Today the Tour of Flanders released its wildcard draw for the 2018 race, taking place in 60 days, 15 hours, 24 minutes, and 10 seconds. They are:
- Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise
- Wanty Groupe-Gobert
- Veranda’s Willems-Crelan
- WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic
- Cofidis (F)
- Vital Concept (F)
- Team Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij (NL)
Pretty much what you would expect, but let’s see what they bring to the table, and maybe poke around to see who got left behind.
Key Riders: Kenny De Ketele, Aimé De Gendt, Dries Van Gestel, Preben Van Hecke, and an inexhaustible supply of Planckaerts.
History: As Flemish as mussels and frites. Functioning as a development team for future Classics talent, it’s no exaggeration to say that this team is one of the bricks in the foundation of the Tour of Flanders, and that short of showing up at the startline with bloodbags and motors in their jersey pockets, they are getting the start.
Outlook: Excellent... except that the results won’t be available for a few years when these riders get trained up and sign with a World Tour team. I should say, just how excellent they are now, and will remain in the future, is hardly assured. The top teams are certainly focusing more on developing their own classics talent, and Sport Vlaanderen can’t count on having unfettered access to the next Sep or Tommeke. Nobody on the current squad is showing up on any lists of neo-pros to watch in 2018, not even a Planckaert.
Key Riders: Yoann Offredo, Guillaume Van Kiersbulck, Timothy Dupont
History: They get invited every year, thanks to the pull of their Belgianness, the presence of DS legend Hilaire Van der Scheuren, and a modest collection of well-known B-list threats, such as Bjorn Leukemans and Marco Marcato in the past.
Outlook: Relevant! Offredo is a regular in the top 20s of the classics, including the Historic Double... 14th place that he achieved last year in Flanders and Roubaix. Van Kiersbulck is similarly made for the classics, even if he earned a few too many Boonen comparisons along the way. He’s a former winner of De Panne and Le Samyn, plus fifth in Dwars, so he can get a result at the end of the less gruesome classics. Maybe that says he’s fit to help Offredo until the final hour in Flanders?
Key Riders: Stijn Devolder, Wout Van Aert, Sean De Bie
History: Another team that gets invited every year, using the same formula more or less as Wanty, albeit with a little less shine. Nick Nuyens is the star DS, though more recently he has become notable for getting on the wrong side of Van Aert, his cyclocross world champion, who complained that basically everything the team is supposed to do in support gets screwed up, or something to that effect.
Outlook: That last part isn’t good. Nor is the fact that former two-time Flanders winner Devolder hasn’t cracked the top 90 in Flanders the last two years. And finally Van Aert has little more than a country’s love to base his chances on, given how much he puts into his CX season. Van Aert has some road hopes, but for now they tend not to show until June when he’s had his offseason. One might even think he wouldn’t ride the race, but the Belgian media is all over his team’s inclusion today, so he may have to ride it regardless of where his legs are at.
WB Aqua Protect-Veranclassic
Key Riders: Kenny DeHaes, Justin Jules
History: None! This is their first inclusion, though the team has been around since 2011 as the Wallonie-Bruxelles top Francophone Belgian team. They haven’t had much to complain about though, given their relatively low profile.
Outlook: For now, they are just along for the ride.
Key Riders: Dimitri Claeys, Bert Van Lerberghe
History: Dating back to 1997, the team transitioned out of the World Tour in 2009 after poor results. It was started by legendary Cyrille Guimard but is now run by Cedric Vasseur.
Outlook: Van Lerberghe is there in case of a bunch finish, assuming they don’t bring along Nacer Bouhanni. Claeys was ninth in his Flanders debut two years ago... at age 29. Van Staeyen has entered the handy domestique phase of his career.
Key Riders: Bryan Coquard, Kris Boeckmans, Bert De Backer, Jonas Van Genechten
History: Brand new team
Outlook: Coquard is the real draw here, having scored second in Dwars in 2015 and ridden de Ronde a couple times. He’s in his prime and could conceivably get a decent result.
Key Riders: Wouter Wippert, Pieter Weening
History: Brief, unless you want to count them as a successor to Rabobank, thanks to the presence of Erik Breukink.
Outlook: Minimal, but whatever success they do experience, it will be 100% Dutch.
I can’t think of anyone I’d really like to have seen here, but the media is mindful of the exclusions of Wilier and Direct Energie, home to two former runners-up and regular protagonists Pippo Pozzato and Sylvain Chavanel. Neither of those teams has much to offer in Flanders besides those aging figures, so even there I can’t say they got jobbed.