By Barnaby Chesterman ,AFP
PARIS — Some of the greatest cyclists in the world will begin the battle for the main Spring Classics when the Tour of Flanders gets underway on Sunday. The likes of Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen and Peter Sagan will be among the favorites. While the Spring Classics cannot match the prestige of the Tour de France, they can surpass it in terms of excitement. And they do so with a largely different cast. Tour champion Chris Froome as well as Grand Tour specialists such as Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali or Nairo Quintana won’t be there challenging for victory but the fields are no less impressive for their absence. Swiss Cancellara and Boonen, of Belgium, as ever, will start as two of the main favourites having claimed between them 12 of the last 18 editions of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix since 2005.
Of the six occasions when it wasn’t either who won, three times it was one or the other’s teammate who did so. Their main competition this time around should come from Slovak Peter Sagan, a hugely talented cyclist who has already won the Tour de France green jersey twice and is tipped to one day take an overall triumph at a Grand Tour. But first he must prove himself on the grueling Spring Classics, starting with the two Northern Classics on the cobbles: Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. In reality, the Spring Classics began with Milan San-Remo a few weeks ago and last weekend’s Gent-Wevelgem but it is only with the advent of the Flanders-Roubaix double on successive weekends that these historic races really kick into gear. Cancellara, Boonen and Sagan come into these two races having already stretched their legs and showed their form at San-Remo, where Cancellara was second, and Gent-Wevelgem, where Sagan was third and Boonen fifth.
Sagan also won E3 Harelbeke and that makes him the favorite in terms of current form, although his two main rivals have the experience and history to ensure they can never be overlooked. But it won’t just be about those three as several other riders have showed their potential. German sprinter John Degenkolb won Gent-Wevelgem and will be confident if he can last the pace over the 260km of either De Ronde or the Hell of the North to be still in with a chance when the line approaches. Alexander Kristoff won a sprint finish at San Remo where British sprint king Mark Cavendish went too soon and could finish only fifth, while Sagan was down in 10th.