Ah, Dwars door Vlaanderen, the venerable straight across Flanders event that had been so much fun the last decade or so that it had begun creeping up in status to the point where Ursula was going to ask us if it should be the next Monument. I have thoroughly loved this race, and slobbered over it profusely in last year’s preview.
And now... what have you done?
Dwars is the race that got moved in the completely unnecessary offseason reshuffle that I am pretty sure nobody asked for. Certainly not Driedaagse De Panne, which seemed content (to me, 6000 miles away) to offer a low-key event to the stars of cycling milling about the Flemish region waiting for de Ronde to start. And certainly not the fans around Waregem and thereabouts, who were treated to all-out Wednesday racing when the event was a week earlier. The riders themselves might not have much of an opinion; to them, it’s another day in the life, and changing the name to Dwars door Vlaanderen doesn’t mean they will burn through their matches four days before Flanders. Some of them (who don’t need to worry about winning de Ronde) might even relish a shot at World Tour points hanging a bit lower than usual. But that’s about it.
What Is It About?
A romp around the cobbles. Passing the time. Certainly not anything more meaningful than that, not four days before the Big One.
Changes afoot! The stiff challenge of past editions has been diluted a bit, which should tell you all you need to know about the race’s reframing. But anyway...
The race is significantly altered from past years, with a couple portions lopped off to shorten the race to 180km and remove some cobbles and some of the difficulty in the clims. Take last year, for example, when there was a Paterberg-Oude Kwaremont loop that has simply been cut out. Also gone are the Haaghoek and Holleweg sectors of flat(ish) stones, though adding in Mariaborrestraat just outside of Oudenaarde puts some of the sting back in.
There are two phases of note:
- The Korte Keer - Mariaborrestraat - Steenbekdries - Taaienberg stretch that should look familiar to lost of you guys by now, covering from km 122-128. They ran the latter three in reverse as the business end of E3, where Quick Step made several of their moves. The Korte Keer is generally just for show.
- The concluding sequence after Ronse, which starts with the Knokteberg at km 147, then hits Varentstraat (cobbles), the Vossenhol, Holstraat, the Nokereberg and Herlegemstraat by km 174. That’s a feature every four km, roughly, covering close to 8km in total. The finish is at km 180.
The rhythms of the race in those phases are about the same as in the past, particularly the final hour, just with fewer matches burnt along the way. Which is smart, considering how unpalatable the idea of a major race on the Wednesday before the Tour of Flanders is. Seriously, don’t get me started. #theymurderedDDV
Whom Does It Favor?/Where Will the Race Be Won?
Given the major changes, I am not going to venture much of a guess as to how this race will unfold. Not only is the course a fair bit easier, but the lineup is pretty much bereft of stars, save for Alexander Kristoff, Greg Van Avermaet, Tiesj Benoot and a few guys like Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde who are there to get in some training for July.
I will note that the harder, more hotly contested Dwars ended in a sprint a couple years ago, which suggests that there was enough time after the most selective features and not enough action heading into Waregem to force a split. But typically the weather has more to do with how broken up a Flemish spring race gets. The mere sight of the Taaienberg isn’t necessarily going to end anyone’s day; it takes a hard climb of the Taaienberg, after enough stressful racing, to make it a day-ender for large swaths of the peloton. I’m not sure that’s on tap for Wednesday, even if the weather looks a bit unpleasant.
With that in mind, you should know that the following riders will be around in case of a sprint: Elia Viviani, Alvaro Hodeg, Jens Debusschere, Sacha Modolo, Magnus Cort Nielsen, Phil Bauhaus, Dylan Groenewegen, Niccolo Bonifazio and Edvald Boasson Hagen, to name a few guys who might prefer to wind it up for a sprint. Yes, there are star riders around, like the ones mentioned above, and guys like Sep, Wout, Theuns, Stuyven and so on. But if you get enough teams thinking about a sprint, it becomes somewhat likely to happen.
My Pick to Win
Viviani. Quick Step will have enough muscle to control things, even for their B team, and Viviani wants to make amends more than anyone else wants to do anything at this race. So I’ll start there. Who ya got?