2021 Tour of Flanders (De Ronde van Vlaanderen)

Dylan Van Baarle, Tim Merlier Among Tour of Flanders Dark Horses

Dylan Van Baarle, Tim Merlier Among Tour of Flanders Dark Horses

Dylan van Baarle asserted himself this week and Tim Merlier may have to step up. These are five dark horse picks for the Tour of Flanders.

Apr 2, 2021 by Michael Sheehan
Alaphilippe, Van Aert, The Flanders Favorites

With the postponement of the 2021 Paris-Roubaix, a performance at the Tour of Flanders is now even more crucial for the classics specialists. 

Join PRO to watch the 2021 Tour of Flanders live and on demand on FloBikes in the U.S., Canada and Australia!

Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars Door Vlaanderen have provided insight into who the favorites are for the race, as well as which outsiders have found winning legs for the biggest spring-time classic. 

Dylan Van Baarle (INEOS Grenadiers)

INEOS is well known for its dominance in the Grand Tours, but have never truly excelled in the one-day Classics. Dylan Van Baarle is trying to change that.  He attacked in a solo breakaway, time trialing for 50km to claim his first classics victory at Dwars Door Vlaanderen.  

The 28-year-old finished in the top ten at both the E3 Saxo Bank Classic and Gent-Wevelgem this season.  INEOS have listed potential contenders Tom Pidcock and Michal Kwiatkowski on their roster, but Pidcock has been suffering from a cold and Kwiatkowski is fighting through a fractured rib. 

Despite their setbacks, Team INEOS can never be taken lightly, and Van Baarle has proven capable of carrying the team on his back this spring.


Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange)

Team BikeExchange were forced to adjust their race tactics in the first races of the Classics season, after a rough E3 Saxo Bank Classic. Michael Matthews had a promising sixth place finish at Milano-Sanremo, and led a much more cohesive team at Gent-Wevelgem to a fifth place finish.

Former teammate and previous Paris-Roubaix winner, Matthew Haymen is now in a Director Sportif role, establishing a successful classics strategy for the team. Matthews will head to Flanders as team’s leader with a shot at his first monument victory.  Matthew’s climbing ability combined with his finishing speed makes him a serious threat in the finish of Flanders.  

Cristophe LaPorte (Cofidis)

Cofidis had to quickly change their race strategy after their star sprinter, Elia Viviani, suffered a dramatic crash sliding into a corner at Dwars Door Vlaanderen. The Italian was battered but fortunate to escape any fractures. 

Cristophe LaPorte quickly picked up the reins for the team, winning the bunch sprint for second. The Frenchman has been showing impressive versatility this season with several top-ten finishes. 

Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo)

The team will salvage the last of the Classics races after a gut-wrenching decision to withdraw from Gent- Wevelgem due to a positive Covid result prior to the race. They were cleared shortly after to return to racing in time to contest the Tour of Flanders.

Stuyven won his first monument at Milano-Sanremo a few weeks ago. The Belgian will be backed by teammate and ally Mads Pedersen, another potential winner in the Trek ranks.  

Tim Merlier (Alpecin – Fenix)

Alpecin-Fenix will undoubtedly give Mathieu Van Der Poel full support. However, the Dutch National Champion showed some cracks in his armor when he was dropped on the Knokteberb climb at Dwars Door Vlaanderen this past Wednesday. a 

Should the defending champion find himself in difficulty this Sunday, Tim Merlier is a sprinter that could be a capable backup option for the team. 

Merlier finished third at Dwars Door Vlaanderen Wednesday, after Van Der Poel handed off leadership. 

The Belgian road and cyclocross racer has shown an affinity for the one-day races, dominating many of the lower classified 1.1 races. Whether he is ready for leadership in Belgium’s biggest race is a question that may be answered this Sunday.