2019 Tour of Flanders tackles seventeen hills and five stretches of pavé this Sunday
Second of the five monuments of cycling, this year's race starts in Antwerp and concludes in Oudenaarde. Despite the various changes to the route over the years, one crucial characteristic of the Ronde remains: the hellingen, or hills which are often cobbled
The 103rd edition of the 270 km race features 17 recognised climbs, including three ascents of Oude Kwaremont – the penultimate climb of the day – and twice up the final climb of the race, the Paterberg which tops out at an eye-watering 18.2 per cent in gradient.
The 103rd edition of the Tour of Flanders will be played out this Sunday. The race is teeming with short, sharp and often cobbled climbs and the finale is characterized by the cobbled climbs up Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg.
Last year, the Dutchman Nikki Terpstra countered a Vincenzo Nibali attack on the Kruisberg, with some 28 kilometres to go. He caught the front group on the Oude Kwaremont before he continued solo to win the race ahead of young Mads Pedersen and Philippe Gilbert.
The 2019 Tour of Flanders starts and the riders get a first taste of cobbles after 80 kilometres on the Lippenhovenstraat and Paddestraat. Yet the first half of the race is nothing special and after 120 kms the cobbled climb up Oude Kwaremont makes its first appearance. The route continues to the Kortekeer, Ladeuze and Wolvenberg before the pavé of the Holleweg and Haaghoek gives way to climbs up the Leberg, Berendries and Ten Bosse.
Then, with 100 kilometres to go, cycling fans are treated when the Tour of Flanders hits the Wall of Geraardsbergen. The cobbled climb slightly more than 1 kilometre has a legendary status in De Ronde. Its 20% gradients lead up to the iconic chapel on the top.
This is typically a good place for the strongets rider to attack and get in a breakaway.
Following the infamous Wall of Geraardsbergen, riders have some time to recover , almost 30 kilometres before the riders tackle the Kanarieberg before the second climb up the Oude Kwaremont brings the Paterberg in its wake. This cobbled duo will be back in the finale.
With the first Oude Kwaremont-Paterberg combo the race enters an exciting phase. Shortly the Koppenberg appears, and on it goes over the pavé of the Mariaborrestraat to the Steenbeekdries and Taaienberg. With 25 kilometres left the route travels over the Kruisberg/Hotond and following 10 kilometres of flat the Oude Kwaremont makes its last appearance.
The cobbled climb is 2.2 kilometres at 4% and is crested with 16.7 kilometres to go. Then comes the Paterberg, only 360 metres but defintely a killer with its average gradient of 12.9% and a steepest ramp of 20.3%.
At the top the Tour of Flanders, it's just 13.3 kilometres on the flat to the finish.
The Tour of Flanders 2019 starts at 10:30 local time (04:30 EDT) while the expected finish is around 17:11 local time which is 11:15 EDT.
Belgium's hopes have taken further blows as two of its leading riders, Philippe Gilbert and Oliver Naesen, have come down with illness.
Peter Sagan: The 2016 winner may not have enjoyed the best start to the season, but a strong ride at Ghent-Wevelgem will have given the Bora-Hansgrohe rider an opportunity to blow away a few of the cobwebs following a brief spell of illness.
Tiesj Benoot: The 25-year-old may have just one race on his palmarès, but has looked strong throughout the spring classics and again looked decent at Dwars door Vlaanderen. Probably not an out-and-out favourite, but certainly a dark horse.
Wout Van Aert: The 24-year-old former cyclo-cross star was hugely impressive at Strade Bianche and Milan-Sanremo where he was third and sixth respectively. Again impressed at last week's E3 where he was runner-up to Zdenek Stybar.
Bob Jungels: Such is the strength in depth of the Deceuninck-Quick Step team that any one of five riders – the others being Philippe Gilbert, Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchal or Zdenek Stybar – could conceivably win, depending on how the race plays out. The Luxembourger may have laid relatively low since his Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne victory in early March, but looked lively at Dwars door Vlaanderen. Will be fascinating to see how Patrick Lefevere's squad decide to play their cards on what is, arguably, the biggest day of their season.
Niki Terpstra: The defending champion may not have the support he enjoyed at Quick Step in years gone by, but the Dutchman has proved time and again that on his day he can win the big races. Expect to see Damien Gaudin helping out.
Mathieu van der Poel: Fresh from winning his maiden WorldTour race at Dwars door Vlaanderen, the cyclo-cross world champion will arrive a marked man, but his debut outing at what will be the longest one-day race of his career will be a different ball game to Wednesday's race. Two-time winner Stijn Devolder, however, will be on hand to guide the 24-year-old who is hoping to emulate his father Adri who won the race in 1986.
Matteo Trentin: The Italian has enjoyed a strong spring classics campaign during which he claimed three top 10 finishes – including t?wo in the last week – and will lead Mitchelton-Scott's challenge. Another dark horse; another potential winner.
Greg Van Avermaet: May not have the support he enjoyed while at BMC, but the Belgian must not be discounted. Showed a little too much of himself at Omloop and will need to ride a more mature race if he is to end his wait for a win at the Ronde.
Luke Rowe: The Welshman is just one of two Team Sky riders that has ever finished in the top 10 – the other being Geraint Thomas – and will arrive in Antwerp in the form of his life. May have the legs, but does the 29-year-old have the local knowledge so crucial to winning in Flanders?