The calm before the Tour of Flanders storm

We sat down with our key riders to find out their thoughts and feelings on the eve of Ronde van Vlaanderen.

Mads Pedersen

Best result – 2nd (2018)

Were you hoping for rain on Sunday?

“You know, everyone is like ‘you always hope for wet conditions’ and stuff like that. And it’s not because I’m like ‘Yeah, let’s f**king do 272 kilometers in the rain, that would be lovely’. It’s not what I’m hoping for. I just don’t mind it. I don’t care if it’s wet or dry. Normally it takes a lot of guys out of contention, so then I’m fine with the rain. But I’m still not hoping that on Sunday it’ll be pissing down because the chances of having bad luck are greater.”

Do you have any concerns about the potential still for wet cobbles? 

“I think right now the big deal will be the Koppenberg. The rest of the climbs are normally ok, they’re used to rain and then dry up quite fast, but the Koppenberg is covered by trees and it makes it quite slippery always, even if it’s been dry for two weeks. It’s really important to go into Koppenberg in a good position, and I mean first three to five riders, no further back. I think we have very good tires to make it over and I never had an issue with grip on the Koppenberg before [touches wood].”

How can you use the strength and depth of our team to your advantage against your rivals?

“Right now in cycling, we have these superstars. And we saw in the other classics when they go on the climb, we can’t follow them. So for us, it would be a stupid idea to think that we can just stay with them and then follow when they go. Because I would say, nine out of 10 times or 99 out of 100 times it’s impossible to follow them on pure power on the climbs. So, of course, we have to play the race smarter and be ahead of that. And I think with the strength we have on the Team that’s possible.”

Does it give you more freedom if everyone is looking to the big three?

“Yeah, but you have taken into account count that other guys think the same as us. I think that maybe we have a bit of freedom from those three guys, but you have still have 20-30 guys who can fight for top 10, and they’re thinking the same as us.”

Elisa Longo Borghini

Best result – 1st (2015)

Did you feel stronger than expected on your return to racing at Dwars door Vlaanderen?

“Yes, and no. I mean, I expected to suffer on very sharp efforts, like when they attack on long climbs or when there is the change of rhythm. So I knew I would suffer a lot. But then in, DDV I was pacing myself up the climbs quite alright at my pace and then I could manage to come back. I didn’t surprise myself that much, but a little bit. Yes, I did not expect to finish in the first group on Wednesday.”

Will you be the leader on Sunday?

“No and I don’t even want to be that either on Sunday, because I am not at the level to win Flanders at the moment. I can be a good shoulder for the team. I have mixed feelings about that because, of course, I wanted to do well but mostly, I’m okay with it. Flanders is a race that I like, and I would have really liked to be in top shape and to be one of the main contenders. But, I’m still happy to be with the team and to be to be helpful. I think I can finish well, my leader and I can work for her very well. But I’m very far from winning the race.

“That definitely takes some of the pressure off me but pressure is something that you put on yourself. The others can expect whatever they want, but you just have to ignore them and then it’s fine. Pressure is also something that you create yourself. I like to have some pressure because it means that you care about the race.”

Shirin Van Anrooij

First time racing

How are you feeling for your first Flanders?

“Excited. Not nervous just yet but I think that will for sure come when the race is coming closer on Sunday night, but I am just really looking forward to racing it. I had never ridden any of the climbs or cobble sectors except the Koppenberg before our recon so it was all very new and then we also had some rain which maybe also made some of the race a bit harder than it could be on Sunday.

“I know the Koppenberg from the cyclocross races. It’s the only one that I really know from this race and I think I have maybe done it more than a lot of the other girls because we do it six, seven times a day in CX. But it’s so different on a road bike with road tires. And now it was muddy. They’re expecting sunshine on Sunday but after so much rain on the weekend, it will maybe still be wet. I just hope we can ride up there.”

What do you think is the key point of the race?

“The whole race is, of course, hard, and the whole race is about positioning and for sure it’s going to be stressful, but I think if you saw the race from last year – I rewatched the race on the rollers this morning – you can see that it really started from the Koppenberg, and that you really need to make sure you’re in front there. I think it’s just really important to be there at the front which is probably easier said that done because it will be nervous and stressful, for sure.

Are you excited for more of a leader role?

“Yes, but then at the same time, it’s also a big challenge. I feel like I really need to learn to read a race and go a bit more with the flow of the attacks and really race to win, instead of just racing and trying to help the team and then just doing what they tell me in the radio. So I’m still making few mistakes here and there but it is really motivating that I am getting the chance to learn more. I sat with Lucinda re-watching Dwars door Vlaanderen and getting advice about what I should have done better. Stuff like that is really helping me and it’s so great to have everyone’s support like that. At the same time, I also need to believe in the fact that I’m strong because right now I’m maybe looking up to the riders around me a bit too much.”

Has it been good to get advice from the former winners on the Team?

“There’s so much knowledge in the Team around me. Already yesterday, when we were riding on the course they said, ‘this is a corner where everyone always crashes… this is where you need to be on the inside… this is where the big fight starts’. They know all the ins and outs of this race. It’s so helpful. Of course, I always watched it on TV, but it’s so different, because sometimes you also don’t see what’s happening on TV. Between Ina and my teammates, they really know everything and they tried to explain it all to me. It gives me some extra confidence before I go into the race.”

Are you taking a lot of confidence from Binda into tomorrow?

“Definitely but also that was such a different race. I really knew the course of Binda so well because I also races there as a junior. There was no pressure, and I felt like no one was really expecting anything from me, and now that I won that race, people are like, ‘okay, she can win a race like that solo. So she could also do a really good race at Flanders’, but it will be my first time racing here. I just don’t really know what to expect from it. What I do know though is that I’m in a good shape now so that’s a really nice point to take into the race.

What’s your bike choice for tomorrow?

“I’ll ride the Trek Madone. My choice was based on the advice from the men’s team actually, because I never rode the Madone before this season except only once during the Tour last year. This season, they made me try the Madone again and I really liked it, especially during my last races in Belgium: Nokere and Dwars door Vlaanderen. It’s super-fast and it’s also really nice on the cobbles. It’s also really lightweight now, not that much heavier compared to the Emonda so I think it’s a really good bike to ride in Flanders as well.”

Jasper Stuyven

Best result – 4th (2021)

What are your thoughts on the likelihood of wet cobbles?

“Of course, if the cobbles are still wet it always stretches out the race a bit more so, I think it’s not a bad thing to spend a bit more energy riding in front on those days.”

How can you beat the big three favorites?

“I think using the depth of the Team is the best chance that we have. If we race in the right way and use the guys in the right way and everything falls into a good place, and Mads and I have the day we want to have on Sunday, then there’s always a chance that we can we can win the race and we can beat them. But, one on one against the three favorites will be very difficult. It’s also a long race and there’s a lot of situations that can play out and there’s a lot of stress in the peloton. So they can’t have it all. All the time. Right? I would say so. I think we are good at positioning. So we have to take our strength and try to try to beat them in a smart way.

How can you save your energy for when you need it?

“You can either choose the option to be in front and spend a bit more energy or sit a bit back. But, then maybe there can be a crash further back. So that’s always the gamble you have to make, especially at Flanders or, to be honest, all the cobbled classics. This balance is something you need to find, deciding on which moments you push a bit more than others.”

Do you think you’ll have more freedom with everyone focused on the big three?

“Yeah. To be honest, I think they all will look at each other. I mean, those three will look at each other and then also their teams will look at each other. I think that’s where we have a chance of trying to slip away unnoticed. But on the other hand, we’ve seen how early teams and those guys are opening up the race that if you want to be a step ahead, you almost need to go into early break. And so, it’s also there you need to see how they are racing and try to anticipate where they want to open the race.”

Elisa Balsamo

Best result – 15th (2021)

How are you feeling after an important week for you?

“This week I achieved a very important goal in my life; I’m very happy to have graduated. It was really nice to focus on something else this week. But also in the past years, it was nice for me to have something else to think about, not just cycling. When everything is going good it’s easy, but when sometimes you have a hard time, then it’s nice to have something else in your life.

“For me, graduating was like a victory, the same as in cycling, it was a really nice day and so I really hope that it can be also a positive push for the next races. I’m happy to be here and to able to race on Sunday. It was a hard month for us with a lot of crashes and some sickness and also some bad luck in the races. We will try to race as a team and it’s great to have Elisa [Longo Borghini] back with us. She is a really important part of the team, so I’m very happy that she’s here again.”

How are you preparing for the weather tomorrow?

“It’s not true that I don’t like the rain, what I don’t like is the cold. So if it’s hot and raining it’s okay. If it’s cold and dry, maybe you can put some more clothing on and it’s okay. But if it’s cold and wet, yes, it’s not my favorite weather. But, we are here to race. I really try to not think about the weather and just try to race. I learned something from last Sunday at Gent-Wevelgem and tomorrow I will start with more clothes.”

What are you expecting from the race? 

“I really think that we have to race like a team, because the team is always stronger than the individual. This is our power. We showed this last year at beginning of the season. We really have to stay together and try to fight all together. I think this is the most important goal for the Team.

“I think is going to be a very hard race. Maybe not in the first hills but definitely from the middle of the race I think they [SD Worx] will push hard because they are also a strong team. However, there are also other strong riders that will try to make the race hard because a lot of them don’t want a bunch sprint for sure. I think a really small group will arrive and I really hope I’m there!”