Geraint Thomas is in form for the Tour of Flanders tomorrow

In pro cycling, there are races almost every day. Sometimes there are several taking place simultaneously. It’s important to remember that most are mere staging posts en route to major targets. The riders race seriously, but a race isn’t always an accurate measure of who’s best, because the competitors may have differing levels of form.

It’s a bit like comparing the heights of 13-year-olds. You can probably identify a few of the real short-arses already, but you won’t be committing to your 2023 basketball line-up just yet. There’s plenty of construction work left to complete.

Form

In cycling, form doesn’t come and go unpredictably, as it does in many other sports. Instead, it is managed. Cycling form is when a rider has the optimal balance between training stress and rest. To a great extent, this can be scheduled and so coaches and riders plan for perfect condition to coincide with major races.

There was a good example of this last week when Gent-Wevelgem clashed with the Criterium International. On the face of it, the latter seemed the more significant race, because it featured Tour contenders like Chris Froome and Cadel Evans, but the key here is that these riders are still some way from optimum condition (one significantly further away than the other). The results of Criterium International gave a feel for what might happen in the Tour, but there’s still some way to go.

In contrast, Gent-Wevelgem featured riders who were approaching top form. As such, it is probably a more competitive event and more intriguing as a consequence. It is not THE target though. It is a race which owes much of its profile to being similar to and taking place shortly before another.

Ronde Van Vlaanderen

Ronde Van Vlaanderen – the Tour of Flanders – is the second Monument of the season after Milan-San Remo. It is the main goal of many riders, although as it takes place just a week before Paris-Roubaix over broadly similar terrain, most riders who are suited to its demands target both races.

And what are those demands? Why are Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome not racing? Where’s Alberto Contador? Well, put simply, they’re not good enough. Different races favour different riders and those guys are stage racers. They are light and efficient and they recover well. The race they call De Ronde requires power. It’s a furious thing with knackered-up roads and hills you might well mistake for walls if you’ve had a Tripel Karmeliet or two. The challenge is compounded by the fact that the approach to every cobbled climb is a race in itself with riders feverishly battling to reach the front for the strategic advantage that conveys.

Who to watch out for

The big three are Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and Tom Boonen – but don’t discount any Belgian. You might think that the Belgians are as low profile as their landscape, but not in cycling. Cycling is what they do and this particular brand of cycling is what they specialise in. Belgians have won this race 68 times. The next most successful nation is Italy, with 10 wins. The UK comes equal seventh with Denmark thanks to Tom Simpson’s win in 1961.

But Brits needn’t be pessimistic. The short, sharp climbs are the kinds of things you are more likely to find in the UK and there are riders who are suited to this race. Chief among them is Welsh gold medal collector, Geraint Thomas. He is spurning the track in favour of the road now and De Ronde is one of his biggest targets for the year. Ian Stannard will also be riding for Team Sky after finishing sixth in Milan-San Remo.