Quick-Step Floors Cycling Team to Ronde van Vlaanderen
The 102nd edition of the race will see the riders tackle 18 hellingen between Antwerp and Oudenaarde.
The pinnacle of the Flemish Week and a tremendous cultural phenomenon, the Ronde van Vlaanderen is one of the most revered races of the year by riders and fans alike, despite being the youngest of the calendar's five Monuments. Created in 1913, the Ronde has grown in stature over time with the inclusion of the now famous Flemish Ardennes and the emergence of huge champions, who left their mark over the race in the past century. Three of these riders took home the trophy in the Quick-Step Floors jersey, for a total of six wins, between 2005 and 2017.
On Sunday, for the 102nd episode of De Ronde, 175 riders will line up at the start in Antwerp, ready to take on the 267 kilometers that separate them from the finish in Oudenaarde. On the menu, five cobblestone sectors and 18 leg-sapping hills, including the iconic Tenbosse, Muur-Kapelmuur, Koppenberg, Taaienberg and the Oude Kwaremont – Paterberg combo, which will feature twice, last time inside the final 20 kilometers.
At the previous edition, Philippe Gilbert created a masterpiece after attacking 55 kilometers from the finish and holding off his chasers for a maiden Ronde van Vlaanderen title. The 35-year-old Belgian – who'll make his 46th Monument apperance – will be at the start as defending champion, part of a very strong Quick-Step Floors team which has several cards to play, including E3 Harelbeke winner Niki Terpstra, Yves Lampaert, who just two days ago successfully defended his Dwars door Vlaanderen crown, and Zdenek Stybar, a top 10 finisher in the last three cobblestone races.
Tim Declercq, Iljo Keisse and Florian Sénéchal – whose commitment and selfless work have played a major role in the seven races won by Quick-Step Floors in Belgium this season – will round up the team for Sunday's appointment.
Sports director Tom Steels made a preview of the season's second Monument: "All the favourites are so close these days, none of them afraid to attack each other, so we will have a big battle. Few guys might feel the pressure from missing results so far, a factor which can often influence the race. If you are confident then you pick your own moment and go, but if you are uncertain, you start to think if it is too early or too late, which can be in favour of the confident riders."
"With seven riders it's very difficult to control a race like De Ronde, you could see that also in other races, like Gent-Wevelgem, where the breakaway opened a 10-minute gap. Fewer teams are willing to take responsibility, but on the other hand you have a natural pressure on the peloton due to all the small, narrow roads keeping it going fast at all times, especially before the cobbled sections. However, the new team size leaves you with a second problem, which is that you have one guy less to protect the leaders. Usually, you would have one guy to protect each leader the whole day, now that is also more difficult, which is why the strength of the team has become even more important."
"After picking up seven victories with six different riders in Belgium, and more importantly, after displaying that fantastic team spirit and ambition, the morale is high and we look forward to the race. We know it's going to be hard – after all, it's one of the toughest races of the year – but we are more than ready and determined to be there in the key moments of the race and leave our mark over it", concluded Steels.
Photo: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images