Milan-Sanremo is the longest of the five monuments. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is the oldest. Paris-Roubaix is considered the Queen of the Classics. Flanders is without a doubt the toughest. The combination of steep bergs, cobbles and narrow roads creates a battle zone for the riders that requires as much mental aptitude as physical prowess to survive.
“Flanders is basically all the previous Flemish races rolled into one,” said Sport Director Matt Wilson. “It’s basically every sector of pave and every famous climb all put into one race. It’s the biggest sporting day of the year in Belgium, and you feel that on the roads. The atmosphere along the race course adds energy to the bunch but it also adds a lot of stress.”
Race organisers, Flanders Classics, have made slight modifications to this year’s route that will certainly dismantle the peloton more so than last year. Most of the race action will unfold in the two finishing circuits that are now void of long, flat sections. Instead the final two circuits will draw out the favourites as the punishing climbs come in quick succession, particularly in the final 50 kilometres.
“It’s an epic day”, said Svein Tuft. “It’s one of the most brutal races of the year as we ride 45-50 kilometres per hour shoulder to shoulder on narrow roads, fighting for a little spot of road through every turn and over every hill.”
The 17 ‘hellingens’, small roads, high speeds, rain, wind, crashes, mechanicals and other misfortunes wreak havoc on the peloton. By the end of 259 kilometres, only the strongest, the smartest and the most fortunate will have survived.
“It’s amazing to watch the attrition in this race,” noted Tuft. “The race just blows apart naturally. There are no real attacks. The pace keeps elevating throughout the day. As the climbs come, it just keeps getting harder and harder until the pack dwindles down to the real players for the finale.”
From the ‘real players’, the winner will emerge. His name will forever be recognized for achieving one of the greatest wins in the sport of cycling.
“On that day, a legend will be born,” said Mathew Hayman. “It doesn’t matter who it is, the winner’s name will go down in cycling history.”
Whilst ORICA-GreenEDGE hasn’t had an ideal build-up heading into Flanders, after a good result at De Panne, things are looking up for the team. Placing a rider in the top ten would be a fantastic result for the Australian outfit. Although the team will not line up with a clear standout leader, there are five riders amongst the team’s eight starters who can go the distance.
“Durbridge, Impey, Keukeleire, Hayman and Docker are our five protected riders,” said Wilson. “Keukeleire is going well at the moment and has proven he can be around the mark. Hayman and Mitch are both riding strong. Durbo has shown his from this last week, and Impey has the skills required to produce a result here. We want these five guys to get to the final as fresh as possible.”
In a race as chaotic and dangerous as Flanders, the support riders will play in important role in chaperoning the team leaders to the finish. To say their role is important is an understatement – it is vital.
“Heppy [Michael Hepburn], Tuft and Mouris are there to support the other five,” added Wilson. “They will need to ride near the other guys to give them wheels when they need it, help them regain contact if they’re involved in a crash and get them bottles. Most importantly, they have to be able to get them into position on the most decisive moments. These races are all about position – stay at the front, out of the wind and protected.”
For Tuft, it comes as no surprise that being the consummate teammate is what will keep him satisfied at the end of the day.
“I think both Hayman and Durbo have the legs to go to the finale,” said Tuft. “If I can go as far as I can helping those guys hold good position so they don’t have to do too much work in the final bits, I will be super satisfied with that. For the team, I want us up there in the top ten.”
Hayman is known as an experienced and respected domestique over most terrain, but the Classics are where he gets his best personal results. To finish Flanders content, Hayman says he needs to have the best possible race he can produce.
“I want to leave it all out there,” said Hayman.
Flanders – it’s the pinnacle of cycling.
ORICA-GreenEDGE for Ronde van Vlaanderen: