Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Dwars door Vlaanderen 2012

The parcours - click to enlarge
(image credit: Flanders Classics)
For many cyclists and fans, this week is better than Christmas, all their birthdays, Chanukah, Eid, Diwali, Maghi, Saturnalia, Walpurgisnact and the Feast of the Beast all rolled into one with sprinkles on top - it's Vlaamse Wielerweek, the ten-day "week" that kicks off with the Dwars door Vlaanderen on the 21st of March, ends with the Ronde van Vlaanderen on the 1st of April and features rather a lot of the finest cycle racing and a whole lot of cobbled climbs in between.

The Dwars door Vlaanderen is known for being a tough race with plenty of the short but steep climbs that characterise cycling in that part of the world. So guess what the organisers have done this year? That's right - they've seen to it that it's even harder than year. This is, after all, Flanders; where the riders are riders and the cobbles are nervous. There's a new climb called Berendries (maximum gradient 14%) located 120.7km into the parcours which won't be an especially welcome sight to those already suffering sore knees after Niuewe Kwaaremont (86.9km, max. 8%), Kattenberg (106.3km, max.8.2%) and Leberg (114.9km, max.14%), then once that's over they still have Valkenberg (125.8, max. 12.8%), Eikenberg (138.6km, max. 10%), Steenbeekdries (142.7km, max. 6.7%), Knockteberg (156.9km, max. 13.3%), notorious Oude Kwaaremont with 1.6km of cobbles (163.8km, max. 11.6%), and the ridiculously steep Paterberg (167.3km, max. 20%) and another four climbs of varying if slightly-lesser malevolence once that lot's been seen to.

Altimetry - click to enlarge
(image credit: Flanders Classics)
Sounds like a whole lot of fun - if you happen to enjoy seeing people suffer. Which all cycling fans do, of course. Being one of the most famous and prestigious events on the Spring racing calendar, the Dwars will be completely ignored by all British television channels; so it's lucky for us that there'll be various naughty live streams available online. You probably already have a favoured supplier for that sort of thing, but if you haven't Sports-Livez is always a god place to start. Load up your fridge with Leffe, stock up on frites and enjoy the race.

The Race-Losing Curse, also known as Cyclopunk's Top Victory Tip: Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha looked like he had as good a chance as anyone for this one - right up until he broke his hand earlier this month. Team mate Mathew Hayman will probably do alright, but doesn't look a potential winner and Cav is likely to die; with the rest of the team very unlikely to get a foot on the podium it's not looking as though a Sky victory is on the cards.

In fact, the outcome of this race is very difficult to predict - there are no obvious winners that leap from the start list but there are many, many riders with a fighting chance. So, for the hell of it, let's say Sylvain Chavanel; but keep an eye on Oscar Freire - he may be 36 and he may be better-known for the sprinty Classics, but he's a tricksy little bugger and has won more than one race with his brain.

Dwars organisers are, shall we say, a little more enlightened than their counterparts at certain other events and so for the first time in 2012 they've added a women's race running along a section of the men's parcours for a total of five laps, covering a total distance of 81.5km. It's not the longest race on the women's calendar by any means and, to be brutally honest, does rather have the feel of having been tacked onto the men's race simply to keep up with a - positive - trend; but it's now been shown time and time again that running women's races alongside men's races brings serious benefits to women's cycling and the sport in general, so we can expect to see this race grow and develop in the coming years. While short, let's not forget that there's an ascent of Holsraat (max. 12%) each time they go round - an easy race it categorically is not. The chances of catching live footage anywhere are probably considerably less than zero, but links will be posted here if any become available.

Men's start list
Women's start list

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