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Racing this week: ‘Flanders Week’ hits crescendo Sunday with Ronde van Vlaanderen

For some cycling fans, and especially Belgian fans, this is the best week of the year.

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“Holy Week” is here.

For some cycling fans, and especially Belgian fans, this is the best week of the year.

Dubbed “Flanders Week,” the cycling-crazed region of Flanders proudly celebrates its enduring love of racing — pandemic be damned. The fun started last weekend with E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Gent-Wevelgem, continues with the Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, and is capped with the legendary Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday.

With a few other postponements, the only other major races this week are GP Miguel Indurain in Spain on Saturday and La Role Tourangelle Centre Val de Loire, part of the French Cup series on Sunday.

Here’s your insider’s guide for the races going on for the week of Monday, March 29, to Sunday, April 4.

Dwars door Vlaanderen

Wednesday, March 31

What to know: Contested by both the men’s and women’s peloton, the midweek classic dates back to the 1940s. Long part of the buildup toward Flanders Week, organizers posted it right into the middle of the action when they reshuffled the calendar in 2018.

Now the race is slotted between Gent-Wevelgem and the Ronde, giving it even more importance among the major teams and riders.

The course: With a second half of the 184.1km course pocked with cobblestone sectors and bergs, the race typically delivers a big winner. Since 2012, a women’s edition has been part of the day’s action, with a race usually about 130km that starts and finishes in the same location as the men’s race.

Who to watch: The 2020 edition was canceled, so two-time winner Ellen Van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), both winners in 2019, will be starting with the No. 1 bibs.

SD Worx and some of the other Ronde favorites are giving the race a pass, but Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar), Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM), Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange), and Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado (Plantur-Pura) are among the top starters.

On the men’s side, world champion Julian Alaphilippe leads a stacked Deceuninck-Quick-Step squad in what’s his first race since Milano-Sanremo.

The route can favor a fast finisher out of a reduced bunch, so riders like Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Emirates), Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) and Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) will be among the pre-race favorites.

Like the women’s event, a few key Ronde-bound favorites are also giving Dwars a miss, including Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroën).

Weather: Forecasters are calling for fine spring weather, with mostly sunny skies, temperatures in the low 70s, and light southerly winds, so it could be a fast race.

GP Miguel Indurain 

Saturday, April 3

What to know: Named after Spanish Tour de France legend, the one-day race is contested over the steep hills of Big Mig’s home region of Navarra. Since its founding in 1989, it’s grown into one of the most important one-day races south of the Pyrénées.

The course: Starting and finishing in Estella, a lumpy, 203km course is back-loaded with three second-category and one first-category climbs in the second half of the race. The decisive moves will come on the Cat. 2 Alto de Eraul, with about 10km to go. Viewed as a lead-up to the Itzulia tour and the looming Ardennes classics, the race draws a strong field.

Who to watch: Also canceled in 2020, the race draws such names as Alejandro Valverde and Enric Mas (Movistar), Adam Yates and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), and Brandon McNulty (UAE-Emirates). Rally Cycling continues its busy spring following its showing at the Volta a Catalunya.

The weather: Scattered showers, with northerly winds, and temperatures in the mid-50s.

Ronde van Vlaanderen

Sunday, April 4

No introduction needed — this is one of the big ones.

Behind perhaps only the world title and Paris-Roubaix, De Ronde ranks up there as one of cycling’s most prized one-day races.

Its winner’s list includes a long list of cycling greats. Last year’s editions saw epic battles in both the men’s and women’s editions.

The course: Following the controversial restyled version of the race in 2012, with the finish line now in Oudenaarde, it seems that the peloton has fully embraced the latest version. Since 2017, the race starts in historic Antwerp, meaning that all the action is packed into the second half of the race.

Also read: Five unforgettable editions of the Ronde

The now-iconic Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg combination is traced over twice in the finishing circuit, then it’s a 13km drag race to the line.  The women’s race is 153km, with the men’s course set at 263.7km.

Though health restrictions will mean that the beer tents and curbside parties will be banned, this remains a not-miss race. Get your popcorn.

Who to watch: Expect a showdown between the heavy favorites in both races. It will be SD Worx vs. Trek-Segafredo in the women’s race, and Deceuninck-Quick-Step vs. the world in the men’s race.

Both races are so hard that only the strongest will be able to challenge for victory. As we’ve seen in such races as E3 Saxo Bank Classic, numbers help, so all the major teams will be trying to bring at least two of their top riders into any major selection.

It will be interesting to see if one singular rider — like van der Poel or van Vleuten — will be able to take down the well-ordered powerhouse teams. Last year, it was Wout vs. Mathieu, but a healthy Peter Sagan and a motivated DQS will be keen to rewrite the script. In 2020, Boels-Dolmans (now SD Worx) went 1-2, with Anna van der Breggen looming in the front group.

Both races should deliver the very best of what makes one-day racing so appealing.

Weather: The riders could be getting lucky. Showers are forecasted for Monday, but Sunday looks to be partly sunny, temperatures in the low 50s, with northerly winds. That means a headwind coming back into the finish, favoring a chasing group against one or two leading riders.

The ‘Three Tenors’ in 2020. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images