By Ryan McDonald
Originally scheduled to take place in April, Belgium’s premier cobbled classic has been nudged back slightly to accommodate a new cycling calendar. Now, on 18 October, the men shall race 241 km, and the women will compete over 135 km. The final circuits including Oudenaarde, Paterberg, and Oude Kwaremont still making up the shortened Tour of Flanders.
Race 20 of the intense 23-date UCI World Tour summons some of the finest cyclists in the world to compete in the race famed for its demand for strategy and tactics across the course. So, who looks poised to take the crown in the 2020 Tour of Flanders?
Belgium’s time to retake its crown
The recent history of the Tour of Flanders has seen multiple winners from across Europe. This year, however, a return to Belgian dominance looks to be back on the cards. The two favourites coming in are Mathieu van der Poel at 5/2 and Wout van Aert at 7/2 in the cycling betting with Betfair. The two have been trading cyclo-cross World Championships for the last five years, and now look set to go head-to-head on the cobbles.
Since 2014, the Tour of Flanders has been won by only one home cyclist, with a Swiss, Norwegian, Slovakian, Dutchman, and Italian surrounding the 2017 triumph of Wallonia-native Philippe Gilbert. It marks the most diverse – nationality-wise, period of champions in the history of the race. As such, while Van Der Poel is Dutch by nationality, he was born in Belgium, and given the age of the two favourites (both mid-20s), an era of local dominance could be on its way.
Sizing up the competition
Antwerp-born Van Der Poel is dedicated to winning the most prestigious race of his country, skipping the World Championships road race altogether to focus on Tour of Flanders, as shown by Cycling News. Already a consecutive National Championships, European Championships, and three-time World Championships winner in cyclo-cross. He also has two stage victories at the Tour de France and is eyeing up the cross-country cycling events at the upcoming Olympics.
His primary competitor, the Flanders-born Van Aert, won each of the three World Championships of cyclo-cross that Van Der Poel didn’t get over the last six editions (2016, 2017, and 2018), as well as a hattrick of National Championships in each of those three years. This year, he won two stages of the Tour de France but says that the Tour of Flanders is at the top of his list, per the Olympic Channel.
A potential wild card from across the border
As incredible as it will be for the country to see two of the finest young Belgium-born riders battle for the crown jewel of the nation’s cycling, there’s always a wild card. This year, that wild card might just be Julian Alaphilippe. The Frenchman looked primed to takes the 2020 Tour de France by storm, only to be hindered by a time penalty in stage 5. Speaking to Cycling Weekly, he says that tired legs got the better of him in September. But, if he’s recovered in time and prepared well, the Flanders debutant should give the Belgian favourites a run for their money.
The Tour of Flanders is just around the corner, with two exciting talents set to take centre stage.