Dwars door Vlaanderen 2021 – Preview
After last week’s E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Gent-Wevelgem, the Flemish classics and the build-up to the Tour of Flanders continue on Wednesday at Dwars door Vlaanderen.
Not all riders like to race in the week leading up to Flanders, but, owing perhaps to the doubts surrounding Paris-Roubaix and the coronavirus situation more generally, the start list is stacked this year.
That’s without Bora-Hansgrohe and possibly Trek-Segafredo, whose participation remains up in the air. Both teams were forced to miss Gent-Wevelgem due to coronavirus cases but only a few Trek-Segafredo riders were deemed to be 'close contacts' with positive cases and so may still be able to race.
The COVID-19 cases and quarantines are another reminder that that the floor can fall away from a rider’s season at any moment. Coupled with the dominance of Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, and Julian Alaphilippe, riders have to take opportunity to win.
Van Aert is the exception here. Off-colour at E3 Saxo Bank Classic but imperious at Gent-Wevelgem, he is the major absentee by choice, meaning we won’t have a preview of the highly-anticipated showdown with Alaphilippe and Van der Poel until Sunday's the Tour of Flanders.
The so-called ‘big-three’ locked horns at Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Milan-San Remo, but the last time they all lined up against each other on Belgian soil remains last year’s Tour of Flanders.
While Van der Poel, who won the last edition of this race two years ago, starts as the favourite, it will be fascinating to see how Alaphilippe fits into the equation at Deceuninck-QuickStep, who were everywhere at E3 but nowhere at Gent-Wevelgem. At last year’s Tour of Flanders the team seemed happy for Alaphilippe to open the race early and fight it out with Van Aert and Van der Poel.
In the past few days it has become clear that Zdenek Stybar, Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchal and, above all, Kasper Asgreen are on flying form. Stybar sits this one out but they still have Omloop winner and fast-finisher Davide Ballerini. The numbers game worked to great effect on Friday, and the rainbow jersey might have to be just another QuickStep jersey.
Beyond Van der Poel, Van Aert, and QuickStep, Trek-Segafredo are the only team to have bagged a win so far this Classics season, but they’re campaign has been disrupted by the COVID-19 cases. What’s left are a string of Classics contenders yet to really ignite their season with success, plus a number of sprinters hoping that Dwars door Vlaanderen can still yield a bunch kick even in its modern format.
One of the most impressive things about Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s all-conquering display at last week’s E3 Saxo Bank Classic was how they managed to so thoroughly dominate the race even without their star rider, Julian Alaphilippe.
The Frenchman has not raced any of the Classics since Milan-San Remo, but will return at Dwars door Vlaanderen to re-join many of the riders who were a part of that triumphant at E3 Saxo Bank victory, including Florian Sénéchal Davide Ballerini, Yves Lampaert, and the winner Kasper Asgreen.
He’ll no doubt be itching to get racing on the cobbles again, but if Deceuninck-Quick-Step are to repeat their success from last Friday, and again get the better of Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), he may need to reign in some of his usual instincts.