Ronde van Vlaanderen - Race Preview: Sagan looks to add Monument to collection

Peter Sagan will bid to become the youngest winner of Ronde van Vlaanderen in 24 years on Sunday.

Ronde van Vlaanderen - Race Preview: Sagan looks to add Monument to collection

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2013 Peter Sagan Cannondale

The prolific Slovak claimed the biggest one-day victory of his career in Gent-Wevelgem last Sunday and followed it up by taking the opening stage of the Driedaagse De Panne on Tuesday - his seventh victory of the year.

The 23-year-old was fifth last year and will now look to add one of the sport's Monuments to an already illustrious CV that includes six Grand Tour stage wins and the green jersey at the Tour de France.

Cannondale's Sagan, who finished second in the year's opening Monument race, Milan - San Remo, would become the youngest winner of Ronde van Vlaanderen since Edwig Van Hooydonck in 1989.

His directeur sportif Stefano Zanatta said experience is vital.

"He needs only to keep gaining experience managing the race and the different moments, like when you need to give 100 percent or when it wouldn’t change anything to give only 90 percent," Zanatta told VeloNews.

"So, he still needs to gain experience in managing races over 200 kilometres. Many times he does well, however I think that he still needs experience. This comes only with racing.”

Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara both failed to finish Gent-Wevelgem but will look to bounce back in the latest Flemish cobblestone classic where they have a strong pedigree.

Boonen won Flanders in 2005 and 2006 and after success last year is aiming to become the first rider to win Ronde van Vlaanderen four times while Radioshack-Leopard's Swiss star Cancellara took the honours in 2010 and finished third in Milan - San Remo.

Riders from the home country are always highly-motivated for Belgium's biggest event in the cycling calendar and they have won over 70 per cent of the race's 96 editions so far.

Cancellara will have strong support as Radioshack can play a 1-2 punch with home hope Stijn Devolder who is looking to become the sixth rider to win this race three times. He was triumphant in 2008 and 2009.

Boonen can count on Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, second in 2011 and fresh from his overall victory in Driedaagse De Panne.

But another Belgian Philippe Gilbert will be missing, the world champion is suffering from a minor cold that he picked up at Paris-Nice while BMC team-mate Taylor Phinney experienced pain above his right knee during Gent-Wevelgem last week and will also be absent.

BMC will look to Thor Hushovd and Greg Van Avermaet while IAM Cycling's Heinrich Haussler rocketed into calculation with a fourth place finish at Gent-Wevelgem, and if his confidence is anything to go by he should be in contention again.

“Like I’ve been saying, I have good legs and my form’s coming,” Haussler said. “Just like in Milano-San Remo and E3 Harelbeke, it was just about positioning and wasn’t the legs.”

Italian hopes will rest on Lampre-Merida's Filippo Pozzato, second in the 2012 edition, and Luca Paolini of Katusha.

"My shape is good and it was good also in GP Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. Unluckily, I suffered too much for the cold weather," Pozzato explained.

Of the six Brits, Geraint Thomas looks to have the best chance but Team Sky will be led by Edvald Boasson Hagen while their old team-mate Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) is a perennial threat in the spring classics.

The 256.2 kilometre route between Brugge and Oudenaarde was controversially changed last year but organisers have retained the same format.

The Muur van Geraardsbergen - once the decisive climb - is no longer in the race and there are 17 climbs with the one-two punch of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg cobbled climbs tackled three times on a finishing loop.

Seven section of pavé precede the hellingen with the latent effect of that usually seeing the main bunch whittled down on the first time up the Oude-Kwaremont, 75km from the finish.

“For me, the thing that makes the Tour of Flanders the most special is the spectators,” said Sebastian Langeveld who finished in fifth place two years ago. “It looks like the whole of Belgium is standing on the road.”

Most wins – Riders

3 Achiel Buysse (BEL) 1940,1941,1943

3 Fiorenzo Magni (ITA) 1949,1950,1951

3 Eric Leman (BEL) 1970,1972,1973

3 Johan Museeuw (BEL) 1993,1995,1998

3 Tom Boonen (BEL) 2005,2006, 2012

2 Gérard Debaets (BEL) 1924,1927

2 Romain Gijssels (BEL) 1931,1932

2 Rik Van Steenbergen (BEL) 1944,1946

2 Briek Schotte (BEL) 1942,1948

2 Rik Van Looy (BEL) 1959,1962

2 Eddy Merckx (BEL) 1969,1975

2 Walter Godefroot (BEL) 1968,1978

2 Jan Raas (NED) 1979,1983

2 Edwig Van Hooydonck (BEL) 1989,1991

2 Peter Van Petegem (BEL) 1999,2003

2 Stijn Devolder (BEL) 2008,2009

Most wins – Countries

68 Belgium

10 Italy

9 Netherlands

3 France

2 Switzerland

1 England

1 Germany

1 Denmark

1 Germany

Last 10 podiums

2012 Tom Boonen (BEL) Filippo Pozzato (ITA) Alessandro Ballan (ITA)

2011 Nick Nuyens (BEL) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Fabian Cancellara (SUI)

2010 Fabian Cancellara (SUI) Tom Boonen (BEL) Philippe Gilbert (BEL)

2009 Stijn Devolder (BEL) Heinrich Haussler (GER) Philippe Gilbert (BEL)

2008 Stijn Devolder (BEL) Nick Nuyens (BEL) Juan Antonio Flecha (ESP)

2007 Alessandro Ballan (ITA) Leif Hoste (BEL) Luca Paolini (ITA)

2006 Tom Boonen (BEL) Leif Hoste (BEL) Peter Van Petegem (BEL)

2005 Tom Boonen (BEL) Andreas Klier (GER) Peter Van Petegem (BEL)

2004 Steffen Wesemann (GER) Leif Hoste (BEL) Dave Bruylandts (BEL)

2003 Peter Van Petegem (BEL) Frank Vandenbroucke (BEL) Stuart O'Grady (AUS)

Back-to-back wins

3 Fiorenzo Magni (ITA) 1949-1951

2 Romain Gijssels (BEL) 1931-1932

2 Achiel Buysse (BEL) 1940-1941

2 Eric Leman (BEL) 1972-1973

2 Tom Boonen (BEL) 2005-2006

2 Stijn Devolder (BEL) 2008-2009

Most podium finishes

8 Briek Schotte (BEL)

8 Johan Museeuw (BEL)

5 Eddy Merckx (BEL)

4 Tom Boonen (BEL)

4 Jan Raas (NED)

4 Andrei Tchmil (BEL)

4 Peter Van Petegem (BEL)

3 Jules Van Hevel (BEL)

3 Romain Gijssels (BEL)

3 Achiel Buysse (BEL)

3 Fiorenzo Magni (ITA)

3 Rik Van Steenbergen (BEL)

3 Rik Van Looy (BEL)

3 Eric Leman (BEL)

3 Frans Verbeeck (BEL)

3 Walter Godefroot (BEL)

3 Marc Demeyer (BEL)

3 Sean Kelly (IRL)

3 Edwig Van Hooydonck (BEL)

3 Leif Hoste (BEL)

Most finishes

16 Briek Schotte (BEL)

16 George Hincapie (USA)

15 Adrie van der Poel (NED)

15 Johan Museeuw (BEL)

15 Frédéric Guesdon (FRA)

14 Hennie Kuiper (NED)

14 Rolf Sørensen (DEN)

14 Maarten den Bakker (NED)

14 Erik Zabel (GER)

13 Marc Sergeant (BEL)

13 Wilfried Peeters (BEL)

13 Franco Ballerini (ITA)

13 Peter Van Petegem (BEL)

Oldest winners

37-071 Andrei Tchmil (BEL) 2000

35-335 Andrea Tafi (ITA) 2002

34-281 Walter Godefroot (BEL) 1978

33-078 Peter Van Petegem (BEL) 2003

33-024 Steffen Wesemann (GER) 2004

32-223 Gianluca Bortolami (ITA) 2001

32-174 Johan Museeuw (BEL) 1998

32-061 Hennie Kuiper (NED) 1981

31-351 Rolf Sørensen (DEN) 1997

30-333 Nick Nuyens (BEL) 2011

Youngest winners

19-206 Rik Van Steenbergen (BEL) 1944

21-104 Achiel Buysse (BEL) 1940

21-209 Julien Delbecque (BEL) 1925

21-217 Rik Van Steenbergen (BEL) 1946

22-130 Cees Bal (NED) 1974

22-137 Achiel Buysse (BEL) 1941

22-141 Jef Dervaes (BEL) 1929

22-199 Frans Bonduel (BEL) 1930

22-211 Briek Schotte (BEL) 1942

22-241 Edwig Van Hooydonck (BEL) 1989

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