Hard to go against conventional wisdom and pick anybody but Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara or Peter Sagan to win the Tour of Flanders this Sunday.
You’d look like a fool for even suggesting an alternative. Like ordering pizza and a glass of Chianti instead of frites and a Belgian beer on race day.
As Barry Ryan, perhaps the best writer in the bunch day in, day out, has said, look at the stats and the facts are overwhelming. “In the sixteen editions of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix since 2005, victory has fallen to Boonen, Cancellara or one of their teammates on all but three occasions – Alessandro Ballan (Flanders 2007), Nick Nuyens (Flanders 2011) and Johan Vansummeren (Paris-Roubaix 2011).”
In other words, don’t be dropping a sizable bet on anybody but those three riders unless you want the wife screaming at you and throwing your clothes out into the street like that scene in Sid & Nancy. Just not a wise move.
In fact, you have to work hard and be very clever to even make a case for anybody but the Three Kings. Oh sure, it’s not a stretch to talk up the chances of Sep Vanmarcke, Gent-Wevegem winner John Degenkolb or the injured Ian Stannard — although his chances just went out the window with his diagnosed fractured vertebrae. Bad luck for the likable, hard-working lug.
Really, there feels like a huge drop-off after BCS — Boonen, Cancellara, Sagan. The other possibilities are the guys in the back-up bands. Omega Pharma-QuickStep’s Niki Terpstra has been impressive so far this season, notably his big win in Dwars door Vlaanderen.
Then there’s the guy behind Spartacus over at Trek — the enigmatic Stijn Devolder who has won the Ronde twice and not much else. However, he’s also shown serious form and given the right set of tactical factors, Devolder or Terpstra could benefit from their captains being heavily marked.
After all, who doesn’t remember Garmin’s Vansummeren going up the cobbled road while his captain Thor Hushovd sat on Fabian Cancellara’s wheel? We don’t think the Norwegian will ever forget his disappointment that day and he pretty much decided to leave Garmin after that.
But lo and behold, there is one man with half a shot at attacking the Three Kings: Geraint Thomas of Sky. His luck has generally been bad in the classics but his high performance in Paris-Nice and podium in E3 Harelbeke bode well. What the Welshman needs most is not legs, but luck and buckets of it. If anyone deserves a turn of fortune, it’s Thomas.
Still, the podium for Flanders sure feels set” Cancellara, Sagan and Boonen.