Hello everybody and welcome to our live blog from the 104th edition of the Tour of Flanders, the fourth and final monument of the cycling season following the cancellation of Paris-Roubaix which was due to take place next Sunday’s in the rescheduled new-look season.
At 243.3 kilometres, today’s edition of the race is slightly shorter than usual, and is already under way having set off from Antwerp at around 9.15am (BST). Before we get stuck into the race, here’s a bit of background information for those new to the sport . . .
Set up in 1913 by journalist Karel Van Wijnendaele, the Tour of Flanders – or De Ronde van Vlaanderen as the locals say – is the biggest day in the Belgian sporting calendar and has been described as being like the Boat Race, Royal Ascot and the FA Cup final. All rolled into one.
The race originally departed from Ghent, the spiritual home of Belgian cycling, though over the years its route has changed. As mentioned, this year’s race starts in Antwerp and concludes in Oudenaarde. Despite the various changes to the route over the years, one crucial characteristic of the Ronde remains: the hellingen, or hills which are often cobbled.
This year’s edition features 17 recognised climbs, including three ascents of Oude Kwaremont — the penultimate climb of the day — and twice up the final climb of the race, the Paterberg which tops out at an eye-watering 18.2 per cent in gradient: one-in-five in old money.
Though short in distance — the Paterberg is just 360 metres long — these brutal climbs are where, ordinarily, the decisive moves are made and if not, are where the field is whittled down further leaving the final selection of riders who will contest the race. In addition to the numerous hellingen, there are also five sections of kasseien, or cobblestones.
As with all WorldTour races, each of the 19 teams that make up the top-flight of professional cycling receive an invite and in the case of the Ronde all teams are contracted to race.
In addition to the WorldTour teams, race organisers Flanders Classics handed wildcard spots to six Pro-Continental teams — Alpecin-Fenix, Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles, B&B Hotels-Vital Concept p/b KTM, Circus-Wanty Gobert, Total Direct Énergie and Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise.
In addition to the Tour of Flanders, the Giro d’Italia continues today with a tough summit finish in the final day of racing ahead of the second and final rest day of the second grand tour of the season.
With four categorsied climbs, the 185km run from Base Aerea Rivolto to Piancavallo my suit a breakaway while those challenging for the general classification will he hoping to either make gains or consolidate their positions. While most of the focus today will be on Flanders, I will also be keeping an eye on what’s going on in Italy and will do my best to keep you up to speed with what’s happening at the Giro.
Today’s liveblog will get under way in earnest at 11am (BST).