Five possible winners of the Tour of Flanders 2017
The 101st Tour of Flanders will set out from Antwerp on Sunday and takes in a 260km route through the region. Three Belgians are among the favourites.
The highlight of the Belgian cycling calendar sees the best one-day classics experts tackle the 260km Tour of Flanders on Sunday. Here are profiles of the five favourites to get over the line first:
Peter Sagan (SVK), 27, Bora-hansgrohe
Best result: winner in 2016
The world champion took a dominant Flanders victory last year and has looked in fine form this season. He may have won only one race, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, but he's come close in a number of others. Second place at the opening Monument of the season, Milan-San Remo, and also at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad alongside a third place finish last Sunday at Gent-Wevelgem shows Sagan's legs are strong. But the two-time world champion still lacks a bit of tactical maturity and too often misses out on the big victories. Sometimes his own strength can be his biggest weakness as no-one is willing to ride with him in the finale. Even so, he has the ability to ride off to victory and excels on Flanders' short cobbled climbs.
Greg Van Avermaet (BEL), 31, BMC Racing
Best result: second in 2014
The Olympic champion is in the form of his life and has already won three times on the cobbles this season. Victories at Omloop, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem means he will be the man everyone is watching, even more so than Sagan. He admitted as much after his Gent success: "I can't hide it any longer; I will without a doubt be the man to beat -- the favourite." On home soil as well, he will have the fans cheering him on but last year's memory will no doubt keep his feet on the ground. Then too he was in winning form having claimed victory at Omloop and Tirreno-Adriatico, but the cobbles can be treacherous and he crashed out of the race.
Philippe Gilbert (BEL), 34, Quick-Step Floors
Best result: third in 2009 and 2010
It's five years since Gilbert last rode the Tour of Flanders but having gone away and claimed victory in all three Ardennes Classics, he is now back and hoping to rectify the one anomaly to his record. One of Belgium's greatest one-day classics specialists of his generation, it would be only fitting if he could win his country's most prestigious race before retiring. And he has been in great shape this week, winning Three Days of De Panne to add to second place finishes at Dwars door Vanderen and E3. He also has the advantage of being part of the strongest team as Quick-Step always arrive at Flanders with the big guns cocked.
Alexander Kristoff (NOR), 29, Katusha-Alpecin
Best result: winner in 2015
Kristoff hasn't lit up the cycling world with his early season form but he is made for Flanders. He finished 15th in his debut year in 2012 on the Flemish cobbles before taking fourth and fifth places in the following two years. He was in a league of his own in 2015 and even last year when struggling for form he took fourth place. A stage win earlier this week at De Panne suggests his legs are coming back at just the right time.
Tom Boonen (BEL), 36, Quick-Step Floors
Best result: winner in 2005, 2006 and 2012
He may be 36 and it may be five years since he last won Flanders but Boonen is riding into retirement in a week's time following Paris-Roubaix and he will be determined to go out with a bang. This year's Flanders starts in his home region and no-one on the start line will be as experience or determined. He hasn't won a cobbled classic since Kuurne in 2014 but he's had good form this year with top 10 finishes at E3 and Gent-Wevelgem. And let's not forget he was a whisker away from winning Paris-Roubaix last year. No-one is better equipped to exploit Quick Step's strength, either.
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