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Tour of Flanders preview

The Tour of Flanders is one of the great cycling races on the circuit, a one-day classic combining stiff hills and nasty cobbled surfaces. And from a purist's point-of-view, EPO is virtually useless for a one-day race (although if they've had a busy recent schedule with all the races now on the circuit, I suppose it's not hugely different to a long tour). Avid cycling punter and SBB columnist, Ghislain Hofman, @gghofman, lines up with the preview.

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Tour of Flanders preview

Peter Sagan, Fabian Cancellera, Tom Boonen all lead a strong field for the season's second classic, and the single biggest day in Belgian racing this season.

The Route:



As is usual the first 50km plus are very easy going letting the legs warm up and the break of the day get up the road. 256km over some of the hardest terrain that the Flanders region has to offer, thousands of passionate fans camped on the route's historic climbs seeking just a few seconds of their heroes fighting up the hill. cycling here isn’t a hobby, it's a bloody religion, welcome to Flanders. This race is a different challenge to anything else, it mixes rough terrains with steep hills. Over the years the battles have been between Cancellara and Boonen, but that hasn’t given the winner they have just four titles between them, noticeable however is since 1999, Belgium has nine titles in all. Italy next best managed three, the Swiss and Germans have a win each. Last year Boonen just held on over the last Berge and was then too strong in the finish for Pozzato and Ballan. With 17 climbs in the Flemish Ardennes and seven cobbled sectors, the final battle of the true contenders should come on the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs, which each feature three times in the race’s hectic finishing circuits which we got to see in last year's route.

Form in the warm-up events is important, not since Steffen Wesemann’s win in 2004 has a rider won Flanders without finishing in the top ten on either DDV or E3 that year. In fact in four of those years a rider has won both (Boonen three times and Cancellara once). The betting suggests that the feeling is this comes too soon for Boonen, and it's Cancellara in the way of Flanders crowning a new winner.

Peter Sagan (5/2 Paddy Power) – the strongest form on offer here as he has blown 2013 to pieces, two wins in Oman and Tirreno a second at Strade Bianche and E3 as well as Milan San Remo. In the build up to this Sunday he has won Gent Wevelgem, a stage in Three days of De Panne, a podium finish seems to be pretty much a sure thing for the Slovak this season.

Fabian Cancellara (11/4 Coral) The winner back in 2010 he's had issues since but will be keen to get his second Flanders title while Bonoen is weak and Sagan still has the pressure of trying to get off the mark in the Monuments. He crashed out last year causing him major setbacks, in 2011 he created the winning move but was sold into doing the most of the work losing the sprint to fresher legs in Nuyens.

S.Chavanel (11/1 various) The Frenchman comes in haven been dominant in the Three Days of de Panne. He's had an excellent season, he's currently on course for his best season since moving to the Belgian team five years ago. He has a whole host of top fives this season but seems to find few too good but did win the sprint in Paris-Nice.

Tom Boonen (16/1 PaddyPower) Last year's champion and multiple winner but his build-up can have hardly have gone worse, an off-season elbow infection set him back from the off, and he has had an illness which halted his racing, add to that a crash last Sunday in GW and the worry is that he isn’t right just yet with his rivals haven had much more proven form for the season coming in.

F.Pozzato (20/1 various) The Italian was inches from gaining the title last year as Boonen just hung on over the day's last Muur, he did not have enough in the sprint to overcome the local favourite. He prefers warmer weather, he's always lacked the will to win in the wet and cold. Add to that how easy his head can go down when first place is out of sight, his best showings have come in domestic races but none raced as hard as Flanders will, and he is missing the help of Gatto since coming back to Lampre.

G.Thomas (30/1 bwin) Last year saw him focus on the track, but this year he will target the classics. He's placed highly in Roubaix but has not had much of a record in Flanders as he did not get to race it last year but he was 10th in the 2011 edition. He looked strong in the Tour Down Under getting involved with a stage win and a fight for the overall. So far he is on for his biggest season as a pro. Fourth in E3 and Omloop bode well for his chances here.

G.Van Avermaet (50/1 Ladbrokes) 22nd in 2011, he was best of the rest last year winning the sprint for fourth, ahead of some of the biggest names in one day cycling. This course suits him down to the ground and with both Gilbert and Phinney out of the picture, this is the man BMC should be getting behind. The signs are their for him acting as main man in Gent he came third there, a perfect sign his form is right.

Edvald Boassen Hagen (50/1 Paddy Power) The boss is slowly going down the Sky pecking order this season, but his talent can not be doubted, he came in 19th with the group last year. He has been their about in most of his recent races bar him pulling out in San Remo but improvement is needed to push for a victory here.

N.Terpstra (50/1 various) Terpstra comes in without a win in any of the Belgian races when he has picked up a win before, he was held by teammate Chavanel as usual in the Three Days of de Panne. He did well here last year but in my view he was in much better order last year to challenge this year he will be more useful committing to Chavanel's chances.

L.Paolini (50/1 Paddy Power) The Italian has surprised with a strong season for Katusha, normally quiet until further into the classics season. He was a strong 7th here last year. His win in the Omloop showed how tough he is and he should be able to show something in a race that should suit his qualities. He did well in E3 and San Remo but was a bit down the field in Gent Wevelgem.

H.Haussler (50/1 various) Haussler has been good for the move to his new team IAM, and has seemed to find some sort of form that means 2013 could see some of his best form. He was 30th in the bunch last year, 61st year before. He has shown signs that he may be returning to near the form of his Cervelo days when he was second here. His fourtth in his last race was his strongest showing so far as he put in digs and got involved in creating the winning break. His 11th in E3 and 13th in San Remo leave little doubt that he has a card to play.

S.Langeveld (66/1 Boylesports) 5th in this in 2011, he failed to make the finish in 2012. however 2012 was not a good one in general and things are looking much brighter this season for the Dutch rider. His 23rd in San Remo was improved on with a noticeable fifth in E3. But again the non-finish at Gent will put off some people but again conditions were far from ideal.

Ja Flecha (66/1 Bet365) Unlike many of his fellow countrymen he excels in the Belgian classics, 20th here last year as a member of a strong Sky line up, his best was a third in 2008. A move away from Sky to allow him to race more for himself and while he had been bit quiet he showed face with his fifth in Gent coming into this.

I.Stannard (80/1 Paddy Power) Considered more of a strongman who can be the ultimate helper to his team, he was gifted the chance to show what he could do in the horrible conditions in San Remo, he duly obliged and got away with Chavanel and played a part in how the finish turned out. He's super strong and could well cause some trouble to bigger names if allowed to make a late move. He was 57th here last year but given more of a leaders' role he could fare much better.

Noticeable others:
T.Voeckler (80/1) It's surprised me but he is pretty strong on cobbles and muurs and he can certainly play a part as one of the best attackers in world cycling. His eighth here last year shows it can suit his skills, he was just denied in DVV when caught 30 metres from the line. His form is there and the climbs won’t be an issue he just needs to get in the winning move. Gatto (80/1) comes in with his win at DVV, he came in last year at the rear of the group, but now he is the team leader and should have more focus on getting himself to the finish with a chance. Iglinskiy (80/1) has come on for his break out win last year, he was also out of the group last year. Maxim has been decent with top 20s in DVV and E3. Other notables are Lars Boom (100/1) who has the skills and power go well here, and Turgot (200/1) was 26th here last year has handful of good top 20 results that show he won’t be out of this.

Outright Bets:

Both Van Avermaet and Haussler could trouble Sagan
0.1pt G.Van Avermaet 50/1 Ladbrokes
0.1pt H.Haussler 50/1 Ladbrokes
0.05pt Turgot 200/1 Paddys (320 betfair)

You can find a list of Ghislain's matchbets on the original article posted here.

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