How to Watch the Tour of Flanders
This season’s second Monument just might be the best.
The warm-up races with names we can barely pronounce wrapped-up with Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, which means it’s time for the biggest race in Belgium and one of the hardest races on the men’s and women’s calendars: the Tour of Flanders (known locally as the Ronde van Vlaanderen, or more simply as the Ronde). Here’s everything you need to know about the season’s second Monument.
For the first time since 2016, the 273K men’s race begins in Bruges. The course then zig-zags its way southeast toward the hills of the Flemish Ardennes, a region packed with short, steep (often cobbled) climbs which the locals call bergs. Once the race passes through Oudenaarde (home to the Tour of Flanders Museum), the action centers around two big loops, each featuring two climbs—the Oude Kwaremont (long, steady, and cobbled) and the Paterberg (short, steep, and cobbled)—that often determine the outcome of the race.
Filled with narrow farm roads (more like bike paths) that seem to wind endlessly around the Flemish countryside, it often takes years for riders to master the nuances of the course. And it’s early April, which means weather can be a factor as well (there’s nothing more slippery than cobblestones covered in wet manure). No wonder Belgians have won the race 69 times.
Of the 19 climbs in this year’s men’s race, the Koppenberg (44K from the finish line) is probably the most famous. Super-steep, cobbled, and narrow, this is where the race’s final phase begins. Riders who don’t hit the climb at the front of the peloton are often forced to get off their bikes and walk as the sudden deceleration caused by the abrupt change in terrain ripples backwards through the pack. The race is essentially over for anyone who doesn’t make it over the top in the top-25.
After the Koppenberg, five climbs remain, and recent editions of the Ronde have seen race-winning attacks launched on just about all of them. Lately it’s all come down to the final ascent of the Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg combo, with special attention often given to the rolling road in between as riders try and surprise their rivals while they recover from the Kwaremont and prepare for the Paterberg.
Leaving out the portion from Bruges, the 156K women’s race begins and ends in Oudenaarde, with 13 of the bergs featured in the men’s event including–for the first time last year–the Koppenberg. In fact, the women’s and men’s finales are identical, with the Kruisberg, the Oude Kwaremont, and the Paterberg coming in quick succession providing the final launchpad for riders hoping to escape.
From the top of the final ascent of the Paterberg it’s only 13K to the finish line in Oudenaarde, a distance that several riders have covered alone in recent years. Sprints are rare in the Ronde–the race is too hard to see large groups make it to the finish line still in contention for the win–so if they happen they only happen in groups of 3 or 4.
How to Watch
A subscription to FloBikes ($150/year or $12.50/month) is the only legal way to stream the race in the USA and Canada, with both the men’s and women’s events available live and on-demand via FloBikes.com, the FloSports IOS app, and the FloSports app for Amazon FireTV, Roku, and Apple TV.
We’ll be up early on Sunday, April 2 to watch the men as they hit the Oude Kwaremont for the first time (about 7:30 a.m. EDT). If that’s too early for you, set an alarm for about 9:30 a.m. EDT, the second passage over the cobbled ascent on the first of the Ronde’s two final circuits.
The men’s race should finish around 10:45 a.m. EDT, at which point the women (depending on their average speed) should be nearing or just over the Koppenberg. Their race should finish around 11:45 a.m. EDT, which means you’re in for at least 2+ hours of fantastic racing.
What Happened Last Year
With Belgium’s Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) out after testing positive for COVID-19, the Netherlands’ Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) entered the day as the top favorite. But van der Poel had a new foe: Slovenia’s Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), who was making his Flanders debut 1) to get a taste of the cobblestones in preparation for July’s Tour de France, and 2) because he’s Tadej Pogačar and he can pretty much be a contender in any race he enters.
And that proved to be the case as the two-time Tour de France champion attacked on the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont, then again on the Koppenberg, and finally on the last ascent of the Oude Kwaremont–with van der Poel the only rider able to follow him. The duo worked well together until the final kilometer, when van der Poel slowed, almost daring Pogačar to start the sprint. His deceleration allowed a small group of chasers to rejoin the duo, at which point the Dutchman accelerated, winning the race for the second time in three years. His compatriot Dylan van Baarle (INEOS Grenadiers) finished second, and France’s Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) took third. After botching the sprint, Pogačar was forced to settle for a disappointing fourth-place finish.
About an hour later, Belgium’s Lotte Kopecky (Team SD Worx) saved the day for the home fans, winning the women’s Tour of Flanders in the black-yellow-red jersey of the Belgian national champion.
An elite group of six came together after the final ascent of the Paterberg, including Kopecky, her teammates Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (who won the Ronde in 2021) and Marlen Reusser, and Movistar’s Annemiek van Vleuten (the defending champion).
With strength in numbers, SD Worx played its cards well. Reusser was the first to attack, a move quickly countered by van Vleuten. Then van den Broek-Blaak went, initially catching van Vleuten off-guard. The two-time Ronde winner recovered though, chasing down van den Broek-Blaak–but bringing Kopecky along for the ride. Once caught, van den Broek-Blaak rode for her teammate, leading out the sprint for the Belgian champion. She’s only the second Belgian to win the women’s Ronde.
Riders to Watch
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck)
Winner of two of the last three editions–and Milan-Sanremo two weeks ago–van der Poel is the top favorite heading into Sunday’s men’s event. Yes, he lost last Friday’s E3 Saxo Bank Classic (a mini-Tour of Flanders) to van Aert, but he was clearly the strongest rider in the race and would have won had van Aert not (wisely) opted for a long-distance sprint (the Dutchman prefers shorter, more sudden accelerations). A win Sunday would put van der Poel alongside some of the sport’s greatest Classics riders atop the Ronde’s record books with an incredible three wins in five starts.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma)
Van Aert missed last year’s race after testing positive for COVID-19 a few days before the event, a big shame since the Belgian was in the form of his life and looked ready to avenge his narrow loss to van der Poel in 2020. Belgian seems to have timed his form just right again: he won Friday’s E3 Saxo Bank Classic and finished second after giving the win to his teammate, France’s Christophe Laporte, in Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem.
Van Aert seems to have finally learned to play a bit more poker, saving his energy for well-timed attacks and forcing other riders to share the responsibility of chasing other moves and driving key breakaways. If all goes as planned, on Sunday he’ll win his first cobbled Monument, becoming the first Belgian to win the Ronde since 2017.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)
Pogačar raced in two of last year’s cobbled Classics–Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders–seemingly just as preparation for the cobbled stage of July’s Tour de France. But Pog doesn’t start races for training: he finished 10th in Dwars door Vlaanderen and 4th in Flanders. Well, after messing up last year, he’s back and committed to winning it. Forming the third piece of a star-studded breakaway in Friday’s E3 Saxo Bank Classic, the Slovenian joined van der Poel and van Aert in the winning move. But winning Flanders is a tall order for the Slovenian: the climbs in Flanders aren’t long enough for him to drop the other two–and he can’t outsprint them. Watching Pogačar try and figure out a way to win could be this year’s most exciting storyline.
Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious) and Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ)
We won’t be surprised if this plays out in a way similar to the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, with van der Poel, van Aert, and Pogačar breaking away to hog all the glory for themselves. But if there is an “upset,” we won’t be shocked if Mohorič or Küng is the rider to pull it off. Over the past two seasons they’ve put themselves firmly on a tier right below the “Big Three” in the cobbled Classics. Their teams are deep and experienced, and they both could profit should there be a stalemate among the top three contenders. Mohorič is an opportunist and will likely try and escape earlier than the others might expect; Küng is a time trialist and could prove hard to catch if he gets a gap late in the race.
Lotte Kopecky (Team SD Worx)
Team SD Worx is far and away the strongest in the race, and as they showed last year, they have several cards to play. Their captain will likely be Kopecky, the defending champion. Able to win alone or in a small group sprint, she should be the focal point of the team’s plans.
Marlen Reusser (Team SD Worx)
Kopecky’s toughest competition might come from within her own team, most likely in the form of a rider who played a big role in helping her win last year: Reusser. The Swiss time trialist scored an amazing solo victory in Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem. A strong time trialist, if she gets away late in the race and other teams refuse to chase her (for fear of giving Kopecky a free ride to the finish line) they may never see her again.
Demi Vollering (Team SD Worx)
A stark contrast to Laporte and van Aert’s 1-2 finish in Ghent-Wevelgem (in which van Aert openly gifted the win to his teammate), Vollering outsprinted Kopecky to win Strade Bianche in March, a result that certainly made for some awkward post-race comments. Well, we could be in for a repeat: Vollering won Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, and we’re wondering how she and Kopecky will coexist on Sunday. Will Vollering ride for her Belgian teammate? Will Kopecky chase her if she doesn’t? The race within this team will go a long way toward determining the Ronde’s final outcome.
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar)
Racing her final season as a professional, van Vleuten has had a relatively quiet spring thus far: she hasn’t competed since Strade Bianche (in early March) and shockingly hasn’t won a race yet this year. That said, we’ve learned to never discount the current world champion, who had a quiet spring in 2021 but then won both Dwars door Vlaanderen and Flanders in the same week. Overlooking her could prove fatal for the opposition.
Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma)
Vos has only raced twice so far this season, but the Dutch rider finished third in Dwars door Vlaanderen, a result that shows she’s right where she needs to be to add another Tour of Flanders to her resume (she won the race way back in 2013). She could be using Flanders to put the finishing touches on her form for next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix (one of the only major races missing from her palmares), but if a large group hits the finish line in Oudenaarde, she’s a good bet to win the field sprint.
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