Coming just a few days before the Tour of Flanders, Dwars door Vlaanderen is the final opportunity that riders will get to test their legs before the second Monument of the season. The race takes place on the March 29 and its position in the calendar means that while sometimes Dwars door Vlaanderen attracts a strong field of riders who want to get their final taste of the bergs and cobbles before De Ronde, some riders also opt to skip it so that they can recover ahead of Sunday.
This year, the likes of defending champion Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Tadej Pogačar won’t be racing in Dwars door Vlaanderen, all deciding to rest before Flanders later in the week. However, there are still some standout riders on the start list, including Tom Pidcock who returns to racing after his time out recovering from concussion, and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Dylan van Baarle. With both the Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma bringing strong line-ups, we can expect a big battle between these two teams, while the squads such as Groupama-FDJ, Trek-Segafredo and Lotto-Dstny also have riders who could be in with a shot at the win.
Tough, wet and windy conditions could be on the cards for this race and combined with steep bergs and cobbled sections, it could turn into a battle of attrition. Who will come out on top? Read on for the Dwars door Vlaanderen contenders and our prediction.
The bulk of the 183.7km Dwars door Vlaanderen route is in the hilly Flemish Ardennes. Throughout the day, the peloton will face a challenging course which includes eight sections of cobbles and eleven climbs, similar to those they will tackle a few days later in the Tour of Flanders.
The race kicks off in Roeselare and the first section of pavé comes after 51.7km on the Varentstraat, While riders will be required to fight for positions before this sector, it isn’t a particularly challenging stretch of road compared to other cobbled sections on the route. Most of the action comes in the middle section of the race; the riders will hit the first climb of the day, the Volkegemberg, after 67km of racing and then head straight into a cobbled section on the Holleweg.
Image: Dwars door Vlaanderen
After a small period of respite, the climbs then start to come thick and fast with a trio of bergs in succession: the Hotond, Knokteberg-Trieu and Kortekeer, followed quickly by the cobbles of Maria Borrestraat. Next, the riders face the tough climbs of the Berg Ten Houte and Kanarieberg before looping back around to tackle the Knokteberg-Trieu/Hotond combination of climbs again, albeit in a different order. The Maria Borrestraat cobbled section is also included in the route for a second time before the climb of Ladeuze which closes out the hilliest section of the race.
There are two sections of pavé before the true final climb of the day, the Nokereberg, which is 350 metres long and could serve as a springboard for attacks. After that, the riders begin the finishing circuit around Waregem which includes 800m of cobbles over the Herlegemstraat on each of the two laps, as well as the Nokere climb. In the 2022 edition of the race, the winning attack which included the likes of Mathieu van der Poel, Tiesj Benoot, Tom Pidcock, Ben Turner and Stefan Küng was ignited with 70km of the race remaining. The group worked well together until an explosive, attacking finale which saw Van der Poel reign supreme.
Now we are two races deep into Flanders Week, it is becoming clear which riders are in the form to fight for victory in the one-day cobbled Classics. Despite Dwars door Vlaanderen being a WorldTour race, some of the biggest names are opting to sit this one out which could give other riders the opportunity to go for victory and we could see a tighter-fought race as a result.
Christophe Laporte winning Gent-Wevelgem 2023 (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
While their star rider won’t be taking to the start, Jumbo-Visma still boast an incredibly strong line-up for this race and have every chance of continuing their winning streak in Belgium. Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot are both well-suited to the rolling, harsh terrain of the Flemish Ardennes – Benoot finished second in Dwars door Vlaanderen in 2022 behind Van der Poel. The team’s young sprinter, Olav Kooij, could also be in contention here depending if he can make it over the climbs with the frontrunners.
Talking of fast men who can also climb well, Jasper Philipsen of Alpecin-Deceuninck has a chance of performing well at Dwars door Vlaanderen if he can remain in contact with the front group. The Belgian appeared to be climbing well at Milan-Sanremo so should not be counted out here.
Alexander Kristoff of Uno-X Pro Cycling is another rider who fits into the category of fast finishers who will be a danger to their rivals if they come to the line with the peloton, as is Tim Merlier of Soudal - Quick-Step. Patrick Lefevere’s squad also has options with Julian Alaphilippe who will be able to follow punchy attacks on the climb and has potential to go for a solo victory himself, if he has the legs on the day.
Tom Pidcock during Strade Bianche 2023 (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
From the Ineos Grenadiers, Strade Bianche winner Tom Pidcock is back racing after taking a break due to a concussion he sustained during a crash at Tirreno-Adriatico. Pidcock finished third in Dwars door Vlaanderen in 2022 so he is well-suited to the parcours, but he may struggle with having missed some of the Classics in the build-up to this race. If Pidcock isn’t on winning form, Ineos have a plethora of other contenders with Magnus Sheffield, Filippo Ganna, Jhonatan Narváez and Connor Swift. The British team are bringing a strong line-up to this race and could pose a serious challenge to the likes of Jumbo-Visma.
Stefan Küng of Groupama-FDJ finished in the top-five of Dwars door Vlaanderen last year and has performed well in the Classics so far this season, so he could be one to watch. His team-mate, Valentin Madouas, is another punchy rider who could be a good option for FDJ. Mads Pedersen of Trek-Segafredo also looks to be in solid shape at the moment, finishing fifth in Gent-Wevelgem, so he could be an important contender for this race if he can make it to the finish line in contention for victory. Fred Wright and Andrea Pasqualon will be the protected riders for Bahrain-Victorious with Matej Mohorič not starting this race, and Wright especially has a good chance of a strong result here.
Stefan Küng of Groupama-FDJ (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
Neilson Powless and Alberto Bettiol could make a formidable duo for EF Education-EasyPost if things go right for them on the day, they are both suited to the punchy climbs of Flanders (Bettiol a former winner of De Ronde.) John Degenkolb of Team DSM could be in with a shot at the win too if he can get over the climbs, as could Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-Alula) and Dan McLay of Team Arkéa Samsic.
UAE Team Emirates pack slightly less punch when Pogačar isn't present, but they still have some strong riders in their roster. Mikkel Bjerg performed well in Gent-Wevelgem, as did Matteo Trentin. Tim Wellens is another rider who has relished the bergs of Belgium historically, so he could be one to watch. The experienced duo of Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen from AG2R Citroën Team also looked to be back in fighting form at Gent-Wevelgem so they could be protagonists in Dwars door Vlaanderen.
Caleb Ewan during Gent-Wevelgem 2023 (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
Lotto Dstny also boasts a formidable squad which includes prolific winner Arnaud De Lie who came close to victory at Omloop het Nieuwsblad earlier this season. Caleb Ewan is also on the start list for the Belgian team and he can pack a punch at the finish, though the climbs may be too tricky for him in Dwars door Vlaanderen. Sep Vanmarcke of Israel-Premier Tech is an experienced Classics rider and proved with his third place in Gent-Wevelgem that he is still very much able to fight for victory, despite being an older rider in the peloton. Finally, you can never count out Taco van der Hoorn of Intermarché-Circus-Wanty for an opportunistic breakaway result or solo victory.
We’re betting on Christophe Laporte of Jumbo-Visma to take the win in Dwars door Vlaanderen. If the wet and windy weather that we saw at Gent-Wevelgem continues into this week, the race will be even harder and Laporte thrives in tough conditions. He has a strong team around him to help him take victory and proved he is on top form last weekend. Even if the race comes down to a reduced bunch sprint, Laporte has the speed to finish it off.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix