Latest: Tour of Flanders; McEwen out; DNA testing; T-Mobile

Tom Boonen is the favourite for this Sunday's Tour of Flanders. Jeff Jones previews the race for Pro


Tom Boonen is the favourite for this Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. Jeff Jones previews the race for Pro

PIC © RVV.BE Boonen for three in Tour of Flanders? The 91st edition of the Tour of Flanders coincides with Easter Sunday (April 8th) this year, and the Belgians will be out in their thousands to watch Flanders’ finest. Its varied mix of cobbled climbs, narrow, twisting roads and wind makes it one of the toughest one day races on the calendar. It’s the second major spring classic following Milan-San Remo and is the next stop on the UCI’s ProTour. The winner of the previous two editions, Tom Boonen (Quick.Step), is the hot favourite to repeat in 2007. Boonen has had a perfect lead up to the race, winning Dwars door Vlaanderen and the E3 Prijs over the past week. He did the first two stages of the Three Days of De Panne and stayed out of trouble, and will have fresh legs for Sunday. Quick.Step also has the Paolo Bettini card to play. The world champion has demonstrated good form but has had little luck over the past few weeks. Predictor-Lotto will be relying on its leader Leif Hoste to come up with the goods on Sunday, but last year’s second place getter might be a little short on form after his injury problems. Team CSC has a top quality line up that includes Stuart O’Grady, Karsten Kroon and Fabian Cancellara. “After my win in Paris-Roubaix last year I understood,” said Cancellara to Het Laatste Nieuws. “I’m born for these sorts of races. I know that I can win the Tour of Flanders one day.” T-Mobile’s Kim Kirchen and Marcus Burghardt will likely be the main men for the magenta troupe, as there is still a question mark over Andreas Klier’s form. Kirchen said that he has had a “great start to the season. My result in Brabantse Pijl proved to me that I am in the right form to have a shot at this classic, even if Flanders is a completely different kind of a race.” Marcus Burghardt placed third in last weekend’s E3 Prijs. “My hard preparations were worth it,” he said. “I’m in top shape for the Tour of Flanders.” His team director Tristan Hoffman added, “Third place at the E3-Prijs was a fantastic result for Marcus. The peloton’s big-hitters are now showing him more respect . He is going to make the big breakthrough at some stage.” Lampre’s Alessandro Ballan is the one to watch in that team on Sunday. He has ridden a great Three Days of De Panne, and should figure in the finale of Flanders if he hasn’t gone too deep this week. Nick Nuyens opted out of the Three Days of De Panne like the rest of his Cofidis teammates. The talented Belgian will be his team’s leader, now freed from the Quick.Step yoke. 18 climbs This year’s Tour of Flanders measures 256km and incorporates 18 climbs through the Flemish Ardennes. After starting in Brugge’s Grote Markt, the riders head south through Torhout and Kortrijk, reaching the hill zone after 134km. The key climbs are the Kwaremont (km 177), Paterberg (km 180), Berendries (km 212), Valkenberg (km 217), Eikenmolen (km 229), Muur (km 240) and Bosberg (km 244). There are also a number of flat cobbled sections including the Paddestraat/Lippenhovestraat (km 123), Mater-Kerkgate (km 136), and Haaghoek (km 203). One thing that will be in the riders’ favour is the weather. It’s predicted to be calm, sunny and 17 degrees on Sunday, and that should contribute to a fast race. McEwen has to forget classics Robbie McEwen’s classics season will not happen this year after a series of health problems. Although the Australian sprint has recovered from a lower back injury that ruled him out of last week’s racing, he now has a stomach virus. “No E3 Prijs, no Three Days of De Panne, no Tour of Flanders,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “Then it makes no sense to start in Gent-Wevelgem and Parijs-Roubaix. Those aren’t races you want to start all over again in.” McEwen may race the Scheldeprijs on April 18th, but it’s more likely that he’ll wait until the Tour of Romandie to recommence his season. “My season doesn’t depend on the spring classics,” he said. Predictor-Lotto for Tour of Flanders: Leif Hoste, Roy Sentjens, Bjorn Leukemans, Wim De Vocht, Johan Vansummeren, Bert Roesems, Greg Van Avermaet, Wim Vansevenant. ProTour teams OK DNA testing The 20 ProTour teams have committed to DNA testing, should it be necessary, the UCI announced on Wednesday. But riders won’t be asked to give DNA samples unless they are involved in a doping investigation that requires it. “It gives the right signal,” said Geert Middag, manager of the International Professional Cycling Teams, to the Associated Press. “In the long term, it will prove its value.” AP also reported that “half a dozen” unnamed riders did not immediately commit to DNA testing. The announcement followed reports on Tuesday that Jan Ullrich’s DNA had been matched with that in nine blood bags seized from Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes last May. Ullrich was required to give DNA evidence as part of a fraud investigation in Germany. His lawyers have said that the link to the blood bags is not proof that Ullrich doped. T-Mobile reacts to Ullrich The T-Mobile team has described itself as “disappointed, but not surprised” that Jan Ullrich’s blood was found with Dr. Fuentes. Team spokesman Christian Frommert said, “I’m disappointed that Jan ended such a beautiful career in this way. But unfortunately, it doesn’t come as a surprise. “Ullrich had assured us that he’d never had contact with Fuentes, also when we didn’t let him start in the Tour de France. The information from the Bonn prosecutor proves the opposite. It also proves that taking DNA samples from riders works. Got a comment? Discuss this in the Procycling forum. What else is new? Check out the Procycling blog.