Instead let’s take a look at the riders who are going to animate the race this Sunday.
If you want to bet on this race, you better bet on Fabian. For me he is the biggest favorite. He may not always ride very smart tactically, but you simply can’t ignore the fact that he is the strongest rider in the bunch. The race is extra hard this year with difficult laps ending with Paterberg so the chances of an ‘early’ breakaway with ‘secondary riders’ to stay away are very low. I think a small group of maximum 10 riders will get away in the last part of the race and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Cancellara just said good bye to the rest of the favorites like in Strade Bianche and went solo without even attacking. As you can see I feel pretty confident picking Spartacus as winner of Ronde van Vlaanderen 2012.
If you watched Dwars door Vlaandere and E3 Harelbeke you saw Sep Vanmarcke being one of, if not the strongest rider in the peloton. Everytime one of the favorites tried to attack, Vanmarcke was the first rider to follow. Vanmarcke has already shown he can stay with the favorites – and beat them – when he outsprinted Tom Boonen and won Omloop and if he shows same strength on Sunday as he has been showing the last couple of weeks he should be a strong candidate for the podium!
I said it back in December last year I still stand by those words. Tom Boonen is back! He has the strongest team - without any doubts whatsoever - and he can outsprint any of the other favorites if it should come down to a sprint. So why isn’t he my number one favorite? Because of his (lack of) tactical sense. Boonen often tends to show off too much and waste a lot of energies early in the race or he ends up working too hard in the end. He made that mistake in Omloop and he paid for it. I would be happy to see Tom Boonen win Ronde van Vlaanderen once again, but against Cancellara, who hungers for revenge from last year, I really have my doubts.
Another great rider who is back again is Matti Breschel. Being one of the strongest riders in 2010 “dancing, almost whistling up the hills” (words of Gilbert) his 2011-season got ruined by one injury after the other. Matti showed in Volta Algarve that his sprinting legs are back in shape and in Milano – San Remo he was just a few meters short of joining the winning trio on Poggio. In E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem he seems to miss the last few percentages on the hills but still managed to get 11th and 3rd in the final sprint. Matti Breschel knows how important it is for Rabobank finally go get a big win this season and normally he works very well under pressure. I think (and hope) he will able to stay with the best on Sunday and even though he may not win, top5 should be a safe bet.
Last up among my personal favorites and outsiders for the win in Ronde van Vlaanderen is Björn Leukemans. Vacansoleil-DCM has been outstanding this season and if they can take that with them to the cobblestone classics, team leader Björn Leukemans is a man to watch out for. Last year he was great with top10 in all four Sunday-classics and that even despite having a lot of bad luck. Leukemans recently said he is living like a munch the last weeks up to the big races. Sleeping alone, going to bed hungry and not inviting his friends around if they are just remotely close to getting sick. “I don’t have the talent like Cancellara and Boonen so I have to do everything else that I can”, he explained. In E3 Harelbeke he made the front group with Cancellara, Boonen, Pozzato and Vanmarcke and that shows the shape is there. I don’t expect Leukemans to win this race, but like with Matti Breschel, I think he is good pick for a top5 spot.