Tuscan Andrea Tafi was the last Italian to win the Tour of Flanders, in 2002. He has said, "Only those who are in top condition can say that the Ronde is not hard. For everyone else, it's the Way of the Cross." The description is befitting a course that is a tortuous 161 miles (259km) with many steep climbs on cobbles.
Today was the turn of 27 year old Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital) from Castelfranco Veneto to win. Ballan escaped the last 16km with Belgian Leif Hoste (Predictor-Lotto); they worked like dogs just keeping ahead of the peleton. 150 meters from the line Hoste started his sprint only to have Ballan come around him in the last few meters. What a race!
The English announcers on SKY EuroSport kept reminding viewers during the race that Italians don't like to race in the normally cold, rain, and windy conditions of the Spring Classics in Belgium. Perhaps there is something to that as the race had been been won by an Italian only 9 times since 1913. Today was a beautiful Easter Sunday in Belgium, and the sun was definitely shining on Ballan.
On the Saturday preceding race day the course is open to registered cyclists. There were 18,000 participants this year. It's something to think about as a possible trip for next year.