Van der Poel, Van Vleuten, Jorgenson, Vollering: 10 riders to watch at the Tour of Flanders
This article originally appeared on Velo News
Monument season is picking up speed and the peloton has its next appointment this weekend at the Tour of Flanders.
Both men and women will be setting off Sunday for a day of cobbles bashing, with the men departing from Bruges and the women setting out from Oudenaarde.
After some mixed racing programs, the world's top one-day races will descend on Belgium this weekend and both races look set to deliver us some exciting action.
Tour of Flanders preview: Van der Poel, Van Aert, Pogacar resume spring rivalry
Tour of Flanders preview: Can Annemiek van Vleuten take a history-making third title?
Mathieu van der Poel finds sunshine in E3 Saxo Classic loss: 'My work is done'
Marianne Vos sets sights on Tour of Flanders win as surgery comeback ramps up
The Tour of Flanders can be unpredictable, but there are some riders that stand above the rest when considering those that will make it to the final podium.
VeloNews takes a look at those standout riders.
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck)
Best finish: 1 (x2)
Mathieu van der Poel has one of the best conversion rates, if not the best, at the Tour of Flanders. From four starts, the Dutchman has taken two victories, in 2020 and last year. When he hasn't won the race, he hasn't been far off it. In his two other appearances, he finished second and fourth -- his worst result so far.
When Van der Poel returned to the peloton after notching up yet another cyclocross world title, there were some doubts about his form and if mixing disciplines was beginning to take its toll. He answered those doubts pretty quickly evaporated when he soloed to victory at Milan-San Remo. He came close to winning the E3 Saxo Classic but was pipped in the sprint by Wout van Aert. He's going to be tough to beat Sunday.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar)
Best finish: 1 (x2)
Annemiek van Vleuten could make history this weekend. If she wins, she would become the first woman to take three Tour of Flanders titles. The Dutchwoman won her first in 2011 and added her second a decade later in 2021. She won't be able to wait another decade for her third as this year marks her final season in the peloton.
So far in 2023, Van Vleuten hasn't looked the same all-conquering rider she was at the start of last season, but that's unlikely to last very long. After finishing fourth at the Tour of Flanders, she has been squirreling away at altitude to build her form. Unlike many of her rivals, she chose to skip Dwars door Vlaanderen this week and is going straight into De Ronde without any racing for almost a month. Coming down from altitude can be unpredictable, but Van Vleuten has become quite adept at it.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
Best finish: 2
For now at least, the Tour of Flanders seems to be the one that got away for Wout van Aert. His epic battle with Van der Poel in 2020 will live long in the memory and saw him take his best performance yet with second place. It is the only time he has been on the podium in his four attempts with ninth, 14th, and sixth are his other three results. Last year, Van Aert seemed to be destined for victory at last after his blistering performance at E3, but COVID-19 put pay to that.
Van Aert didn't seem to be quite in that shape over the last week, but he's still on strong form. He battled hard to hold onto Van der Poel and Tadej Pogacar at E3 before beating them in the sprint to the line. At Dwars door Vlaanderen, the only rider that could get close to him was his teammate Christophe Laporte and he gifted the win to the Frenchman.
Demi Vollering (SD Worx)
Best finish: 5
Given her talents, it's perhaps a bit surprising that Demi Vollering has never even reached the De Ronde podium. The Dutchwoman's best finish was fifth at the 2021 edition when Van Vleuten romped away from the pack and Vollering lost out on a rostrum spot in the sprint from the group behind. Times are a changing, though, and Vollering is continuing to grow as a rider.
Where she was often left frustrated during the spring last year, Vollering has hit the ground running this year. From three races she has won twice, taking Strade Bianche just ahead of her teammate Lotte Kopecky, and soloing to the win at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday. With SD Worx on flying form at the moment, Vollering's biggest threat for the win is probably her own teammates but she's in the form to go it alone and finally add this race to her palmares.
Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)
Best finish: 4
It can't be underestimated just how special it is to have a two-time Tour de France champion mixing it with the top classics riders in the peloton. Tadej Pogacar made his Flanders debut last year as he prepared for the Tours cobbled stage later in the year. His Flanders ride was hugely impressive, and he could have taken a podium if he'd been smarter in his tactics at the finish.
The lessons learned in his debut De Ronde were harsh and he's sought to use them going into this year's campaign. While Pogacar has proved adept at almost everything he puts his hand to, he still has his weaknesses. This Sunday, he knows that he will have to drop all of his rivals as he will struggle to beat most in a sprint to the line.
Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx)
Best finish: 1
Lotte Kopecky thrilled the Belgian public last season with her Tour of Flanders win in the national champion's jersey. She was the first home rider since Grace Verbeke in 2010 to top the podium at De Ronde. If Kopecky can defend her title this weekend, she would become only the second rider to take back-to-back wins at the race.
The 27-year-old looks well capable of doubling at her home race after a commanding start to the season. She dominated both Omloop Het Niewsblad and Nokere Koerse, and was only pipped to the line by Vollering at Strade Bianche. Her poor result at Gent-Wevelgem was the only blip so far, and that was due to a crash caused by one of her teammates. If Kopecky can hit the form she had earlier in the spring then she will be hard to beat.
Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Victorious)
Best finish: 21
The Tour of Flanders is a race that should suit Matej Mohoric well, but that is yet to turn into big results with his best finish so far 21st at last year's race. Nevertheless, Mohoric remains a contender for Sunday's race and a rider that could potentially break the stranglehold of the so-called "three kings" of Pogacar, Van der Poel, and Van Aert.
Mohoric hasn't hit the same heady heights that he did last spring but he's still looked strong and he put in an aggressive race at the E3 Saxo Classic last week. He may well have finished higher up than his seventh-place finish had he not slipped out on a wet roundabout close to the finish. Even if he can't crack the favored trio, we can be almost guaranteed that he will have a red-hot go at it.
Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma)
Best finish: 1
It has been 10 years since Marianne Vos won her Tour of Flanders title and she's keen to add a second this year. While the start to her road campaign has been disrupted by needing surgery on a constricted iliac artery, she hasn't let it slow her down since returning to the pack. She made her debut at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and looked like she was on for strong finish until she had to pull over to attend to a mechanical issue.
At Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen, she animated the action in the second half of the race and had enough in the tank to sprint for third, despite making several attacks earlier on. Vos' biggest challenge will be holding on when the attacks come in over the final climbs. She tried to follow Vollering's race-winning move Wednesday but didn't have the power on the uphill slope. If she can keep herself within touching distance of the likes of Vollering and Van Vleuten, she stands a good chance of taking her second win.
Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar)
Best result: N/A
Matteo Jorgenson is enjoying a purple patch this spring after kickstarting his year with a stage win and the overall title at the Tour of Oman. He has since been switching back and forth from GC mode to a one-day setting as he takes on his first serious cobbled classics campaign. Coming into Belgium off the back of an eighth-place finish at Paris-Nice, Jorgenson looked at home in his debut E3 Saxo Classic.
Jorgenson played his part in animating the race before attacking behind the leading trio to take a fourth-place finish, the best performance by a U.S. rider at the event. He chose not to ride Gent-Wevelgem or Dwars door Vlaanderen but he will be back in action at De Ronde on Sunday. The increased climbs and longer distance will be an extra challenge compared to E3 but Jorgenson will be an intriguing addition to the Flanders peloton this weekend.
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step)
Best finish: 4
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio almost retired at the end of last season, but the South African rider is enjoying one of her best patches of form yet. Having taken the Tour de Romandie overall title at the end of last year, she started 2023 with a second-place finish and a stage win at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, with her teammate taking the title by a single second over her on the final day.
After a brief break from racing where she returned to South Africa for a week, Moolman-Pasio returned to racing action at Dwars door Vlaanderen. She was relatively anonymous, but she still rode through to take 10th on terrain that is not ideal for her. The tougher Flanders parcours should see her move up the standings and she could be a wildcard contender for the win.
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