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With Ronde van Vlaanderen only days away, we are taking a look back at some of the most memorable editions of the Tour of Flanders. The race usually favors the strongest riders, but tactics are critical at the end of an epic day of cobbled Belgian climbs. What can we learn from the history of this beloved monument classic?
If you watched pro cycling in the 1990s and early 2000s, it was easy to catch a glimpse of Jacky Durand, often wearing a pirate-style bandana, always off the front in a suicidal attack. French magazine Vélo even tracked his kilometers in the break with a “Jackymètre.”
He rarely won out of those breaks, especially not on one of the biggest days of the season, a monument race, up against former winners such as Edwig van Hooydonck or Moreno Argentin and champions in waiting like Johan Museeuw. But at Tour of Flanders 1992, an important appointment for those cycling superstars — among others — Durand’s Gallic pluck shown through and he rode the breakaway of his life to the first French victory since 1956 in De Ronde.
What happened: Durand’s early breakaway went after around 45 kilometers of racing on the 257km day, and he was joined by three others: Hervé Meyvisch, Patrick Roelandt, and experienced breakaway artist Thomas Wegmüller. By the time the escape reached the first climb, the Tiegemberg (after 122km), their lead was 24 minutes. They’d caught the peloton sleeping, and the chase proved inadequate. Roelandt was dropped and then Meyvisch popped, leaving only Durand and Wegmüller. The Frenchman attacked on the final climb, the Bosberg, and held his narrow lead to the finish. The peloton wasn’t even close, with van Hooydonck sprinting to third behind Wegmüller, 1:44 behind.
What did we learn: If you give a motivated breakaway enough leash, it can hold off even the strongest peloton in the most important and difficult race of the calendar. Durand and Wegmüller benefitted from a bit of disorganization in the chase, as is often the case when the peloton’s biggest dogs fight over a prized bone. Regardless, a 24-minute lead at the race’s halfway point is quite a generous head-start.
Could it happen again? It is nearly impossible in modern racing for the peloton to get it completely wrong. Intrepid breakaways aren’t impossible, but they usually succeed in lower-tier events, not monuments, not Tour of Flanders. Any riders who have the chops to drive a 212km breakaway over the toughest cobbled climbs in Belgium are likely marked men in the peloton, unlike Durand, who was a relative unknown in 1992, his third professional season with Castorama.