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90th Ronde van Vlaanderen - PT

Belgium, April 2, 2006

Boonen favourite for RVV repeat

By Jeff Jones

Tom Boonen celebrates his victory in 2005. Can he do it again? Or rather, can anyone stop him?
Photo ©: Sirotti
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The Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) will be raced for the 90th time on Sunday, April 2. Starting once again in Brugge and finishing in Ninove-Meerbeke, the route takes the riders over 258 km, 17 climbs, and approximately 20 km of cobbles. The course alone makes it one of the toughest one day races in the world, but the combination of skills and fitness required to win it make it a big jewel in the crown of any rider who succeeds.

Last year, Flanders' newest hero Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) won his first Ronde with a masterful performance, attacking a lead group of six with 9 km to go to finish over half a minute ahead of Andreas Klier (T-Mobile) and perennial Ronde favourite Peter Van Petegem (Davitamon-Lotto). Boonen was in the middle of a purple patch, having won the E3 Prijs the week before and going on to win Paris-Roubaix a week later. His winning streak continued, more or less, throughout the season, and he finished in September as the World Champion in Madrid.

Boonen is back this year, and he's better than ever. The 25 year-old World Champion has 11 victories already this season, including - once again - the E3 Prijs, always an excellent form tester before the Ronde. In addition, he was a comfortable fourth in Milan-San Remo, and has ridden very strongly in all the Belgian semi-classics, where he clearly wasn't riding conservatively. He is the standout favourite this year and with a very strong team behind him, including 'alternates' Paolo Bettini, Nick Nuyens, and Filippo Pozzato.

Into the tunnel
Photo ©: Matt Conn
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Famous faces
Photo ©: Matt Conn
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… and Serge Baguet
Photo ©: Matt Conn
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It will be up to the other teams to take the race to Boonen and Quick.Step, and that won't be easy. Peter Van Petegem and Gert Steegmans should be the biggest threats in Davitamon-Lotto, and E3 Prijs second place getter Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) shouldn't be underestimated - he was in the final six man selection last year, and was strong enough to attack with Boonen on the Paterberg in the E3 Prijs.

Andreas Klier is another one of the favourites, and the T-Mobile rider has been riding consistently well in the recent races. With past winner of Flanders Steffen Wesemann still searching for form, Klier will be the man. Discovery Channel will be presenting a strong block of in-form riders this year, with De Panne winner Leif Hoste, George Hincapie and Stijn Devolder starring in the lineup. Hincapie is no stranger to the final of Flanders, and is riding better than ever, so he and Hoste should be able to have an impact.

Despite the loss of Matti Breschel and Stuart O'Grady to crashes, Team CSC will still be able to count on Karsten Kroon, Kurt-Asle Arvesen, Marcus Ljungqvist and Fabian Cancellara in the Ronde. Francaise des Jeux has options with Bernhard Eisel, who proved this week he can ride over the cobbles and climbs, and Het Volk winner Philippe Gilbert, who seems to be going through a bad patch at the moment.

Team Milram is bringing its top sprinters Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel, with the latter the most reliable bet for a podium spot. Rabobank is coming off a bad patch of injured riders, but can count on Erik Dekker and Juan Antonio Flecha, who were both strong last weekend.

Finally, look for Luca Paolini (Liquigas-Bianchi), Niko Eeckhout (Chocolade Jacques), Frank Vandenbroucke (Unibet.com) and Aart Vierhouten (Skil-Shimano) to play the outsiders roles.

Live coverage

Cyclingnews will be covering the 90th Ronde van Vlaanderen live, beginning at 9:30 local time (CEST)/03:30 EDT (USA east)/00:30 PDT (USA west)/18:30 AEST (Australia east).