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Dauphiné Libéré
Photo ©: Sirotti

89th Ronde van Vlaanderen - PT

Belgium, April 3, 2005

Belgian show-down shapes up at RVV

By Jeff Jones

Steffen Wesemann (T-Mobile) wins in 2004
Photo ©: Sirotti

The April classics season gets into full swing with the 89th edition of the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) on Sunday, April 3. De Ronde, as it's known, is always the high point of the Flemish cycling season, which starts with Het Volk at the end of February and winds down by mid-April. For most Belgian pro's, it's the most important race on the calendar, even if very few of them can actually win it.

As usual, sickness and crashes have put question marks over several of the favourites in the lead up to Vlaanderen's mooiste, starting with last year's winner Steffen Wesemann. The T-Mobile rider, who looked strong in last week's E3 Prijs, had to pull out of the Driedaagse van De Panne before the last two stages, suffering from stomach problems. It's expected he'll recover in time to start on Sunday, and he will share the leadership of T-Mobile with Andreas Klier.

E3 Prijs winner Tom Boonen will be the outright leader of the Quick.Step team, even though he crashed twice during the Driedaagse van De Panne and didn't start the final stage. Boonen had to have three stitches to the middle finger of his left hand, as well as suffering bruised legs and pelvis from his crash. He will still be one of the favourites on Sunday, but perhaps not in the circumstances he would have preferred. He will be supported by a strong team including Nick Nuyens and Kevin Hulsmans, but no Paolo Bettini, who has a throat infection.

The 2003 Ronde winner Peter Van Petegem will lead a solid looking Davitamon-Lotto team on Sunday. PVP will have the support of the excellent Nico Mattan, who finished third overall in the Driedaagse van De Panne and has been in good shape for the last month.

Driedaagse van De Panne winner Stijn Devolder is rapidly turning himself into a feared rider, and his win this week puts him among the favourites. He has had an injury free run into the race, and the Discovery Channel classics team is looking better than ever. Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne winner George Hincapie rode well in Brabantse Pijl last weekend and would dearly love to add the Ronde to his palmares. Added to this pair are Lance Armstrong, Viatcheslav Ekimov, Leif Hoste, Roger Hammond, Antonio Cruz, and Hayden Roulston, meaning that Discovery has several options.

The Rabobank team has been riding well of late, with World Champ Oscar Freire coming up trumps in Brabantse Pijl last Sunday. Unfortunately for Freire, a saddle sore has prevented him from training much this week, and he may forfeit on Sunday for fear of making the injury worse. But Rabobank has other strings to its bow, including the irrepressible Erik Dekker, who was one of the best in the E3 Prijs, and Steven de Jongh, who is in his usual good early season form.

Looking at the outsiders, there is Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis), who has finished on the podium of Flanders before and is nearly always in the selection when it counts. Nico Eeckhout (Chocolade Jacques) is having a great period of form at the moment and will love it if the conditions are cold and wet. CSC's young Russian Vladimir Gussev has been riding a pretty solid early season program and it appears to have been paying off. Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) wants to do well in the cobbled classics and he definitely has the capacity to win, as he possesses a powerful finish. Driedaagse stage 1 winner Alessandro Ballan showed that he could attack and sprint earlier this week, and he appeared to be strong on the climbs. Finally, Liberty Seguros has come to Belgium with its best team ever, and riders like Luis Sanchez, Carlos Barredo, and Allan Davis could all figure in Flanders.

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be covering the 89th Ronde van Vlaanderen live, beginning at 9:30 local time (CEST)/03:30 EDT (USA east)/00:30 PDT (USA west)/17:30 AEST (Australia east).