Bring on the Ronde!

In the agonising countdown to the Tour of Flanders, I have discovered my gift to the human race: an ability to slow the passage of time through anticipation of a major cycle race.

This ability may have vital secondary applications: buying time for world leaders negotiating to avoid global conflicts; allowing emergency crews an extended period to respond to 999 calls; affording an opportunity for previously helpless breakfasters to intercept slices of toast on their once-unstoppable journey from plate to carpeted floor, one made, with crushing inevitability, butter-side down.

Soon after Peter Sagan wheelied across the finish line in Wevelgem, my thoughts turned to the Ronde. Could he simply ride away from his rivals at a ‘Monument’? How would Fabian Cancellara respond if he tried? Or would Tornado Tom Boonen, his season blown off course by the ill winds of accident, illness, and injury, yet provide sufficient turbulence to slow the progress of either in the sprint in to Oudenaarde?

Hapless sportivists are swept up by the Lampre squad, recce-ing the course for Sunday’s elite race

My wait is nearly over, but the intervening week has been interminable. De Panne provided sustenance, but only for three days. A steady flow of missives from the teams set to contest the Ronde, and of photo bulletins from our man in Flanders, have only increased my impatience for the race.

The latest batch of images from Stefano Sirotti show hapless sportive riders swept up by the WorldTour teams recce-ing the course for Sunday. Some struggle up the cobbled slopes on foot as the sleek professionals weave around them, visitors from another world.

Escaping the torment has not been easy. The talk in the café and in the bike shop today is of San Remo and Harelbeke and Wevelgem, and a now unavoidable showdown at the Ronde between the Slovak and the Swiss. Opinion is divided. Cancellara was formidable at Harelbeke, and came darned close at San Remo, say the supporters of Spartacus. Sagan is a phenomenon, say their opponents: an unstoppable force of nature, able to win at will.

Few speak of Boonen, and an increasing number back his team-mate, Sylvain Chavanel, to bag his first Classic. Tomeke himself has remained calm. No-one is unstoppable, he has said, pointedly. Confident that he has done the maximum to prepare in difficult circumstances, he will not attempt to be the strongest, only the smartest.

The peloton is unlikely to require road signs on sunday

Philippe Gilbert’s absence (he has a cold) has aroused little interest; the world road race champion remains, in the opinion of most, a man for the Ardennes. The jury remains out on the progress of Team Sky’s Classics squad. Most agree that Geraint Thomas is the man most likely, should Brailsford’s ever-broadening sphere of dominance encompass the bergs.

And so the minutes drag. Television coverage begins at 11am tomorrow (March 31). Do I have time to ride beforehand, or should some of the five-hour broadcast be sacrificed? Will a pre-Ronde spin sharpen my enjoyment of the race, providing one last reminder of the effort and skill required by those whose abilities far exceed my own? Decisions, decisions.

I will fill the intervening hours with Twitter and a consideration of the prospects of the main players. The Ronde Van Vlaanderen, a race whose very name is redolent of feats of determination and glory, is just one sleep away. Bring on the Ronde!

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