EF Education First ready for Tour of Flanders, Belgium's Super Bowl Sunday
“It’s a big party for the supporters out there on the street and each team wants to join the party.”
-DS Andreas Klier
Golden flags with roaring black lions, red tongues hanging, flap in the wind. People lining the streets, small beer in one hand, cone of frites in the other. A quick time check and it’s only 10 am.
The energy in the air is contagious. It’s no surprise that Tour of Flanders earned its status as one of the five Monuments of cycling. The Belgians know how to blend history, racing, and a good time. Sunday’s showdown is one of the biggest days of the season.
“I think in general it’s a big party for the supporters out there on the street and each team wants to join the party, I mean who doesn’t want to be part of a party?” says sport director Andreas Klier, a slight smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
Festive, religious, pilgrimage are among the words used by those who travel to Belgium to watch Tour of Flanders roadside. It’s difficult to convey to the uninitiated. Check out the comments on this Instagram post to see how our fans attempt to describe the Holy Week finale.
“The sport of cycling was born here, not that long ago, maybe like 120 years ago. In the scope of humanity that’s nothing. But the first people who decided they wanted to race bicycles in this area chose to race bicycles in probably the worse place to race them with all the cobbles,” laughs Taylor Phinney, who’s set to ride in Sunday’s race.
If you’ve never ridden a bike over the Belgian cobbles, it is as painful as you imagine. Probably more so. And in Belgium, there are the cobbled Classics and THE cobbled Classic.
“Every single rider who races the Classics wants to stand on the start line of Flanders, so that means already a lot and they will be willing to give 100 percent. They first want to do their job and then plenty of people who just say they want to finish it,” Klier says. “Everybody would love to win that race, they dream about it the night before, and you have a lot of disappointment afterward because only one person can win. You can feel the tension at the start and during the race and relief afterward.”
People come out in force to celebrate what Phinney describes as, “Belgium’s Superbowl.” Rain or shine, roadsides will be filled with boisterous crowds for the 103rd edition of Ronde van Vlaanderen, the Flemish name for the infamous race.
“It’s one of those days that is so special no matter what happens.”
“It’s one of those days that is so special no matter what happens, because you just get inside of that race and there is just so much attention and energy being thrown at you at all times,” Phinney says.
Route changes two years ago saw the race start move from Brugge to Antwerp. The finish remains in Oudenaarde. The three laps of the Oude Kwaremont, with the final crescendo up the Kwaremont-Paterberg double are still likely to decide the race or, at least, make the final selection ahead of the 13-kilometer flat run-in back to Oudenaarde.
Sep Vanmarcke is still working day-by-day to be race ready on Sunday following his crash at E3 Harelbeke, but as of today he’s confirmed he will be there on the start line.
“You prepare so much over the winter months for this one moment, this block of racing,” Vanmarkce says. “Then in the first big race you go down. It can be so frustrating. The knee is getting better, I hope it can make another step on in recovery in the next day. I’ll try my best for Sunday and I hope the knee holds strong for as long as possible.”
Klier is optimistic about the weekend. He’s hopeful that Vanmarcke’s injuries will have improved quite a bit by Sunday. Injuries aside, Klier is happy with where the team are currently performing.
“Every single rider is really hungry for getting the flowers and the gold medal.”
-DS Andreas Klier
“I feel like every single rider is really hungry for getting the flowers and the gold medal,” Klier says. “From the rider who does the first job of the day to the last one who will go on stage to catch the flowers, everyone has the same level of hunger for it. It feels like the gold medal lays just around the corner.”
The Tour of Flanders cobbles and climbs:
0km Start in Antwerp
87km Lippenhovestraat (cobbles), 1.3km
89km Paddestraat (cobbles), 1.5km
121km Oude Kwaremont, 2.2km
132km Kortekeer, 1km
137km Edelare, 1.5km
142.2km Wolvenberg, 0.64km
142.3km Holleweg (cobbles), 1.5km
148km Haaghoek (cobbles), 2km
151km Leberg, 0.95km
155km Berendries, 0.94km
160km Tenbosse, 0.45km
170km Muur/Kapelmuur, 0.74km
189km Pottelberg, 1.35km
195km Kanarieberg, 1km
211km Oude Kwaremont, 2.2km
214km Paterberg, 0.36km
221km Koppenberg, 0.7km
225km Mariaborrestraat (cobbles), 2km
226km Steenbeekdries, 0.7km
229km Taaienberg, 0.53km
240km Kruisberg, 2.5km
250km Oude Kwaremont, 2.2km
253km Paterberg, 0.36km
267km Finish in Oudenaarde
Alberto Bettiol Matti Breschel Sacha Modolo Sebastian Langeveld Sep Vanmarcke Taylor Phinney Tom Scully
Come 2019 Taylor Phinney will be crushing cobbles at the Spring Classics with EF Education…