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Two Days Til Flanders! And a Winner's Poll

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Lars Ronbog, Getty

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty beside myself. Potatoes are purchased, but not sliced yet. Mayo... I think I may try to make some tonight, though in the past results have been poor. St Bernardus 12 is chilled and ready. Computer subscriptions are up to date. Really, there is nothing left to do now but wait for Sunday.

Some people are out and about, of course. BMC, for instance:

BMC out training for Flanders Eric Lalmand, Getty

Photo by Eric Lalmand, Getty

Oh, and see the guy with the facial hair? Kind of tall? This guy? We have a little something happening with him, for Monday.

But back to Flanders... there have been the usual press conferences today:

Boonen interview

Photo by Eric Lalmand, Getty

Cancellara presser

Photo by Kurt Desplenter, Getty

Both of these gentlemen, who need no introduction (OK, it's Boonen and Cancellara), are aiming to break the all-time record for wins at the Tour of Flanders. Currently that number is three, shared by them with Achiel Buysse, Fiorenzo Magni, Eric Leman and Johan Museeuw. It's kind of a low number, no? Here are the records for most wins for all the Monuments:

  • Ronde van Vlaanderen: 3 (several)
  • Paris-Robuaix: 4 (Boonen and Roger De Vlaeminck)
  • Milano-Sanremo: 7 (Eddy Merckx)
  • Liege-Bastogne-Liege: 5 (Merckx)
  • Giro di Lombardia: 5 (Fausto Coppi)

What does this low number of wins by a single rider mean? I think you have to consider the race's history to grasp it. Prior to 2012, when de Ronde finished in Ninove or someplace else with a flat surface, the race presented many ways to win. Yes, it was always very hard, and you couldn't quite hide all day and come by in the final 50 meters like you can in MSR. But if you were among the strongest 15 or 20 guys, you had a chance to hang around the front and win in the last 10 minutes, or 10 meters. De Ronde has had its share of small-group sprint for the win over the past 99 editions. And because of this, it has been very hard to win repeatedly. Sprints are crapshoots.

Add in the other hard-man ways to win, like going solo from the Muur, and you have the sprinters not really getting regular shots at the win. Then you have spring conditions and cobblestones, which provide an elevated risk of bad luck. Take all that together and you have a very hard race to control or predict. The beauty of Flanders isn't that it's the most this or that; it's that it has so many wonderful elements to it in a single race.

Which could lead me into a rant about the new course. Since 2012, with the finish in Oudenaarde, the organizers have seen fit to limit the chances of someone winning by any way other than an attack on the last few hills. Boosters will say the new course increases the chance of the strongest rider winning. Detractors (like me) will say that it narrows down the number of possible outcomes and the chances of anything unpredictable ever happening. Prove me wrong Sunday guys. Otherwise it's another year of grumbling to myself about the elimination of the Muur.

Anyway, if the record is broken, it'll be fitting if it happens on the new course, where Cancellara has won two of his three victories. Someday when the old course is restored by UN decree (enforced by an international coalition of troops invading the Flanders Classics offices), Cancellara's victories will gain an asterisk next to his name for winning the Flanders-like Hellingen Challenge Race. Cancellara will receive special recognition for having been capable of winning de Ronde a record number of times, if they hadn't canceled the real race starting in 2012 and replaced it with a climbing circuit. He'd have been a Muur legend, if he'd launched from there a few more times in his career.

Ah well. We are in an era choc-a-bloc with wonderful athletes, as young talent floods the Flanders startlist with hope and possibility, ready to get all over the lawns of the old guys like Cancellara and Boonen. With the rising tide of classics strength comes the possibility of a wide-open tactical event. Fingers crossed. Weather reports call for fair skies, and a fast race. Hopefully a great one as well.