ANTWERP (Belgium): Defending champion Mathieu Van der Poel and his everlasting rival Wout van Aert would be the centre of consideration in a star-studded solid at Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, arguably the hardest one-day bike race on biking‘s World Tour.
Embarking from Antwerp mid-morning the riders cowl 254km and 19 storied hills earlier than arriving at Audenard six hours later, the place 2016 champion Peter Sagan mentioned Friday the strongest man on the day at all times wins.
The race is a serious occasion in Belgium and would usually appeal to crowds manner in extra of one million, however Covid-19 restrictions imply the one hundred and fifth version can have no roadside followers.
In 2020 Van der Poel and Van Aert, each 26 and who’ve contested races with each-other since childhood, got here around the final nook elbow-to-elbow in a breath-taking finale determined by centimetres on the road after an interminable wrestle down the house straight.
“I am not on high type,” Van der Poel mentioned Friday. “However final yr I used to be in poor health within the week earlier than the race, and that reality I’ve already gained it as soon as provides me nice confidence,” mentioned the Dutchman.
Van Aert was conserving his playing cards near his chest.
“I am one of many favourites, however not the large favorite,” mentioned the Jumbo-Visma star.
There’s a third man looking for a settling of accounts in French world champion Julian Alaphilippe, who hit the tarmac at excessive velocity when a bike stopped in entrance of him through the 2020 version.
The swashbuckling Alaphilippe additionally has the benefit of using for the highly effective Belgian staff Deceuninck Fast-Step, who can have a number of irons within the hearth Sunday, and should even use their totem as a foil for one more man.
“We now have a robust staff certain, however now we have to be actually good, and now we have to complete strongly, imagine me, this can be a robust race,” mentioned Alaphilippe, who dismissed any emotions of revenge over the accident that ended his 2020 marketing campaign.
The trio make up probably the most thrilling set of one-day specialists to have emerged in a long time, however with such a glittering prize at stake, others will definitely strive their luck.
“Something can occur at anytime on a Tour of Flanders. Hazard lurks round each nook. You possibly can’t fiddle on this race, it is 260km of significant street. Of the 180 contestants 30 will fall and 50 will experience themselves into the bottom earlier than the end,” mentioned Frenchman Oliver Naesen, of the AG2R staff.
“We must always concern no person and rely on ourselves, financial institution on our strengths,” mentioned Fast-Step boss Patrick Lefevere, who has taken the title 4 occasions in his tenure.