Commentary: Flanders is cycling’s best Monument
We can all agree that the past few months have been a bumpy ride for pro cycling fans.
Our current Tour de France champion may be slapped with a doping offense and barred from the sport. The British government publicly shamed our favorite guitar shredding Olympic gold medalist for allegedly misusing a doctor’s note to obtain steroids. Two of our strongest pro teams may disappear in a puff of smoke and unpaid bank notes. And yeah, Peter Sagan cut his hair again. Brutal.
If only there were some race, some magical event to snap us out of this funk.
My friends, such an event DOES exist. It’s the Tour of Flanders. And it’s Sunday.
Here’s my lukewarm take to end your hard week. The Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen, or just De Ronde) is unquestionably cycling’s best Monument. It is a race that combines the brutal hardman appeal of Paris-Roubaix, with the edge-of-your-seat tactical excitement of the final few kilometers of Milan-Sanremo. The race is often decided by some painful acceleration on the Oude Kwaremont or the Paterberg that separates the strongest rider from the strong rider (Fabian Cancellara vs. Peter Sagan 2013). It’s also a race that is regularly decided by some tactical decision made by the smartest rider ahead of the smart rider (Peter Sagan vs. Fabian Cancellara 2016).
As we’ve seen throughout history, winning Flanders requires brains and brawn.
And the race comes early in the spring, long before Team Sky’s relentless tempo on the Col du Peyresourde drains the cycling enthusiasm from our brains. That’s right, the Tour of Flanders falls just as we cycling addicts require our springtime injection of drama and Leffe and Lion of Flanders flags. I pity those poor fans of stick-and-ball sports, who must wait until the end of the season for best event. For we cycling fans, the Tour of Flanders gives us Super Bowl-level hype at the start of our year.
And yes, then there are the other elements that make Flanders the best, namely the chaos, the crowds, the climbs, and the cobblestones.
I did some really basic science to back up my take. I asked all seven VeloNews employees whose email addresses I could remember this morning to rank the Monuments. Six of them put Flanders first (Andrew Hood was the lone contrarian).
So, before you tweet your dissent at me (and I know you will), please observe my unassailable arguments for why Flanders is GOAT. Or should I say “GOAM” (Greatest Of All Monuments).
Sure, there are some years when the strongest rider wins the Tour of Flanders. We all remember watching Fabian Cancellara churn Tom Boonen into mush on the Kapelmuur in 2010. But there are also those years in which Flanders is decided by a tactical battle within the final 50 or so kilometers. Stijn Devolder won Flanders twice, both times because Tom Boonen’s presence amongst the chasers stifled their motivation to ride. Peter Sagan finally won Flanders after Cancellara foolishly let him go.
Flanders is a long, 260km day of pain. Often, the tactics at Flanders come down to which rivals are willing to strike up a partnership in the moment to get away, and which others are willing to let them go. It’s a gamble.
Flanders looks awesome on TV (and webcast). The hills of Belgium pop with green, and the black-and-yellow Lion of Flanders flags add plenty of color to the crowd. And the cameras always seem to catch the decisive action, like Sagan dispatching Sep Vanmarcke on the Paterberg. Kudos to organizers Flanders Classics for stationing fixed cameras and those swooping boom-mounted cameras atop the major bergs. My hope is that someday, one of those cameras adequately shows just how godawful the Paterberg is at its steepest.
The zany cyclosportive
Should you ever make it over to Belgium for the Classics (and you should), I recommend taking in the amateur cyclosportive rides for both Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders. The We Ride Flanders event presents a completely bonkers and chaotic day on a bicycle that cannot be replicated on U.S. soil due to our safety laws and litigious tendencies. More than 16,000 amateur cyclists of all ability levels cram themselves onto the narrow roads of Flanders and chug along in never-ending pelotons of noob wonder. Yes, you will walk up the Koppenberg.
They still walk up the Koppenberg
I find strange joy in watching the sport’s strongest riders dismount their bicycles and waddle up the Koppenberg like a bunch of penguins marching up an iceberg. It’s a leveling sight to an amateur hack like myself. See, these guys have to get off and walk sometimes too!
Coryn won it
Apologies for my national pride. I love the Tour of Flanders because it’s the only cobbled classic to have an American victor. That’s right, Coryn Rivera made us proud last year by snatching the win. Her participation in this race will always make it must-see TV.
Because this stuff can happen
Of course crashes happen at every race, and Paris-Roubaix is the Monument that dishes out the most chaos that can also impact the overall. He who crashes during the crucial moments of Flanders can kiss his day goodbye.
Look at this guy. He loves De Ronde more than you will ever love anything to do with bicycles.