The final day of the cycling championships in Flanders is one that many people have been looking forward to for a long time. The men's road race started at 10:40 this morning in Antwerp, after the presentation of the riders. The finish in Leuven is expected around 5 o'clock this afternoon.
The 268.3 kilometre course takes the riders through Antwerp and Flemish Brabant province. In Leuven, the local Leuven Circuit will be covered for a first time, before the race goes south to the Druivenstreek with its vineyards and winding roads around Overijse.
This so-called Flandrien Circuit includes some steep climbs such as the Smeysberg. The riders then go back to Leuven, before returning to Overijse for a last loop in order to finish in Leuven on the local circuit with sharp climbs such as the Keizersberg and the Wijnpers.
The recent races in other categories showed that anything is possible: a rider arriving solo, a sprint with just a handful of breakaway riders or a sprint with a larger group of favourites. It will be a tense afternoon for the Belgian fans as it will be Belgium and Wout Van Aert against the rest of the world.
Cycling fans arriving early
Cycling is very popular in Flanders, which can be seen in the number of spectators. The first cycling fans arrived in Leuven around dawn, to make sure they would have a good spot to watch the race. Several hundreds of thousands are expected along the course in Antwerp and Flemish Brabant and in the city of Leuven to watch the race live. Some will combine watching the race with some good Belgian beers.
They will enjoy nice weather with mild temperatures around 24 Celsius, though showers may be possible. A corona passport or Covid Safe Ticket is not required; mouth masks are not mandatory but are strongly advised in busy places where social distancing is impossible.
It is strongly advised to take public transport and to leave the car at home; extra trains are being scheduled and fans are helped in stations to find their way. (photo: Danish fans in Mechelen station)
How can Van Aert win the race?
Belgium's Wout Van Aert, the silver medal of the time trial, is the big favourite to grab the Gold. He enjoys the support of the whole Belgian team, including in-form Remco Evenepoel.
Van Aert faces stiff competition from a number of riders including Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands, Tour of Flanders winner Kasper Asgreen of Denmark, or Britain's Tom Pidcock, who beat Van Aert in the Brabantse Pijl earlier this year on a similar course. Any sprinter who can still go fast after a long race, is in fact an outsider.
The Belgians will have to control the race to steer Van Aert to a good sprint position. He proved he can finish it off when he won on the Champs Elysées in the Tour de France last July, and is probably in the best form of his life as he proved in the Tour of Britain recently. But this does not mean it will be easy, as many things could go wrong.