Time stands still in Belgium on Saturday, 7th of April, 2019. Everyone is watching the TV, or standing by the side of the road, waiting to cheer on the peloton in person. For this is the day when the Ronde van Vlaanderen is ridden. It’s a national party, and in 2019, it will be the 103rd edition. This year, once again, we expect a heroic battle over some 260km with iconic climbs such as the Paterberg and the Oude Kwaremond, not to mention numerous cobblestone sections. This High Mass of the Belgian cycling calendar is unmissable for the fans. Here are our picks for the podium.
Niki Terpstra’s carrier was already successful after he won Paris–Roubaix in majestic fashion in 2014. But that wasn’t enough for the Dutch rider: in 2018 he won the Ronde van Vlaanderen. The Quick-Step team tactics were built around him and he crossed the finish line solo, followed by Mads Pedersen and team mate Philippe Gilbert. Terpstra is often in good form during the Ronde: he has been on the podium several times. This year is slightly different, however. He is the team leader at Direct Energie, which is less strong than Quick-Step. But you always have to keep an eye on Terpstra during this race.
Greg Van Avermaet
The Ronde van Vlaanderen is a race that every Belgian rider wants to win. Greg van Avermaet has been close on several occasions—in 2014 he was 2nd behind Fabian Cancellara, 3rd behind Kristof and Terpstra in 2015 and then 2nd behind Philippe Gilbert in 2017. He has been close on several occasions, but has yet to win the big prize. This could be the year of change. Perhaps simply because he has even more experience and is even more motivated to win than ever before.
Peter Sagan won this race in 2016. During the past two years he has been less strong, but he still managed to finish 6th in 2018. So we’re adding him to this list, even though his early season form hasn’t been particularly impressive, due to his experience and enthusiasm for this race. Sagan is good on the cobbles and can easily digest the short, sharp climbs in this race. He can win a sprint, but also arrive solo over the finish.
It’s clear that Michael Matthews is in the process of discovering exactly what he’s capable of. Normally we don’t see him until the hilly classics during the second week of April, but if Philippe Gilbert can win the Ronde van Vlaanderen, then Matthews can too. He’s got a good sprint in his legs, like Sagan, and has a talent for breaking through his own pain barriers to keep up with the riders at the front. Matthews is our dark horse contender for the 2019 victory.
Over the past few years, Philippe Gilbert has surprised us, and perhaps himself as well. The multiple winner of the Amstel Gold Race and a rider who is very suited to Liège–Bastogne–Liège is still in the process of discovering himself and has also proved that he can do very well in the Flemish Spring Classics. In 2017 he won the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and in the following year he was 3rd behind his teammate Terpstra. In 2019 he seems to be the main rider at Deceuninck–Quick-Step and as such must certainly be included on this list.