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The Ronde will not be raced on it’s originally scheduled date in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, so for now, 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?
Tom Boonen finished third in his Paris-Roubaix debut in 2002. He won two stages of the Tour de France in 2004. Then, in 2005, the kid known as “Tommeke” took proper steps down the path to becoming a legend. He won the Tour of Flanders for the first time, and completed the double the following week by winning Paris-Roubaix. He later went on to win stages and the green jersey at the Tour, and then became world champion in Madrid. What a year. It all started in Flanders.
How it happened: With 17 kilometers to go on the feared Kapelmuur, a handful of riders remained in the front group, including favorites Boonen and Peter Van Petegem, T-Mobile teammates Erik Zabel and Andreas Klier, Roberto Petito, and Alessandro Ballan. A substantial group was chasing a minute behind. Boonen and Van Petegem were clearly the strongest on the Muur, gapping the others. But over the top, it all came back together.
With 12km left, Klier set a vicious tempo on the lowers slopes of the Bosberg to keep the group together, hoping to set up Zabel for a group sprint. Boonen was the first to have none of it. He put in a solid dig. Again, Van Petegem was the strongest and held his wheel. The others trailed behind. Soon after, Van Petegem had a dig. Given “Tommeke’s” reputation as a sprinter at that time, he surprised his adversaries by launching a solo attack to counter Van Petegem. At first his lead was no more than two or three seconds as Van Petegem desperately chased. Finally, the rubber band snapped and Boonen was unleashed. Despite being chased by the two T-Mobile riders, he managed to extend his lead to 35 seconds and took a solo win in Meerbeke over Klier, fists flailing in delight as he crossed the line.
What we learned from the race: The sprint-savvy Boonen put in a well-timed attack to distance his rivals — including the venerable Zabel, a master sprinter. But getting away and staying away were two big asks in a race of that length. Boonen, who was no slouch in the time trial, gritted his teeth and kept the power full-gas to the line to make certain no one was catching him. Once again, timing and power made the difference.
Could it play out this way again? Did you notice that Peter Sagan launched his attack at the 2017 Milano-Sanremo on the Poggio instead of waiting for the final sprint? Did you see 2016’s Tour of Flanders when Sagan motored away on the Paterberg and then got aero for the final kilometers as a spirited duo of Fabian Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke chased? Sagan could launch again from a distance in this weekend’s race, to be sure he doesn’t have to rely on his sprint. Did you see that MSR finale where he was pipped by Michal Kwiatkowski at the line?