Are you excited for the craziest, most gruelling cobbled Classic ever? You should be!
The 100th edition of 'the Ronde', as it is known by natives of the Flanders region, is set to take place on Sunday 3 April and it's already promising to be a truly explosive race.
This year's route takes in more than a few of the famous Bergs that often define and decide the one-day races in Belgium. The Paterberg will be scaled twice, while the riders will have to tackle the Oude Kwaremont three different times. The race finishes, as it did last year, with an ascent of Minderbroedersstraat – and no, we don't know how to pronounce that either.
Oh and don't forget the cobbles – seven sections of the beggars. Expect crashes, splashes and plenty of elbow-throwing as the big names jockey for position.
200 riders will take to the start line on 3 April, but not all of them are in with a hope, or even a chance of winning. If past editions are anything to go by, many may not even finish! But who are the heavyweights to look out for?
It'd be terribly rude of us not to kick off with last season's champ. The Norwegian powerhouse will be keen to protect his title, especially after placing a lowly sixth (low by his standards at least) at Milan - San Remo.
What can we say about Old Spartacus that hasn’t been said a million times? He seems to be hugely enjoying his final ‘farewell’ season and has already hoovered up a couple of one-day wins. Even in his advancing years he’s a fearsome opponent when it comes to the cobbles so expect to see him in the mix.
Now he’s finally shaved his legs and won a race in the rainbow bands, Peter Sagan should be in with a real chance of winning at Flanders. Unfortunately he’s cursed by his own brilliance and whenever he gets into a decent situation everyone immediately stops helping him. We’ll see what he can engineer out of nothing.
Greg Van Avermaet
The Belgian will be a firm local favourite and justifiably so after he nicked a win at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad a few weeks back. He spent much of last season coming close, but not quite winning, so we’ll see if things have fully turned around for him. His recent illness has kept him out of competition at the most recent classics – so can he recover in time?
We’re obliged to include Tom Boonen in this list, because he’s Tom Boonen. But he’s also pretty old and starting to moan a bit about racing in bad weather, which is a not very Tom Boonen thing to do. If he turns up in leg warmers at the start you can forget about him.
Every time he gets on a bike Luke Rowe looks a stronger rider. Eventually that’s going to translate into a Monument win. A select break at 20km to go would suit him as he doesn’t quite have the turn of speed to win out in a bunch sprint. Probably Britain's best hope of a win.
We love the Tour of Flanders mainly because it's such a wild and unpredictable race to watch. The cobbled sections lend a complete wildcard factor to the eventual results, so expect to see the top teams riding high up the peloton right from the start in an effort to keep their lads out of trouble.
Here are some things that might happen:
A fight. Things tend to get tetchy on the cobbled climbs with tiny amounts of space available to the riders. If things go wrong and one rider feels it was the fault of another that he ended up on the deck it wouldn't be unprecedented to see a few fists flying.
A really, really big flag. Lord knows, the Flemish love their flags – especially drooping them in the faces of the riders as they go uphill, only to whip them up out of the way at the last minute. The flag of Flanders is yellow with a black lion on. Just FYI.
A breakaway. This is the Classics. This is Belgium. That means breakaways, counter-attacks and spring-boarding aplenty. Often you'll get a decent domestique sent up the road to wait for the arrival of their main guy which adds a real 'everyone is a threat' angle. Juicy!
Hand-waving. When they're not coming to actual blows, cyclists love a good angry discussion with plenty of gesticulations. Peter Sagan is especially good value for this when people won't help him in a break.