From pocket-sized climbers to the giant pedal crushers, all types of heights and builds can shine in road cycling. Some will be best suited to gruelling climbing, others will thrive in the explosive sprints, but the bergs of the Ronde van Vlaanderen - Tour des Flandres welcome them all, posing only one crucial question for them to answer: are you a racer?
More than 300 riders will aim to prove their worth on Sunday, April 4th, as they tackle some of Belgium’s most demanding challenges through Flanders as part of the 2021 UCI Women’s WorldTour and 2021 UCI WorldTour competitions.
Swiss Michael Schär (AG2R Citroën Team) is expected at the start, for the 12th time in his career. At 198cm tall he’ll stand above everyone in the peloton as he cares for AG2R Citroën Team’s new three-man punch led by the solid Greg Van Avermaet (13 participations, 3 podium finishes), Oliver Naesen (6 participations, 2 top 10s) and Bob Jungels (1 participation, 16th).
Standing at 176cm according to his team, Stan Dewulf seems much smaller. He looks up to all of his teammates in the French squad but the 23-year-old Belgian is still punching above Arjen Livyns’ weight – or that of Julian Alaphilippe – as the Frenchman gets ready to lead Deceuninck - Quick-Step.
From Alaphilippe to Asgreen, from Worrack to Van Dijk
The 2020 UCI Road World Champion only weighs 62kg according to his team. That’s 13 less than the much taller Kasper Asgreen (192cm for the Dane, 173cm for Alaphilippe) - and still 4kg more than Livyns, according to Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB.
Alaphilippe and Asgreen are very different beasts who both come with strong ambitions in Flanders. At only 26 years old, the Dane is fresh from winning the E3 Saxo Bank Classic and learned from finishing 2nd in ‘the Ronde’ after an impressive ride at the front in 2019.
As for Alaphilippe, he has participated in the Ronde once, last Autumn. He launched a determinant attack on the Koppenberg, only to be joined by Wout van Aert and Mathieu Van der Poel, both of them about 15kg heavier than the Frenchman.
The women’s peloton will also be filled with stars whose diversity highlights how much the Ronde van Vlaanderen can favour different types of riders. The riders from Trek-Segafredo Women perfectly embody these contrasts with three former winners in their ranks: the powerful Dutch rider Ellen van Dijk and the much smaller and punchier duo, Elizabeth Deignan (GBR) and Elisa Longo Borghini (ITA).
As for the German Trixi Worrack, she’s even smaller, standing at 159cm, but she brings loads of experience to the American squad on the Belgian cobbles for her 17th participation in the Ronde. Her best result was 2nd back in 2004.
The difficulty of adding climbs to cobbles
Such variety is harder to find on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, which has crowned strong riders for more than a century in the men’s race, and which is now awaiting the first women’s edition. But while the French Monument is mostly flat, the Ronde van Vlaanderen adds demanding climbing to the challenges of cobble handling.
Lotto Soudal’s Philippe Gilbert, who will not take the start in either of these races this year, can testify: “The Ronde is much harder,” he once told Eurosport. The Belgian star, winner in Oudenaarde (2017) and Roubaix (2019) explained: “Since you have elevation, cycling immediately becomes more complicated. You need to lift your own weight, it’s a fight against yourself.”
While heavier riders may hold a certain advantage on the narrow, twisty and wind-exposed Flemish roads, the relative lightweights such as Julian Alaphilippe, or newcomer Tom Pidcock (170cm according to his team Ineos Grenadiers), can find their way through the bigger guns thanks to their extraordinary skills. And Anna van der Breggen (Team SD Worx) may be much smaller than Van Dijk, she also went solo to Oudenaarde after a landmark attack on the Kruisberg, in 2019.
Calling racers of all types, heights and weights, the cobbles of the Ronde van Vlaanderen are waiting to crown two champions this weekend.