Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sagan starts the Belgian cobbled monument as the favorite after a string of podium results so far this spring and his win in Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. The three-time world champion won the 2016 edition, but a fan’s jacket caused him to crash as he raced to the finish in 2017.
He’ll be up against his key classics rival, BMC’s Olympic champion Van Averment, who will try to win the race for the first time. Last year, he came in firing with wins through the spring including E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. Like everyone, he was foiled in Flanders by Philippe Gilbert’s long-range 55.5-kilometer attack. Revenge came in Paris-Roubaix a week later, but he still needs Flanders in his palmarès.
To get a better idea of who is favored for Flanders, we polled a number of the peloton’s key sport directors, who have deep insight into how the races play out week in, week out.
José Azevedo (Katusha-Alpecin): Sagan
“Sagan is the big favorite. He’s a strong rider. He also has a good team behind him.
“But honestly I’d like to see a surprise and see a Katusha rider win this race. We don’t have one name, but we have a strong group of young riders, riders who are motivated and they need to take these opportunities.”
Mario Scirea (UAE Team Emirates): Sagan
“We’ve seen how Quick-Step is going, they are the standard and everyone is racing off of them. Philippe Gilbert is going well, but I’d put Sagan among the first and of course, our rider Alexander Kristoff.
“And let’s not forget Greg Van Avermaet. Naming one is too hard. There are many, a race with many possibilities, it’ll be good to watch at home.”
Fabio Baldato (BMC Racing): Van Avermaet
“This is the year of Greg Van Avermaet. It’s his time. Gilbert will be dangerous for us, and of course, Sagan.”
Tom Steels (Quick-Step Floors): Van Avermaet
“Greg Van Avermaet. He’s a very strong rider for those kinds of races, those long races. He never loses power. He has the mentality to race and is always a difficult competitor.
“Let’s hope it’s one from our team. Phil [Gilbert], Stybar, Yves [Lampaert], Niki [Terpstra] or … But the competition is there, that’s for sure. We always have the same with Greg Van Avermaet, Sagan, Michal Kwiatkowski [Sky].”
Stefano Zanini (Astana): Too many to choose
“Greg Van Avermaet, Oliver Naesen [AG2R], Sep Vanmarcke [EF Education]. Many riders can win.
“Our rider Michael Valgren is strong. He already won in Nieuwsblad and he’s motivated to win this race. Outsiders? Magnus Cort and why not Vincenzo Nibali?”
Tristan Hoffman (Bahrain-Merida): Nibali
“I have no idea! You have 10 to 15 guys who can win.
“If I can pick one, I’d pick Nibali because he’s racing the Tour of Flanders, and that’s fantastic. It would be a good surprise if he did that in Flanders after Sanremo. It’s difficult, but let’s hope for it!”
Michiel Elijzen (Veranda’s Willems-Crelan): Gilbert
“It’s going to be Philippe Gilbert again. A small group finish and he wins the sprint.
“Phil will profit from the strength of the team. You need a strong team and there are five to six guys who can win Flanders in that team. He’ll out-smart the rest of the team to be in the best position again.
“Outsiders? Terpstra is in really good shape. Vanmarcke, Naesen, hopefully for us Wout Van Aert. You also have Matteo Trentin. Those are the guys to beat for Philippe.”
Dirk Demol (Trek-Segafredo): Terpstra
“I haven’t seen anyone who’s really above everyone else, but I have to say Terpstra from what I’ve seen in the E3 Harelbeke. That was impressive. If I had to say one name, it’s Terpstra.”
Marc Reef (Sunweb): Stybar
“Zdenek Stybar from Quick-Step. He’s shown already more times in classics that he can play a role in the final and at one moment, it will come to a victory. It’ll be this year.”