86th Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders)
Local knowledge may be the key factor in this years Ronde van Vlaanderen - when Museeuw famously won in 1998 he commented after the race that his friend had won the amateur race the previous day - ď he told me that the nagging wind turned favourable on the run in and he easily managed to maintain 50 kilometres an hour .I thought if he can do 50k I should manage 60kph - so the race tactics were made up the previous night ď ,However the weather forecast is sunny with wind speeds up to 15 MPH .
Museeuw looking for an record breaking fourth win in his final Ronde (?) will get a bigger cheer than usual when he passes through his home town of Gistel after 37 kilometres Naturally his Domo squad is at full strength - which is good news for Fred Rodriguez -ď I am looking to have another good result like Milan-San RemoÖIíve already proved that I can ride the roads in Belgium ď - and doubt will be looking for World Cup points to . Strangely though Museeuw is not race favorite .
That honour (?) belongs to inform Van Petegem . Van Petegem, who won in 1999, is heading the Lotto team's bid following Andrei Tchmil accident during de Panne "Whether I'd won La Panne or not, I would still be stuck with the favorites' tag," admitted 32-year-old van Petegem, also the winner of the Het Volk race this season.
Michele Bartoli (1996 winner) and Fabio Baldato (1995-1996 runner up) will lead a Fassa Bortola team packed with quality riders who have been achieving great results this season..Ivanov, Konyshev, Loda, Petacchi, Petito, all ride as does Zanette, who finished third in the Ronde last year ;to have a rider of his quality riding as a domestique is a indication of the squads strength.
Bettini leads a strong Mapei squad . Oscar Freire is once again sidelined with an Achilles injury, but Steels seems to be finally coming out of the wilderness , Zanini is in wining mood and finished third in 1998 .De Waele is also showing good form , and was in great shape during de Panne . Tafi is in his element in this sort of race . Hunter , who has ridden the race twice before but has yet to finish but is very confident to go all the way this year .
Tacconi Sport return to defend the title , won by Gianluca Bortolami . For some reason Gianluca seems to be overlooked in the favourites lists - which could be an oversight . He brings a powerful squad - Balducci is his right hand man , and by all accounts is stronger this year than ever before - add to that Minali , Hauptman and the basis of a very strong classics squad .
The pink and blue Lampre shirts will certainly be in the thick of the action - the aggressive riding of Dierckxsens , and the class of Sciandri will be supported by the strength of Missaglia , Serpellini , Spruch and Belohvosciks .
If the other Lion of the peloton ,Cipollini , is in the right mood then Leeuw van Vlaanderen, Johan Museeuw, maybe better watch out . Colombo and Lombardi have the right sort of experience , and the often overlooked American ,Guido Trenti ,has been there or thereabouts in most of his races this season .
The US Postal Service seems in top shape for the classic season .George Hincapie's was third in De Panne . Lance Armstrong has shown he has not come to Europe for road miles but to race - it does seem a potent combination . It will be also very interesting to see how Tom Boonen fairs - for a first year pro his results so far must be very encouraging .
Eric Zabel rides with an expected top squad from the Deutsche Telekom boys .While of the French teams La Francaise des jeux look most likely to do well - Jacky Durand ( who won in 1992 after an epic solo break ) leads out Frederic Guesdon , Nazon and Mengin . With support from Matthew Wilson and Bradley Wiggins - they could do well .
The 264 kilometre race hits the first of itís 16 hills at the 151 kilometre mark ,from then on to the finish , appropriately enough on Grand National weekend becomes like a steeplechase ,with another 15 bergs in the last 113 kilometres .
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