The last Flemish winner was Lucien van Impe from Erpe-Mere in 1976. Before that, was, of course, Eddy Merckx, who won five times. But it has been barren since then.
Not that Flanders lacks riders. Last year, the surprise package was Philippe Gilbert. The 29-year-old was born in Verviers but cut his teeth on an Aalst team early on, honing his craft in the Flanders mud. He was the third-placed sprinter in last year’s Tour, while topping the UCI WorldTour Ranking. But his star seems to be fading this year, and he has no such victories to claim so far. This year, it is a resurgent Tom Boonen sweeping up prizes, triumphing in the E3 Harelbeke, Ghent-Wevelgem, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. However, Tommeke, 31, is skipping the Tour this year to focus on the London Olympics.
Another recent revelation is hoping to make an impact on the Tour: Jelle Vanendert, 27, from Neerpelt, who last year claimed the red-and-white checked jersey for the climbers. He may well repeat, or even improve, this year but don’t expect him to get near the yellow jersey, which requires strength in climbing, sprints and sheer distance.
The best hope will be someone who crashed spectacularly last year: Jurgen Van den Broeck, 29, who heads the Lotto team, was forced to withdraw after collecting a collapsed lung, three broken ribs and a broken shoulder blade in a massive pile-up halfway through the contest. But he is a real contender: He was bumped up to fourth in the 2010 Tour after the disqualification of winner Alberto Contador for doping offences.
Meanwhile, Wimbledon has already begun. It is the last hurrah for Kim Clijsters at this major, where she has never gone beyond the semi-finals. Clijsters, recovering from injury, skipped the French Open last month, meaning that Wimbledon and the US Open in September will be her last majors ever – at least if she sticks by her long-trailed retirement plans. But Clijsters, 29, will be back at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club for the London Olympics in July and August, which also take place at the hallowed turf.