Tour of Flanders 2016 preview: the form guide

Who's hot and who's not ahead of the Ronde, the season's second Monument?

This year marks the 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders, with a fittingly stellar list of contenders and a typically challenging course for the season’s second Monument on Sunday (April 3).

The Ronde is undoubtedly one of the biggest one-day races of the season, and the first in a fearsome double-header with Paris-Roubaix on April 10. This year’s race will also have the extra significance of being the final edition which will involve both Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) and Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) together, with Cancellara set to retire at the end of the season and a question mark over when Boonen will call time on his career.

Cancellara and Boonen are among the former winners set for the 2016 Ronde, having won six Tour of Flanders titles between them. Meanwhile, Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), who prevailed in a two-up battle with Boonen’s team-mate Niki Terpstra in 2015, will roll out as defending champion.

Alexander Kristoff celebrates his Tour of Flanders victory in 2015 (pic: Sirotti)

The history of the Tour of Flanders is long and storied, with the steep cobbled bergs playing host to no shortage of scintillating action from the biggest Classics stars in cycling history.

And this year is likely to be no different, on a course which includes the climbs of Oude Kwaremont, the Koppenberg and Paterberg.

– Tour of Flanders 2016: TV schedule –

Who will be celebrating in Flanders on Sunday? We’ve taken a look at how the main contenders have been shaping up this spring.

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)

Defending champion Alexander Kristoff is one of the men in form ahead of the Tour of Flanders, once again enjoying success at the Three Days of De Panne as he gears up for the big one.

Kristoff beat the Astana duo of Lieuwe Westra and Alexey Lutsenko to win the first stage of De Panne, a race he also won in 2015. It was a much-needed return to fitness and form for the Norwegian – albeit with a slice of luck after team-mate Westra and Lutsenko failed to work together to dispose of Kristoff.

Defending champion Alexander Kristoff is finding form at just the right time again (Pic: Sirotti)

Illness ruled Kristoff out of Gent-Wevelgem, but, after a strong start to the season in Qatar and Oman, the 28-year-old has already been on a Classics podium at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

His Flanders victory in 2015, coupled with his 2014 Milan-San Remo success, underlined how Kristoff is a serious contender for cycling’s Monument races – and he will hope he is returning to peak form at the perfect time again in 2016.

Best results 2016: Tour of Qatar (three stage wins, second overall); Tour of Oman (two stage wins); Three Days of De Panne (one stage win).

Classics form 2016: Omloop Het Niewsblad – 101st; Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne – 2nd; Milan-San Remo – 6th; E3 Harelbeke – 53rd; Gent-Wevelgem – DNS

RCUK verdict: Hampered by illness recently but returning to form

Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo)

Fabian Cancellara won his third Tour of Flanders in 2014, but injury prevented him from adding another title to his palmares 12 months ago.

Spartacus’ 2014 victory saw him light the race up on Oude Kwaremont, before winning from a four-man break – a contrasting performance to his triumph the previous year when, after attacking on the Kwaremont, he kicked again on the Paterberg to solo to victory. Whether it’s from a group or on his own, Cancellara knows what it takes to win in Flanders.

Fabian Cancellara showed he is in good shape after a huge, enforced chase back on at E3 Harelbeke (Pic: Sirotti)

Back to fitness, and returning to form, a Monument victory in what is set to be his final season in the pro peloton would be a fitting way for Cancellara to sign off an exceptional career.

And he goes into the race in good form, putting in a dogged ride at E3 Harelbeke to claim fourth place before taking fourth again at Gent-Wevelgem.

Cancellara admitted that missing out on a podium spot was disappointing, but the form is clearly there for the 35-year-old – and victory at Strade Bianche earlier in the spring proved he is far from done.

Best results 2016: Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana (winner); Strade Bianche (winner); Volta ao Algarve (one ITT stage win); Tirreno-Adriatico (one ITT stage win)

Classics form 2016: Strade Bianche – 1st; Milan-San Remo – 31st; E3 Harelbeke – 4th; Gent-Wevelgem – 4th

RCUK verdict: Strong form, now needs the luck to match

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)

World champion Peter Sagan finally tasted victory in the rainbow jersey when he earned a spot on the top step of the podium at Gent-Wevelgem.

Victory had been a long time coming for Sagan, after a string of near-misses since winning the men’s world road race in Richmond in September.

World champion Peter Sagan should be full of confidence after his first win in the rainbow jersey (pic: Sirotti)

But the Slovakian’s form – wins aside – is undoubted, and ending the ‘curse of the rainbow jersey’ just in time for the Tour of Flanders means he should be full of confidence.

Second in 2013 and fourth last time out, Sagan has proved on multiple occasions he can scale the short, steep cobbled climbs of Flanders at the front of the race – now he’s out to win it.

And the 26-year-old has been there or thereabouts in a variety of races, on all terrain, this season with a string of top-ten places to reiterate that point – including second places at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Harelbeke.

He’ll be a marked man, as all world champions should expect to be, but a podium place is the very least Peter Sagan is capable of.

Best results 2016: Gent-Wevelgem (winner); Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (second); E3 Harelbeke (second); Tirreno-Adriatico (second overall)

Classics form 2016: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – 2nd; Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne – 7th; Strade Bianche – 4th; Milan-San Remo – 12th; E3 Harelbeke – 2nd; Gent-Wevelgem – 1st

RCUK verdict: Curse banished and in the form to win a first Monument

Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)

Sagan’s predecessor in the rainbow jersey, Michal Kwiatkowski, announced himself as a Tour of Flanders contender by winning E3 Harelbeke.

Following in the footsteps of Team Sky team-mate Geraint Thomas, Kwiatkowski accelerated away from Sagan to claim victory and significantly shorten his odds for the Ronde.

Michal Kwiatkowski celebrates after beating Peter Sagan to victory at E3 Harelbeke (pic: Sirotti)

The Polish ace is better known for his results in the Ardennes Classics, having won the Amstel Gold Race in 2015, and his former team Etixx-QuickStep was packed full of other contenders for the cobbles, with Kwiatkowski not really getting a look in. But he’s a front runner at Sky, a team rapidly improving in the Classics.

Luke Rowe (fourth at the Omloop) and Ian Stannard (third at E3 Harelbeke) are other cards available for the British WorldTour team to play but Kwiatkowski has proved he has the ability to end Sky’s long search for a Monument win. A strong solo effort at Milan-San Remo and his E3 win showed what he is capable of, and the Pole is certainly hitting top form this spring.

Best results 2016: E3 Harelbeke (winner); Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana (second); Trofeo Pollenca (second)

Classics form 2016: Strade Bianche – 20th; Milan-San Remo – 40th; E3 Harelbeke – 1st

RCUK verdict: Shot into contention with E3 win; possible dark horse

Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing)

Belgian ace Greg van Avermaet was in top form at Tirreno-Adriatico, snatching an unlikely overall win after the weather-enforced course change and his stage six win put him in the blue jersey.

Illness has slowed his momentum, and cost him his starting place at E3 Harelbeke, but a top-ten finish at Gent-Wevelgem was enough to suggest he still has the legs to be there or there abouts at Flanders.

Greg van Avermaet is a man on top form – as long as he gets over his recent illness (pic: Sirotti)

The 30-year-old was third last year, during a superb spring which also saw him on the podium at Paris-Roubaix and the Amstel Gold Race.

And after winning the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad earlier this spring, the Belgian will be keen for a repeat performance at the Ronde. If he is fully over his illness he should have a big role to play on Sunday.

Best results 2016: Tour of Qatar (third overall); Omloop Het Nieuwsbald (winner); Tirreno-Adriatico (one stage win, winner overall)

Classics form 2016: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – 1st; Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne – 74th; Strade Bianche – 6th; Milan-San Remo – 5th; Dwars door Vlaanderen – 32nd; E3 Harelbeke – DNS; Gent-Wevelgem – 9th

RCUK verdict: Has shown strong form so far this spring, illness permitting

Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep)

Three-time former winner Tom Boonen is just one of several cards Etixx-QuickStep can play at the Ronde.

Last year’s runner-up Niki Terpstra, who won at Le Samyn, Strade Bianche runner-up Zdenek Stybar and Milan-San Remo top-ten finisher Matteo Trentin are all also at the Belgian super team’s disposal.

Tom Boonen and Etixx-QuickStep have found success surprisingly hard to come by in the semi-Classics (Pic: Sirotti)

Strength in depth has been key for the team in the past – Terpstra’s 2014 Paris-Roubaix win serving as evidence of that – but success has been surprisingly hard to come by in 2016.

The team had five men in the front group at E3 Harelbeke at one point, but finished with nobody in the top ten – the aforementioned four locking out positions 12-15 overall.

If that served as a form finder, however, the fact all four were in the right positions at key parts of the race is an encouraging sign ahead of the two Monuments.

As for Boonen, his form has been unspectacular so far this year, but never write off a man who has three Flanders victories and four Paris-Roubaix titles to his name.

Best results 2016: Volta a la Communitat Valenciana (fourth on stage three); Paris-Nice (sixth on stage two)

Classics form 2016: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad – 11th; Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne – 69th; Milan-San Remo – 55th; E3 Harelbeke – 14th; Gent-Wevelgem – 20th

RCUK verdict: Unspectacular form but never write off Tornado Tom


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