Dubai: Alexander Kristoff, the victorious Viking, is back in action for UAE Team Emirates after his emphatic win at Gent Wevelgem last weekend.
This Sunday he will lead an all-star roster of riders over the cobbles at the Tour of Flanders, one of the five big cycling monuments of the season.
Kristoff will go into the race full of confidence — not only because he is in great form but also because this is a race he knows he has the capability to win — having stood on the top step of the podium in 2015.
UAE Team Emirates’ other star sprinter Fernando Gaviria will race with Kristoff alongside the young Belgium rider Jasper Philipsen who knows these roads well having grown up in the region. Supporting the fast men will be Kristoff’s fellow Norwegian teammates Sven Erik Bystrom and National Champion Vegard Stake Laengen as well as the Italian duo of Marco Marcato and Oliviero Troia.
The Tour of Flanders (Ronde Van Vlaanderen) is considered one of the toughest one-day races of the season and has been a staple on the cycling calendar for over 100 years. The 2019 route is 266km long and will be played out over 18 different cobbled sections of road, some with unimaginably steep gradients.
The most famous climb of all is the Koppenberg, a brutal hill with a gradient that peaks at 22 per cent and a surface of uneven cobbles that often forces professional riders to step off their bike and walk up sections of it.
Since the route was changed in 2012 to make it safer for riders the Koppenberg climb has been pushed back to just 45km from the finish, ensuring it plays an even more decisive part in how the race unfolds. However it’s the combined challenge of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg that are the most crucial. They are both climbed in short succession shortly before the Koppenberg, the former famed for being punishingly long and the latter being punishingly steep. As all bike racing fans will know, the Tour of Flanders never plays out in a straightforward manner, and the riders of UAE Team Emirates will have to be alert to a continued barrage of attacks which will likely be made before these final ascents.
Winning this race is never a matter of being the strongest rider, as it requires a perfect mix of tactics, team support and luck.
Team Manager Joxean Fernandez Matxin said: “We will be able to count on two riders with some excellent potential, Kristoff and Gaviria, supported by a high-level group with Bystrom, Laengen, Marcato and Troia. Kristoff is a guarantee, he has already won this huge monument and knows how to manage himself the best possible way. Gaviria has less experience, but has exceptional qualities. In addition, we have Philipsen, a sure protagonist in this race over the next few years. This experience will help him mature and will be invaluable in the coming years. The Tour of Flanders is a very difficult race, but with these riders we have a winning potential.”