The Tour of Flanders
For those who do not know about this historic race the best way to describe it is as the Grand National for Belgium. The race is a national instution and the country comes to a halt for it with many lining the roads or watching it on television. They will all have their favourite riders for the race ofthen a Belgium rider. As you can see from the table of past top three below the belgium riders tend to dominate this race.
One pattern that I have identified from looking at these results is form in build races. The Belgium semi classics of Dwars Door Vlaanderen (DDV) and E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke (E3) are often described as key build races to Flanders. If you study past results then this description is completely justified. Not since Steffen Wesemann’s win in 2004 has a rider won Flanders without finishing in the top ten on either DDV or E3 that year. In fact in four of those years a rider has won both (Boonen three times and Cancellara once).
The bookies have this as a straight shot out between Sagan and Cancellara and it is hard to argue against it. Sagan is the slight favourite for them but for me Cancellara holds the upper hand due to experience. For that reason I have placed a small lay bet against Sagan on Betfair.
Flanders often has a way of springing a surprise winner. Think Nuyens in 2011 (yours truly backed him at 50/1 that year) or the Devolder double where he attacked from 30km+ both times. Therefore it is worth looking at the longer priced riders in the betting markets. Looking at the top ten’s from this year’s Dwars Door Vlaanderen and E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke there are some really strong candidates for the surprise result.
Here are a few I will not be backing:
Daniel Oss – think he already has his result for the season at E3 and will mainly work for teammates but with Gilbert and Phinney pulling out he could be an interesting bet.
Geraint Thomas – British bookmakers have him patriotically too short at 20/1.
Chavanel – Best chance yet but too short at 12/1 .
Luca Paolini – historically the rider who wins Omloop Het Nieuwsblad never wins Flanders.
Boasson Hagen – 40/1 seems too short for a rider who still looks not at his best.
Mat Hayman – big odds at 125/1 and has been getting closer to a big classics result recently but fancy other riders in Team Sky ahead of him.
Here are some I fancy as good value:
Oscar Gatto 66/1: Won at DDV and is the sole leader of his Vini Fantini team
Thomas Voeckler 80/1: A rider you may not associate with cobbles but rode strongly at Flanders last year to finish 8th. Was 5th in DDV this year and has the right type of climbing technique for the short climbs at Flanders.
Maxim Iglinsky 80/1: I backed him last year here and he failed to show that well but then proved his form to winner Liege-Bastogne-Leige. He comes in to this race in even better form that last with a 12th in E3 and an 8th in DDV. Only thing to count against him is his lack of a sprint. Normally comes last in a small front group of a race.
Ian Stannard 66/1: Has not suffered as much as Thomas with the tendency for British punters to shorten the odds of their riders by backing them. Stannard has shown himself in many attacks already this season. Previous doubts over his ability to follow attacks on climbs have been dispelled. Like Iglinsky he lacks a sprint but if the weather is cold he can excel.
Sebastian Langeveld 80/1: Another rider I back last year who failed by crashing out after hitting a roadside spectator. He has ridden into form this year culminating in 5th at E3. Like many others he failed to finish Gent-Wevelgem. He is the stand out strong rider for Orica GreenEDGE so rider like Mouris and O’Grady should have him well postioned for key climbs.
Tom Boonen 16/1: My shortest priced pick. This is a very long price for a former three time winner of the race. Many say his form has not been great but on certain climbs he has looked as strong as ever. Another thing in his favour is that he is the only rider to win on this new Flanders route.
Two dark horses:
Jens Keukeleire 400/1: Who you may ask, a Belgium rider on the Orica team. He got in the key move at DDV this year and finished 7th. He has been a rider who I have followed since his great 2010 form in some small semi classics for Cofidis. It would be a surprise but stranger things have happened.
Sebastien Turgot 200/1: Remember his second place at Paris-Roubaix last year? Turgot is a rider who flies under the radar but is worth considering each way. Strong form so far this year with 15th in Milan-San Remo, 12th in DDV and 10th in E3. He was in the group behind the leading three in the race last year. Could spring a surpise and has a decent kick in a sprint finish.
The pundit’s picks:
Gatto 5 pts Each Way
Voeckler 5 pts Each Way
Stannard 5pts Each Way
Langeveld 5 pts Each Way
Boonen 10 pts Win
Turgot 2.5 pts Each Way
Full list of odds for Flanders on oddschecker
The opening weekend of the classics campaign is one of my favourite times of year. The Inner Ring hit the nail on the head when describing the classics as like a fourth grand tour. For me the racing from now to end of April surpasses the majority of what we see the rest of the season. The unpredictable nature of the races makes them more exciting. At the start line of each race there are a multitude of riders capable of getting the win but ahead of them lie many variables. The cobbles, the punchy berg climbs, punctures, crashes, fans and much more can all play a massive role in the race.
For the punter these races often prove fruitful. Unlike a sprint stage or a grand tour there is rarely a very short priced favourite. Once you narrow down the start list to the potential winners you can then trail through the bookies odds on Oddschecker and often find a rider very overpriced. My favourite punt of recent years is Nick Nuyens at 50/1 for the 2011 Tour of Flanders. Those odds were far too large considering his form which saw him win Dwars Door Vlaanderen in the build-up to the race.
Fruitful odds for these races are a common occurrence as bookies knowledge of riders is often behind the punter at this stage in the classic season. The only qualifier I would add to that is rider form is still hard to judge. For some riders they have hardly ridden or tested themselves fully in a race. Sep Vanmarcke won Het Nieuwsblad last year after just five race days beforehand in which his highest finish was 19th place.
Omloop Het Nieuwsbald
A mini Tour of Flanders – this race has been won by many big classic stars. The forecast is set for a cold and windy race which should see the race pan out in the usual formula of riders being whittled down until a small group breaks away to contest the victory.
Riders such as Lars Boom, Roelandts and Pozzato lead the betting market due their recent good form. However if you look at the history of the race the winner does not necessarily have recent race wins going into the race. Instead it seems to be won by pedigree classic riders and in the last two years up and coming talented riders have prevailed. I have a shortlist of 25 riders who could win this race but with the odds the way they are three clearly stand out as great each way bets:
Bernie Eisel – 66/1 (Bet365 and SkyBet) Eisel has won a big classic before (Gent-Wevelgem in 2010). Back then in HTC colours he was given a free role to ride for himself in the classics and Sky are now going to support him in his attempt to win a big classic. Eisel will want to show that not going to Omega Pharma – QuickStep with Cavendish was not a mistake and winning races will do just that. He showed well in Qatar and is a very generous price at 66/1 especially with a strong Sky team to support him.
Luca Paolini – 50/1 (Ladbrokes) He has pedigree in the classics as his two second place finishes in Milan-San Remo (2003, 2006) and third in Flanders (2007) show. Back to back top five finishes in 2010 and 2011 here show he likes the race. With the Tour Down Under and Ruta del Sol in his legs he should be going well.
Daniel Oss – 80/1 (Ladbrokes) The BMC team is amazingly strong. As well as Oss they have Quinziato, Van Avermaet, Blythe, Phinney and Hushovd who all could get a result here. For me Oss stands out as a real dark horse. He has the make-up of a great classics rider but never focused on them during his time at Liquigas. Despite that his results improved each year. His 14 race days already this year will stand him in good stead and his third place on stage two of Tour du Haut Var to Lars Boom shows the potential is there.
A flatter course than Het Nieuwsblad this race has ended in a big bunch sprint in the last couple of years. If it rains it can become an epic battle as in 2010 when just 26 riders finished in freezing temperatures.
The recent reports that the climbs could be taken out due snow has put a spanner in the works. Only Bet365 have a market up at the moment and like many they see it as a sprint off between Greipel and Cavendish. I am going to hold off on any bets till after Saturday’s race. Look out for my tips on twitter. It is worth nothing that riders like Cavendish, Greipel, Henderson, Farrar, Howard, Demare and Veelers are only racing on Sunday so look out for them if it does come down to a sprint.
For the people not betting on these two races and saving their pennies for the major classics these races are still important. Try and watch them to spot riders in good form and putting in the attacks and testing their legs ahead of the big ones.