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The 2016 Olympic road race champion suffered multiple fractures — three ribs and a vertebrae — in a crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. CCC Team’s Matteo Trentin will lead team colors.
“I made the decision not to race because I feel that my body is not 100 percent recovered from my fall,” said the 35-year-old Belgian cyclist via social media. “It’s a tough decision for me because everyone knows it’s about one of my favorite races.”
Though he’s never won, Van Avermaet was a podium finisher in 2014, 2015, and 2017, and was expected to pose a strong challenge to defending champion Alberto Bettiol and Sep Vanmarcke (both EF Pro Cycling). Vanmarcke has twice finished in third at De Ronde and is hoping to step further up the podium.
World champion Julian Alaphilippe will race for the first time at Flanders with his Elegant-Quick-Step team, which will also feature Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchal, Zdeněk Štybar, and Kasper Asgreen. Asgreen finished in second in 2019.
German John Degenkolb (Lotto-Soudal) is looking to get on to the podium having finished in sixth at last weekend’s Gent-Wevelgem, but will have to contend with UAE Team Emirates’ Alexander Kristoff, winner of the 2015 Tour of Flanders, as will Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Énergie), who won in 2018.
Most eyes will be on the battle between the two cyclocross-turned-road-racing stars, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix). The two rivals, skilled in racing over the cobbles, marked each other for the win at Gent-Wevelgem, and it was Mads Pederson (Trek-Segafredo) who escaped for the win.
Pederson and his Trek-Segafredo teammate Jasper Stuyven, racing in his home country, will also be lining up for the last crack at the cobbles for the 2020 season.
“For sure it’s an important race, even without [the canceled Paris-] Roubaix, it’s one of the most iconic races,” van der Poel said. “I’m always very motivated for this race, and it’s just an important race for me.”
Van der Poel is starting his second Tour of Flanders, and reflecting on his race from 2019, he said, “I don’t have to be stressed if I’m not in the first 20 or 30 riders. It was stressful to be in position to be in the first 10 on the Kwaremont. But it is better to be in position for the Oude Kwaremont than to be laying on the ground.”
Former world champion Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) is looking to improve last week’s performance at Gent-Wevelgem, and will also be leading the UK team with Gianni Moscon and Luke Rowe.
Bahrain-McLaren will field Mark Cavendish, Sonny Colbrelli and Dylan Teuns, while Stefan Küng (Groupama – FDJ) will also try to make the selection over the cobbled Paterberg climb. Romain Bardet will also race for the first time.
With the cancelation of Paris-Roubaix, next week’s Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne will be the final race in Belgium in 2020.
AFP contributed to this report.