The jewel in the crown of the Flanders Classics series, Ronde van Vlaanderen is one of the five Monuments of the cycling calendar and the most prestigious of the Belgian spring Classics. This year’s edition will take place on Sunday 3rd April, with the women’s race following later the same day.
The narrow roads, cobbled streets and short, sharp climbs combined with unpredictable spring conditions always lead to nervous racing, with strategic battles for positioning of utmost importance as the peloton stretches out along the route. Those who can hang on and weather the storm of brutal ‘hellingen’, tricky cobbles and awkward turns will fight for the win in the later stages: expect a succession of aggressive attacks as the cream rises to the top on one of the most memorable races of the year.
The race affectionately known as ‘De Ronde’ has seen a number of changes to the route over its long history. It was first raced in 1913, and following a four-year absence as a result of the First World War, the race has continued uninterrupted ever since, despite the change in schedule in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The course has shifted start and finish locations numerous times in its history. This year’s edition, the 106th, will begin in the city of Antwerp as it has since 2017, and winds its way through the Flemish Ardennes towards the town of Oudenaarde.
This year, the course adds almost 20km to its overall distance, increasing from last year’s 254km to 272.5km in length.
Starting from the Grote Markt in Antwerp, the route rolls out through East Flanders, moving through various towns and villages including Sint-Niklas, Erpe-Mere and Zottegem, where the peloton will cross two cobbled sectors, Lippenhovestraat and Paddestraat.
There follows a slight change to the previous year’s route, with a longer flat section avoiding the Katteberg and heading instead for the day’s first run at the Oude Kwaremont, which will also be the first climb of the day following 136km of racing.
The fearsome Oude Kwaremont will once again be lined with fans following the eerily silent slopes of 2020 and 2021, and the crowds will roar the riders up the 103m of ascent gain, which averages out at 4.8% gradient but tops out at 10%.
In four of the last five editions of De Ronde, the winning attack has been launched from the Oude Kwaremont, although it’s interesting to note that in the past, wins have come from both the second and third ascents of the climb, proving that all is not lost, should hopefuls miss the early attacks.
What follows is a looping route around Oudenaarde, largely similar to 2021’s with the exception of the Eikenberg and addition of the Achterberg. What does not change is the passage of three more cobbled sectors, the Holleweg, Kerkgate and Jagerij, all of which fall either side of the Wolvenberg climb, the fourth of the day’s hellingen.
Shorter than Oude Kwaremont but viciously steep with gradients of up to 20% the Paterberg is tackled twice, at 51km and 13km to go. Following a gradual thinning of the top group, this is where Mathieu van der Poel and Kasper Asgreen were able to distance Wout van Aert in last year’s race, with the Belgian blowing up on the punishing final ascent of the day.
The final run-in to the finish line is 13km on flat roads. Traditionally just one or two riders remain by this point and they must dig deep to stay away from the chasers.
Of the past 105 editions of the race, a Belgian has won 69 times. Only two Belgians – Tom Boonen and Phillippe Gilbert – have won for Belgium in the past decade, though, and there is nothing the host nation would love more than a home winner.Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel (Image: CorVos/SWpix
It’s no secret that Wout van Aert would have loved to etch his name alongside the greats as the winner of a race that means a great deal to him, having lost out to Mathieu van der Poel in the final sprint in 2020. However a last minute Covid-19 positive means he misses the race, passing the responsibility of leading Jumbo-Visma to Tiesj Benoot, who was second in the 2022 Dwars Door Vlaanderen, and Christophe Laporte.
Van der Poel's victory in the aforementioned Dwars Door has turned him from potential non-starter to pre-race favourite in the space of a few weeks, with no sign of resurgence in the back injury that kept him out of the peloton in the early season.
Tadej Pogačar’s aim to ride four of the five Monuments in 2022 is a concern for everyone else in the race. The Slovenian rider from UAE Team Emirates has proven he can handle himself on difficult parcours and if he arrives in form, he is likely to threaten the top ten.Alberto Bettiol (Image: Presse Sports)
Former winner Alberto Bettiol has shown excellent early season form and will be keen to add his name to the select list of multiple winners of the race. Just 17 names can currently lay claim to that honour, and another potential repeat winner could be Mathieu van der Poel. Following a chronic back injury the Alpecin-Fenix man was out of action until February, but made an impressive comeback to racing in Milan-San Remo a few weeks ago. He'll want to try and go even better than his third place finish in the first Monument of the season in Flanders.
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl have won three of the past five editions of Flanders, and with defending champion Kasper Asgreen among their squad and repeat top ten performer Yves Lampaert, the team will launch their usual strong bid for the title.
Tom Pidcock (Image: VK/PN/Cor Vos/SWpix)
Ineos Grenadiers bring British rider Tom Pidcock to the cobbles as part of their first season in a new and improved classics unit, and Trek-Segafredo have chances through the likes of Jasper Stuyven, Mads Pedersen and possibly even young American Quinn Simmons.
Bahrain Victorious' Matej Mohorič will be looking to have a tilt at the win with a solo move similar to the one he pulled off in Milan-San Remo a few weeks ago and will be well supported by up-and-coming Classics talent Fred Wright.
Now at Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert, Alexander Kristoff has made the top five three times in the past five years, coming third in 2019 and 2020, so he could be an outsider worth keeping an eye on. So too Total Energies’ Anthony Turgis who has made the top ten for the past two years.
The Tour of Flanders is a race where survival of the fittest applies quite literally, and it’s unusual to see true outsiders triumph. Observers expect an aggressive race and without his usual foil in Wout van Aert, the odds are looking good for Mathieu van der Poel to add a second Tour of Flanders to his palmarès.
Cover image: SWpix/Alex Broadway