerful for the best-laid plans of the Cannondale boys. The top ten on GC is as follows:

  1. Gert Steegmans (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 8:57:45
  2. Oscar Gatto (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:00:01
  3. Kenneth Van Bilsen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise 0:00:03
  4. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:05
  5. Mauro Finetto (Ita) Neri Sottoli 0:00:09
  6. Vincent Jerome (Fra) Team Europcar
  7. Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
  8. Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ 0:00:14
  9. Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge 0:00:20
  10. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha Team 0:00:24

Conventional wisdom seems to be that the race is Niki Terpstra's to lose. Certainly with the form he's on, that's not hard to imagine. But Gert Steegmans, the overall leader, tied Terpstra in last year's 3Dogs ITT, and Luke Durbridge is a pretty serious cronoman, although tomorrow's ITT, all of 15km, barely counts as a serious time trial. Van Kiersbulck also ranks among the non-hopeless against the watch.

Want to know what makes cycling so great? Being out on the course of de Ronde Van Vlaanderen -- open to anyone as long as they're not in a car -- and being passed by a training group consisting of all of the stars of Belkin and Quick Step. Look for many more "out on the course" photo spreads in pretty much every medium you can think of.

Probably the biggest news of the day is the appearance of Sir Bradley Wiggins on the Sky startlist for Flanders, as well as the Scheldeprijs. All of this is necessitated by the back injury sustained by Ian Stannard last weekend, so it hardly counts as good news in that sense. But Wiggins' presence can't help but make things more interesting. Flanders is most likely training for Paris-Roubaix, which I expect him to take much more seriously. The Scheldeprijs, my first reaction was that he would never bother finishing, he'd just log some miles and cobbles, and stay out of harm's way. But if they're lining up Chris Sutton or Bernie Eisel for a shot at the win, who better than Sir Bradley, track ace, to do a leadout? He's done it before. Ah, who are we kidding, Sky don't have the firepower and he'll lay back all day. [Not that "back" and "out of harm's way" are the same thing, but whatever.]

Back to Terpstra... who is missing from this graphic? Just a three-time winner from (gasp) south of the border. Obviously this is a Dutch paper and they know their audience. It further bears mentioning that Terpstra today was described by Patrick Lefevre as a co-captain for the OPQS Flanders Machine, with Tom Boonen and with Zdenek Stybar waiting in the wings. Terpstra is on superior form, but nobody will take their eyes off Boonen for too long. [Lef money quote: "Niki now has only one major drawback. Now everyone knows how good he is."] Sporza, the Belgian major medium, responds by focusing its coverage of Terpstra on what song titles are playing in the background of a recent interview. That's what counts as open warfare in the friendly BeNeLux countries.

The injury bug is so prevalent at Lotto-Belisol that rumors suggest it may now be driving the team bus. Today Frederik Willems, a reliable hand in Flanders, double-broke his collarbone after a fall in Driedaagse De Panne. Andre Greipel, Sunday's victim, hasn't been replaced on the startlist yet, meaning Lotto have two spots open for Sunday. Maybe the Injury Bug can do leadouts or run bottles or something useful?

There should be plenty of grainy video around this week. CyclingNews is now producing videos called "InCycle" which you can access on YouTube. Here's the look back at the history of De Ronde:

Back to Belkin, Lars Boom confirms he will ride for Sep Vanmarcke, who is "stronger than ever" heading into Sunday. Boom's legs are in decent shape following his elbow injury, and he thinks that with a finish of Flanders he can be fit enough to be in the picture for Paris-Roubaix. It would be nice to see Belkin's one-two punch ready for deploying in what is looking like a crowded field.

Will we have a Real Ronde? This is always a subject of discussion each year, and refers to the way in which crappy weather makes the race more exciting. The answer this time is, kinda. Showers are in the area the two days prior, which means that any of the cobbled tracks packed in dirt will be slick with mud at some point (most notably the Koppenberg). For my money, wind may play a bigger role than precipitation (which has more to do with crashes than great racing). So far the forecasts are for a windy day, 20mph (30kph?), which means echelons! I'll drink to that.

Oh and by drinking to it, I do mean literally. For the uninitiated, you're all invited to a worldwide toast as the race hits the Koppenberg Sunday. First sighting of the Kopp will do (as opposed to waiting for the pack). I plan to have fresh frietes and home-made mayo along with my Rodeberg Grand Cru... at roughly 5am Sunday. It's all about commitment, people.