Tour of Flanders 2024 men: preview, contenders and prediction

We look at the favourites for De Ronde this upcoming Sunday

Of the five races that make up cycling’s established ‘Monument’ Classics, the Tour of Flanders is arguably the most open and unpredictable. It’s the only one that no rider has ever won more than three times, and the last ten editions has only seen one repeat winner.

That sole rider is Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), who has a chance to join the six riders on the record list with three career wins here. At last week’s E3 Saxo Bank Classic he looked untouchable, making a strong case for outright favourites status for this Sunday’s big race, but the build-up this spring has been full of twists and ever-developing narratives.

At opening weekend, Visma-Lease a Bike looked capable of battering all other teams into submission through sheer strength of numbers, winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with Jan Tratnik and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne with Wout van Aert. But then injury and fitness problems ravaged the team, clearing the way for Alpecin-Deceuninck to dominate, with Jasper Philipsen taking Milan-Sanremo and Brugge-De Panne, and Van der Poel at E3 Saxo Bank; only for Van der Poel’s unbeatable status to be immediately demolished two days later at Gent-Wevelgem by a resurgent Lidl-Trek, who worked him over to set their Mads Pedersen up for victory at Gent-Wevelgem

A crash yesterday at Dwars Doors Vlaanderen provided another dramatic, and unwanted, twist in the pre-Flanders build-up, ruling out star rider and home favourite Wout van Aert from competing in the race he has spent all spring building up towards. That crash has thrown many other teams’ plans up in the air, too, with several of the riders who had established themselves over the course of the spring as among the top favourites for Flanders all also falling: Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek), Biniam Girmay (Intermarché–Wanty) and Jasper Stuyven, the latter. Stuyven is, like Van Aert, out for sure and the others’ participation is in doubt, but there will still be plenty of big names on the startlist worthy of the biggest Belgian race of the year. 

The route: 

Route map sourced via Tour of Flanders website

As ever, the Tour of Flanders takes in many of the steep hills, twisting roads, cobbled stretches and viscous bergs made famous by the races held in this cycling-mad part of the world. It is essentially a greatest hits of the landmarks we’ve already seen tackled earlier in the spring, from climbs like Berendries, Molenberg and Valkenberg tackled earlier in the race, to key cobbled climbs such as Berg Ten Houte, Kruisberg and Taaienberg that play such a key role during the race’s dramatic endgame.

Most crucial of all will, as ever, be the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg circuit that has been the race’s pièce de résistance since 2012. This year, we’ve already seen huge drama on both at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, where Van der Poel and Wout van Aert respectively attacked and crashed on the latter, and Van Aert attempted his ultimately futile chase of his rival on the former, highlighting just how much damage these two particular bergs can do. And at the Tour of Flanders, they will pose even more of a challenge; the Paterberg will here be tackled twice and the Kwaremont three times, while the huge crowds sure to swarm both climbs will force the riders to climb via the cobbles, with the guttering at the side of the road the gravitated towards at E3 Saxo Bank covered by fans. By the time they reach the summit of the Paterberg for the final 13km run-in to the finish, the riders will be in ones and twos. 

And whereas these climbs have been seen before this spring, there is one special landmark that’s reserved just for the Tour of Flanders: The Koppenberg, the impossibly steep berg with sadistically nasty cobblestones that’s like no other used in cycling. Watching the riders climb this berg is one of the highlights of the season, and one of the reasons the Ronde is such a special race that will split the race into pieces, and ensure only the very strongest will be in contention for the win. 


Mathieu van der Poel

This is the chance for Mathieu van der Poel to confirm himself as one of, if not the, greatest ever competitors at the Tour of Flanders. A third career victory would put him joint-top of the all-time list of most wins in the race’s history, which is especially remarkable when you remember that he is still only 29-years-old, and has finished 2nd, 2nd, and 4th on his only other appearances here. 

The Dutchman has enjoyed a near-perfect spring so far, guiding Alpecin-Deceuninck teammate Jasper Philipsen to victory at Milan-Sanremo before claiming a resounding victory for himself at E3 Saxo Bank when he rode everyone off his wheel as early as 44km from the finish. His only setback was at Gent-Wevelgem, where he was beaten by Mads Pedersen in a two-up sprint, but since then his status as favourite has solidified as many of his top rivals have either been hurt or ruled out all-together at the crash during Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen. Add to that the absence of the man who beat him last year, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), and it’s clear that this race is his to lose. 

Matteo Jorgenson

It’s hard to see Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen as anything other than a disaster for Visma-Lease a Bike, a race that made headlines not for the result, but for the crash that brought a devastating end to Wout van Aert’s hopes of competing at the cobbled Monuments he has spent months carefully preparing for. Yet it shouldn’t be overlooked that they did actually end up winning the race, through the rider who has arguably been their star of the season so far: Matteo Jorgenson. 

Given the form and injury problems suffered by Visma-Lease a Bike’s Classics squad as a whole at the moment, Jorgenson is the man now expected to step up and claim leadership status at the Tour of Flanders, and there are reasons to believe he could be in the mix for victory — wins at Paris-Nice and now Dwars door Vlaanderen show he is a rounded and immensely talented young rider, and he’s already proven he can handle the longer distance of the Ronde with a top ten finish on debut last year. All hope is not yet lost for Visma-Lease a Bike. 

Mads Pedersen

For a while Mads Pedersen has been the best of the rest behind the peloton’s elite Classics riders, finishing in fourth-place at the most recent editions of Paris-Roubaix, the World Championships and Milan-Sanremo, and third at last year’s Tour of Flanders. At Gent-Wevelgem last weekend, he finally found a way to get the better of them, combining brilliantly with his Lidl-Trek teammates to put Van der Poel under pressure, and subsequently outsprint him for victory at the finish. With such a strong team supporting him, a first ever Monument victory had looked on the cards this weekend, however his fitness is now a huge doubt following his involvement at the Dwars door Vlaanderen crash — even if he is able to ride, can he possibly have the best legs needed to win such a tough and competitive race, and will his team be strong enough now Jasper Stuyven is also out?

Jasper Philipsen

Given his form this spring, which has seen him take successive victories at Milan-Sanremo and Brugge-De Panne before claiming fourth place at Gent-Wevelgem, it’s impossible to ignore Jasper Philipsen as a candidate for the Tour of Flanders. But in reality, the extra climbs of the Tour of Flanders (a race he has never before managed to finish) is likely to be too much even for a sprinter with climbing legs as strong as his, and means the roles between himself and Alpecin-Deceuninck teammate Van der Poel is set to be reversed from those at Milan-Sanremo, with Philipsen playing domestique this time. Still, he has surprised us before to finish second place at last year’s Paris-Roubaix, and would be a potential benefactor in a tactical, less selective race that ends in a group finish. 

Alberto Bettiol

You can never be sure what you’re going to get with Alberto Bettiol. The EF Education-EasyPost rider can often be anonymous, as evidenced by the three DNFs and finishes of 16th, 24th and 28th that make up six of his seven career Tour of Flanders appearances; but he can also astound with the occasional electric ride, as he did most notably here in 2019 when he escaped late on to take a surprise victory. So far this spring we’ve since more examples than usual of that top-for Bettiol, including a mighty 30km solo attack to win Milan-Torino, a fifth-place finish at Milan-Sanremo, and some very powerful attacks at Dwars door Vlaanderen before cramp put paid to his chances. There are many other more consistent riders who can be better depended on to bank top ten finishes, but few with the x-factor Bettiol possesses to potentially win.  

Other contenders 

Despite losing some of their top riders, Lidl-Trek and Visma-Lease a Bike will still hope they have the strength in numbers to unsettle Van der Poel. For the former, Jonathan Milan has been a revelation this spring, proving he can ride over the cobbles as well as being one of quickest sprinters in the world, while Toms Skujiņš will have a more senior role now.

While these riders have upped their game, Visma-Lease a Bike’s squad have been hampered by all manner of problems, with Christophe Laporte ruled out as well as Van Aert, but Tiesj Benoot, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner Jan Tratnik and former Flanders runner-up Dylan van Baarle all have the pedigree to be involved in the fight for victory. 

Stefan Küng is a reliable performer at the Tour of Flanders, finishing fifth and sixth here in the last two editions, but his lack of a killer instinct was painfully clear in the finale of Dwars door Vlaanderen, where he settled for third-place having been unable to drop the other riders in the final selection. He’ll be part of a strong Groupama-FDJ team also featuring former podium finisher Valentin Madouas and young breakthrough talent Laurence Pithie. They even look stronger than Soudal–Quick-Step, the former kings of the cobbles who have toiled all spring. They’ll be hoping Julian Alaphilippe or 2021 winner Kasper Asgreen made an unlikely late discovery of form.

In the absence of Van Aert and Stuyven, home Belgium hopes look unusually slim. Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates) is probably their best hope aside from Jasper Philipsen, especially after his fourth-place finish at E3 Saxo Classic, but he’s never finished inside the top 20 at the Ronde. From the other side of the world, Biniam Girmay (Intermarché–Wanty) had been showing promising form prior to the Dwars door Vlaanderen crash, and would be a danger in a sprint; as would Michael Matthews (Jayco-Alula), particularly on the back of his runner-up finish at Milan-Sanremo. By contrast, Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) and young Oier Lazkano (Movistar) would look to win from attacking rather than sprinting, though it’s doubtful they have the legs to do so following a slight diminishing of form from strong starts to the spring. 


He was already the favourite even before the dramatic crashes at Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, but the loss of Wout van Aert and diminishing of Lidl-Trek’s squad now makes Mathieu van der Poel the overwhelming favourite. Having such a status can be a hindrance to even the best of riders, but he has a strong Alpecin-Deceuninck team to support him, and alone has the strength to launch attacks that not even the smartest tactical ploys can overcome. 

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