A new route but the same finale is the Tour of Flanders news for 2017.
The organisers had to find a way to accommodate the Muur in Geraardsbergen after a lengthy absence. It looks too far out to influence the finish but as the Classics showed last year, the favourites will take a gamble from further out. Paris-Roubaix being the prime example.
This weeks racing has seen a number of favourites coming to the fore and some outside bets emerge as contenders.
In true Classic preview style here are some of the favourites based on the standard five star rating…
Peter Sagan ***** Reigning champion and has been in a rich vein of form this season. Has been there or thereabouts in all of the big races.
Greg Van Avermaet ***** Never won the Ronde and crashed out dramatically last season before the race really got going. This season he has smashed through the glass ceiling to start regularly winning the big races. It would be a bit of a surprise if he wasn’t on the podium.
Oliver Naesen **** A rider who came in under the radar until the end of last summer when IAM were closing down and he suddenly starting winning. He has been building his form nicely and was a factor in Gent-Wevelgem last weekend His inexperience a the top level might catch him out.
Philippe Gilbert **** There we were expecting him to be strong later in April for the Ardennes when he bursts on the Flemish scene and then backs up his classic form by winning 3 Days of de Panne. He might have left too much on the road in winning that race to be honest, but it would be interesting to see a Walloon contenting for this race.
Alexander Kristoff *** He won in the grand manner two years ago, but has struggled to win either sprints or classics ever since. The way he dominated Niki Terpstra in his 2015 breakaway might now be seen as the best moment of his career. I don’t see him winning but I think he might win the first group sprint.
Sep Vanmarcke *** Looked like he was going to be in the form of his life back in the opening weekend of the Belgian classics. He has been ill since and then to compound it all, crashed into the BMC team car the other day. Has he been blufffing and is this a Cannondale master plan?? … um no.
Luke Durbridge *** He would have been the outside of outsiders a month ago but having seen Mat Hayman win in Roubaix last season, its clear that Orica have form in winning these races. He was strong in the semi-classics and would have been close to the overall in de Panne but for getting the wrong side of a split.
All of the others are ** .
Let’s see how my predictions go eh!