The Ronde van Vlaanderen, or Tour of Flanders if you prefer the English, is celebrating its one hundredth anniversary this weekend. Between its inception in 1913 and 1949, when the great Italian Fiorenzo Magni, took the first of his three consecutive wins, the race was almost exclusively a Belgian affair. That "almost" came in 1923, when Swiss rider Heiri Suter took the win. That the race was dominated by Belgian riders during its earliest editions is not especially surprising; it is a typical pattern for most, if not all, of the races we now know as "the classics." Even so, the run of victories by local racers was also fueled by the Ronde's place on the calendar - in those early years it was run on the same day as Milan-San Remo, which attracted most of the best riders from other countries, particularly France and Italy.
Heiri Suter, as seen at cyclingarchives
Now, back to the Swiss racer, Suter. The same year he became the needle in the haystack as the lone foreign victor over a 36 year span, he also was victorious at a little race known as Paris-Roubaix, the first person to do the double in the same year. His victories were not flukes; Suter tallied fifty-eight professional wins during his career. Among these were the Grand Prix Wolber (twice), Swiss road championship (5-times), Zuri-Metzgete (6-times), two time champion of Paris-Tours, and one time victor at Bordeaux-Paris. A not unenviable palmares for any era, I would say.
Ninety years later, another Swiss rider is amongst the clear favorites for victory in this years race, Fabian Cancellara. Cancellara won in 2010 and has been riding strongly thus far in the early season. One week ago he took the victory at the E3 Harelbeke along the cold, hard roads and hills of the Flanders region. No racer has won the Ronde more than three times, and only one 3-time victor is active today - Tom Boonen. Boonen has twice visited hospital this year for infections and crashed heavily at Ghent-Wevelgem on March 24. As a result he may not be at full strength for the Ronde; make no doubt though, he remains one of the danger men in the race. A third notable for the race win this year is, Peter Sagan, who has been perhaps, the most consistently strong of the pelotons favorites thus far. Weather conditions may play a determining role in the 2013 Ronde, and there is a whole slew of others capable of winning in the best tradition of the yellow lion flag.