GCN+ uncovers the stories of the world’s greatest one-day race in ‘How to Win the Tour of Flanders’

tour of flanders gcn

Ahead of this weekend’s iconic cobbled classic, latest original documentary lifts the lid on the Ronde van Vlaanderen through the eyes of past winners

As the pro peloton and cycling fans around the world prepare for this Sunday’s gruelling Tour of Flanders, GCN+ today releases a brand new original documentary revealing the untold stories of the legendary cobbled classic.

Presenting the latest in over 100 original films already on the platform, GCN+ Director of Racing, Dan Lloyd, traces the history of the iconic one-day race. Along the way, Dan meets multiple winners Stijn Devolder and Johan Museeuw, current top pros like Oliver Naesen, and local journalists, historians, and sports directors on a ride that goes up, down, and around Belgium’s infamous cobbled climbs.

Dan’s goal? To find out how to win (or lose) the Tour of Flanders.

GCN+ uncovers the stories of the world’s greatest one-day race in ‘How to Win the Tour of Flanders’

How to Win the Tour of Flanders and the catalogue of GCN+ films are exclusively available via the GCN App, all web browsers, AndroidTV, Smart TV, Amazon FireTV, and Chromecast. Alongside these original documentaries, GCN+ is home to comprehensive live and on-demand coverage and expert analysis of all disciplines of professional racing, across Grand Tours, Spring Classics, road, CX, and track World Championships and the all-new UCI Track Champions League.

Dan Lloyd, Director of Racing, GCN+, said,  “Since I first became a fan of cycling, the Tour of Flanders has been my favourite race of the year. Demanding and gruelling for the riders, exciting and enthralling for the fans. In this film, we set out to find out how much the race has changed in recent times, and whether or not you can win De Ronde with your head as much as your legs. I spoke to journalists, historians, sports directors, and former winners of the race to find out what makes it so special, and how you go about winning it. I even visited a brewery along the way…”

After a three-year break, both the men’s and women’s races return this weekend, with the Tour of Flanders broadcast live across GCN+. The men’s edition will see Mathieu van der Poel going head to head with Wout van Aert, as well as double Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar, racing here for the very first time. In the women’s, the collective might of Trek Segafredo and SD Worx will look to upset the all-time greats, Marianne Vos and Annemiek van Vleuten.

Watch the trailer here:

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Tour of Flanders 2024: Van der Poel in a class of his own

Mathieu van der Poel rvv - Tour of Flanders 2024

Results 2024 Tour of Flanders

1. Mathieu van der Poel (nld) 2. Luca Mozzato (ita) + 1.02 3. Nils Politt (ger) s.t. 4. Mikkel Bjerg (den) s.t. 5. António Morgado (por) s.t. 6. Magnus Sheffield (usa) s.t. 7. Oliver Naesen (bel) s.t. 8. Dylan Teuns (bel) s.t. 9. Alberto Bettiol (ita) s.t. 10. Toms Skujins (lat) s.t.

Race report Eight attackers ride with a small lead ahead of the bunch for tens of kilometres. Eventually, the peloton agrees and the lead of Bert Van Lerberghe, Luke Durbridge, David Dekker, Damien Touzé, Elmar Reinders, Lionel Taminiaux, Jelle Vermoote and Stanislaw Aniolkowski widens to more than 4 minutes.

The gap has fallen below 1 minute when Dylan van Baarle speeds up on the Marlboroughstraat. Tiesj Benoot, Nils Politt, Oliver Naesen, Ben Turner, Mads Pedersen, Gianni Vermeersch, Tim Merlier, Brent Van Moer and Laurenz Rex go with him. They gobble up the breakaway.

Mathieu van der Poel bridges across on the Valkenberg. Which inspires Pedersen to attack and Vermeersch follows the Dane like a shadow. Meanwhile, a regroupment takes place in the background.

Pedersen and Vermeersch retain a 30 seconds gap for tens of kilometres before they are caught in the second ascent of the Oude Kwaremont. Mathieu van der Poel reaches the summit in first position, with Oier Lazkano, Mads Pedersen, Tim Wellens, Laurance Pithie and Dylan Teuns in his wheel.

A new regroupment takes place ahead of the Paterberg and the group stays together in the climb. Then Iván Garciá sneaks away in the run-up to the Koppenberg. He is forced to clip out of his pedals in the climb and Van der Poel comes storming past. The World Champion reaches the summit in first position, 6 seconds ahead of Jorgenson. Pedersen is 30 seconds in arrears.

The World Champion widens his lead to 50 seconds at the Taaienberg. Alberto Bettiol, Dylan Teuns, Tim Wellens and Iván García rejoin Matteo Jorgenson after the summit, while Mads Pedersen and Laurenz Rex regain contact later.

Bettiol and Teuns leave their companions on the Hotond climb. They reach the summit almost 2 minutes behind the sole leader, while the gap remains stable in the subsequent climbs.

Mathieu van der Poel solos to his third victory in De Ronde, equalling the records of seven other riders, while Dylan Teuns and Alberto Bettiol are caught in the last 500 metres. Luca Mozzato outguns Michael Matthews in the sprint for second place. As Matthews is relegated for dangerous sprinting, Nils Politt takes third place.

Other interesting reads: route and start list 2024 Tour of Flanders.

Tour of Flanders 2024: routes, profiles, more

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Ronde van Vlaanderen 2024: video with highlights - source:youtube.com

How to watch Tour of Flanders 2023: Everything you need to live stream the first cobbled Monument of the season

The key information for the Ronde van Vlaanderen, which will take place on 2 April

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Tadej Pogacar at the 2022 Tour of Flanders

  • Livestream quick-guide
  • What to expect in the race

What time is Tour of Flanders on?

Quick guide to watching tour of flanders 2023.

Like all of the calendar's biggest races, you can live stream the Tour of Flanders on GCN+ and Eurosport in the UK and FloBikes in the US. Subscription costs range from £6.99/month to $150/year.

Date: 2 April

AUS FREE live stream: SBS On Demand

UK: Stream on GCN+ and Eurosport Player (£6.99/mon)

US: Stream on FloBikes ($150/year / $30/mon)

Anywhere: Watch your local stream from anywhere with ExpressVPN

There are many VPN options out there but ExpressVPN has consistently been highly rated by our colleagues at Cycling Weekly sister site TechRadar.

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What to expect at Tour of Flanders

The Tour of Flanders marks the second monument of the season, and the first to take place in the cycling heartland of Belgium. 

Now in its 107th edition, the event is one of the oldest on the calendar, and always makes for thrilling racing. 

This year, the men's race will begin in Bruges, where the riders will roll out on a 270km route, punctuated by challenging cobbled climbs, en route to the finish in Oudenaarde. The women's peloton will tackle the same series of hellingen , but on a shorter course of 158km, starting and ending in Oudenaarde. 

As is customary at the Tour of Flanders, the finale will likely play out on the iconic climbs of the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg. These two ascents, which both come in the final 20 kilometres, have long been the launchpad of choice for the ultimate race winners. 

Should Mathieu van der Poel defend his title in this year's men's event, the Dutchman will join an exclusive group of riders who have won the race three times, joining the likes of Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara and Johan Museeuw. 

The women's race, first held in 2004, has crowned an array of different champions, with Annemiek van Vleuten one of just three riders to have triumphed on two occasions. 

Latest Tour of Flanders news

Route breakdown: Men's race | Women's race

How to watch Tour of Flanders in Australia

 In Australia, the Tour of Flanders will be broadcast live, for free, on SBS . You can head to the SBS On Demand streaming service and watch the action, as well as replays and highlights.

Aussies away from home can use a VPN to watch the Tour of Flanders live stream free from abroad. Download the VPN, set your location to 'Australia' using the in-app menu and watch live as if you are back at home.

How to watch a Tour of Flanders live stream from outside your country

If you find yourself overseas on 2 April and struggling to access your usual streaming platforms due to geo-blocking restrictions, there's an easy solution. 

By using a VPN, a software tool that offers online privacy and the ability to change your IP address, you can access on-demand content and live TV as if you were at home. 

There are plenty of free VPNs but our sister site TechRadar recommends the paid ExpressVPN, which it consistently rates as the best VPN provider.

Use a VPN to watch 2023 Tour of Flanders from abroad:

Try ExpressVPN for 30 days

Try ExpressVPN for 30 days ExpressVPN offers online privacy and unblocks your usual streaming services from abroad. It has apps to use on phones, laptops, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Xbox PlayStation, Android and Apple mobiles, and for more many devices.

Best of all, there's a 30-day money back guarantee . So, if it's not for you, then they'll give you your money back without a quibble.

- Try ExpressVPN 100% risk-free for 30 days

How to watch Tour of Flanders in the US

In the USA, FloBikes has the rights to Tour of Flanders, streaming both the men's and women's race throughout the day. The TV app is available on Roku, Fire TV, Chromecast and Apple TV, as well as on iOS and Android. Subscriptions cost $150 a year.

Watch Tour of Flanders live stream on FloBikes from $30

Watch Tour of Flanders live stream on FloBikes from $30 FloBikes brings live access to a healthy assortment of races over the season including the Tour de France, Giro, Tour de Suisse, LBL and plenty more including the Tour of Flanders. A monthly subscription will cost you $30 while a yearly account will set you back $150 ($12.50 per month).

How to watch Tour of Flanders in the UK

In the UK, the race will be shown live on Eurosport, with live streams available on the Eurosport player, Discovery+ website and GCN+. Buying a pass for either of the first two options costs just £6.99 a month, and will auto-renew until you cancel. 

Year-long passes are available for £59.99, equating to a saving of £23.89.

If you only want the cycling, and not the other things that Eurosport offers, you can get a GCN+ subscription at a cost of £39.99 for the year, or you can buy a race pass for £6.99 per month. This will also give you access to the full racing calendar on the platform, as well as its documentaries, which are created and produced in-house.

If you happen to be abroad when the Tour of Flanders is on, you can watch the race hassle-free with a VPN. Simply download a VPN, set the country to your home location and stream as usual. 

There are several VPN options out there, but we think going with Express VPN is the best. Express VPN will also give you a 30-day money-back guarantee .  

UK coverage of the men's race will begin on GCN+ and Eurosport at 8:55 GMT . The women's event will then start five hours later, at 14:00 GMT . 

In the US , the men's race will be on from 4:55 ET on FloBikes, with coverage of the women's race beginning at 10:00 ET . 

Australian audiences will be able to watch the men's race from 18:25 ACT . The women's race will be on from 23:30 ACT . 

Sadly, if you're an Australian or US GCN+ subscriber, you don't get the Tour of Flanders included in your package. You can find the full list of races that GCN will be broadcasting in your country over on their helpful racing schedule .

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Founded in 1891, Cycling Weekly and its team of expert journalists brings cyclists in-depth reviews, extensive coverage of both professional and domestic racing, as well as fitness advice and 'brew a cuppa and put your feet up' features. Cycling Weekly serves its audience across a range of platforms, from good old-fashioned print to online journalism, and video.

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2024 Tour of Flanders: Preview, schedule, how to watch men's and women's cycling classic races live

Who will succeed defending champions Tadej Pogacar and Lotte Kopecky? Find out the routes and the main contenders for this year's 'De Ronde' one-day races, in our preview.

The Tour of Flanders is the first cobbled classic Monument of the season

Sunday 31 March 2024 is a date to mark on the calendar for road cycling fans.

On that day, the Tour of Flanders (Ronde van Vlaanderen), the second classic Monument of the 2024 season, will celebrate its 108th men's and 21st women's editions.

The men's event, which has taken place every year since 1919, will start again from Antwerp, as it did between 2017 and 2022, covering 17 iconic climbs and five cobblestone sectors for a total of 270.8 kilometres. The women will tackle 12 climbs, taking on a 163km traverse through the Flanders region in Belgium.

Who will succeed defending champions Tadej Pogacar and Lotte Kopecky ?

Find out in our preview below.

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  • Mathieu van der Poel exclusive on switching between cycling disciplines: “It used to be easier”

2024 Tour of Flanders course routes

The men's route covers 270.8 kilometres.

The organisers have decided to modify the first 100 kilometers for safety reasons, removing the climbs of Kortekeer and the Kanarieberg. A year ago, the start was in Bruges, while this year it will be in Antwerp. The finish will be in Oudenaarde.

The riders will have to tackle 17 climbs:

  • Vieux Quaremont (km 136,7)
  • Kappelle Berg (km 155,7)
  • Wolvenberg (km 158,9)
  • Molenberg (km 171,3)
  • Marlboroughstraat (km 175,3)
  • Berendries (km 179,3)
  • Valkenberg (km 184,7)
  • Berg Ten Houte (km 197,1)
  • Hotond (km 206,6)
  • Vieux Quaremont (km 216,5)
  • Paterberg (km 219,9)
  • Koppenberg (km 226,2)
  • Steenbeekdries (km 231,6)
  • Taaienberg (km 234,0)
  • Kruisberg (km 244,3)
  • Vieux Quaremont (km 254,1)
  • Paterberg (km 257,6)

The women's route spans 163 kilometres.

Both the start and finish are scheduled in Oudenaarde.

There are 12 climbs to face during the race:

  • Wolvenberg (km 72,1)
  • Molenberg (km 84,6)
  • Marlboroughstraat (km 88,6)
  • Berendries (km 92,6)
  • Valkenberg (km 97,9)
  • Kappelle Berg (km 109,7)
  • Koppenberg (km 118,4)
  • Steenbeekdries (km 123,7)
  • Taaienberg (km 126,2)
  • Kruisberg (km 136,5)
  • Vieux Quaremont (km 146,3)
  • Paterberg (km 149,7)

2024 Tour of Flanders riders to watch

Men's race - 2024 riders to watch.

A mass crash during the Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday ruled out some of his biggest contenders, including Wout van Aert, who suffered fractured collarbone and ribs. Defending champion Tadej Pogacar decided to skip the Ronde this year to focus on the preparation of the Giro d'Italia. The big names who will be competing are:

  • Mathieu van der Poel (NED/Alpecin Deceuninck): The two-time winner (2020, 2022) is considered the undisputed favourite after dominating the E3 Saxo Classic and finishing second at last week's Gent-Wevelgem, and with archrival van Aert not competing.
  • Matteo Jorgenson (USA/Team Visma | Lease a Bike): The American rider is expected to lead his team following his win at the Dwars door Vlaanderen and the injuries carried by both Tiesji Benoot and Jan Tratnik. This season he also claimed the general classification at the Paris-Nice.
  • Alberto Bettiol: The Italian is a former winner of the Ronde and, despite suffering from cramps at the recent Dwars door Vlaanderen, has demonstrated a good form by winning the Milano-Torino and finishing fifth at the Milan-San Remo.

Women's race - 2024 riders to watch

  • Lotte Kopecky (BEL/SD Worx-Protime): The Belgian superstar and reigning world champion is aiming for a third consecutive Flanders title after her convincing victories at Strade Bianche and Nokere Koerse so far this spring.
  • Demi Vollering (NED/SD Worx-Protime): The Tour de France Femmes reigning champion, who finished third at Strade Bianche, is ready to step up as a leader if Kopecky finds herself in difficulty.
  • Elisa Balsamo (ITA/Lidl-Trek): Italy's 2021 road world champion has impressed this season, showing that she can both climb and sprint by winning the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Brugge-De Panne.

2024 Tour of Flanders: Race schedules

(All times local CEST, approximate after race start. Assumes an average race speed of 44km/h for men and 40km/h for women)

Sunday 31 March 2024

10:00 Start men's race (Antwerp)

13:25 Start women's race (Oudenaarde)

16:29 Estimated men's race finish (Oudenaarde)

17:44 Estimated women's race finish (Oudenaard)

Tour of Flanders: Last five winners

  • 2023 Tadej Pogacar (SLO/UAE Team Emirates)
  • 2022: Mathieu van der Poel (NED/Alpecin-Fenix)
  • 2021: Kasper Asgreen (DEN/Deceuninck-Quick-Step)
  • 2020: Mathieu van der Poel (NED/Alpecin-Fenix)
  • 2019: Alberto Bettiol (ITA/EF Educational First)
  • 2023: Lotte Kopecky (BEL/SD Worx)
  • 2022: Lotte Kopecky (BEL/SD Worx)
  • 2021: Annemiek van Vleuten (NED/Movistar Team)
  • 2020: Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (NED/Boels-Dolmans)
  • 2019: Marta Bastianelli (ITA/Team Virtu Cycling)

How to watch 2024 Tour of Flanders - Ronde van Vlaanderen

List of regional broadcasters (TV / online):

  • Belgium – RTBF
  • Czechia – Czech TV
  • Denmark – TV2
  • France – France TV
  • Italy – RAI
  • Netherlands – NOS
  • Norway – TV2
  • Slovenia – JOJ
  • Spain – Enjoy
  • Switzerland – SRG SSR
  • Pan-Europe – Eurosport, GCN
  • Canada – Flobikes
  • United States – Flobikes
  • Australia – Flobikes, SBS
  • New Zealand – SKY Sport
  • Central and South America and the Caribbean – ESPN
  • Sub-Saharan Africa – Supersport

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How to watch the 2024 Tour of Flanders

The comprehensive streaming guide for Sunday's cobbled Monument

Mathieu van der Poel is among the big favourites lining up at Sunday's Tour of Flanders

  • Free streams
  • USA & Canada
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Tour of Flanders schedule

It's almost here! The 2024 Tour of Flanders and Tour of Flanders Women are coming up this weekend on Sunday, March 31, with the cream of the crop of the Classics peloton taking on the toughest cobbles and hills that Flanders has to offer at the second Monument of the season.

We've been waiting all spring for the peloton to tackle Belgian cycling's hallowed ground and the famed cobbled climbs of the Paterberg , Koppenberg, and Oude Kwaremont . Now we're edging ever closer to one of the biggest races on the calendar.

Some of the biggest names in the men's and women's pelotons will reconvene in Antwerp and Oudenaarde to kick off the festivities on Sunday morning, with reigning champions Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx-Protime) heading the bill.

Dates: March 31

Free streams: SBS , Sporza and RTBF

USA: FloBikes

Canada: FloBikes

UK: Discovery+

Australia: SBS

Watch anywhere: Try NordVPN , 100% risk-free

Other big names lining up at the start of the men's race include Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty), Julian Alaphilippe, Kasper Asgreen, Yves Lampaert (Soudal-QuickStep), Wout van Aert , Tiesj Benoot, Dylan van Baarle (Visma-Lease A Bike), Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious), Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-Easypost), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Mads Pedersen , Jasper Stuyven (Lidl-Trek), Oier Lazkano (Movistar), Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla), and Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X Mobility).

In the women's race, look out for other top contenders including Demi Vollering , Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx-Protime), Kasia Niewiadoma, Chloe Dygert (Canyon-Sram), Puck Pieterse (Fenix-Deceuninck), Elisa Longo Borghini , Elisa Balsamo, Elizabeth Deignan (Lidl-Trek), Arlenis Sierra, Emma Norsgaard (Movistar), Pfeiffer Georgi (DSM-Firmenich PostNL), Marianne Vos , Fem van Empel (Visma-Lease A Bike), Silvia Persico, and Chiara Consonni (UAE Team ADQ).

Cyclingnews will be bringing you full reports, results, news, interviews, and analysis throughout the race. Read on to find out how to watch the racing action via live stream, no matter your location, with  NordVPN .

How to watch the Tour of Flanders for free

If you live Belgium or are visiting on holiday, then you can watch the 2024 Tour of Flanders for free via Belgian networks Sporza and RTBF . In Australia, SBS are also airing the race for free.

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But if you're away from home on holiday during the racing then it's possible to keep up with the racing without resorting to shelling out for a local streaming subscription.

A VPN could solve your problem, and we have all the information on h ow to watch the action using a VPN below.

How to watch the Tour of Flanders in the USA & Canada

The 2024 Tour of Flanders will be aired by  FloBikes  in both the USA and in Canada.

A subscription to the streaming service will set you back US$149.99 / CAN$150 for the year or US$29.99 / CAN$29.99 on a monthly basis.

How to watch the Tour of Flanders in the UK

In the UK, live coverage of the 2024 Tour of Flanders will continue to be broadcast via Eurosport and Discovery+ – with the same commentators that featured on GCN+.

A 'standard' subscription to Discovery+, which includes Eurosport's cycling coverage, will set you back £6.99 per month or £59.99 per year. The package includes year-round cycling streams as well as other live sports, including snooker, tennis, motorsports, the Paris Olympic Games, and more.

A premium subscription, which includes all that plus TNT Sports (Premier League, Champions League and Europa League football plus rugby, wrestling, UFC, and MotoGP) costs an additional £29.99 per month.

How to watch the Tour of Flanders in Australia

In Australia, the 2024 Tour of Flanders will be broadcast live and in full by the free-to-air channel SBS. The race is also set to be available on SBS on Demand – both live and in catch-up mode – if the middle of the night viewing in Australia doesn't work for you.

Watch live cycling on any streams

If you are outside of your home region and need to access your live streaming services to watch the action, you may find your access to be geo-restricted.

In this case, a VPN service will come in handy, allowing your computer to pretend it's home and let you log into your streaming accounts to catch all of the racing action.

Our colleagues at TechRadar thoroughly tested several VPN services and came up with a few great recommendations below.

1. NordVPN - get the world's favorite VPN

1. NordVPN - get the world's favorite VPN We've put all the major VPNs through their paces and we rate NordVPN as the best for streaming Netflix as our top pick, thanks to its speed, ease of use and strong security features. It's also compatible with just about any streaming device out there, including Amazon Fire TV Stick, Apple TV, Xbox and PlayStation, as well as Android and Apple mobiles.

There are a couple other very good options that are safe, reliable and offer good bandwidth for streaming sports. Check out two other top options below - ExpressVPN and the best budget option, Surfshark .

1. Try ExpressVPN risk-free for 30 days

1. Try ExpressVPN risk-free for 30 days ExpressVPN offers a 30-day money back guarantee with its VPN service. You can use it to watch on your mobile, tablet, laptop, TV, games console and more. There's 24/7 customer support and three months free when you sign-up.

Try the 12-month plan for the best value price.

3. Surfshark: the best cheap VPN

3. Surfshark: the best cheap VPN

Currently topping our charts as the fastest VPN around, Surfshark keeps giving us reasons to recommend it. It's a high-value, low-cost option that's easy to use, full of features, and excellent at unblocking restricted content. 

With servers in over 100 countries, you can stream your favorite shows from almost anywhere. Best of all, Surfshark costs as little as $2.30 per month, and it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee to try it out.

Dani Ostanek is Senior News Writer at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired full-time. Prior to joining the team, they had written for numerous major publications in the cycling world, including CyclingWeekly and Rouleur.

Dani has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, World Championships, and the spring Classics. They have interviewed many of the sport's biggest stars, including Mathieu van der Poel, Remco Evenepoel, Demi Vollering, and Anna van der Breggen.

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Remco Evenepoel: The Tour de France contender who might have played for Belgium at Euro 2024

Remco Evenepoel: The Tour de France contender who might have played for Belgium at Euro 2024

Two storylines have been dominating Belgium’s back pages.

First, the make-up of Domenico Tedesco’s team for these European Championships — and in particular, a problem position at left-back, where Rennes centre-back Arthur Theate is expected to fill in.

Second? The physical condition of cyclist Remco Evenepoel, one of the three favourites to win the Tour de France, which begins on June 29. A victory for him there would be Belgium’s first in the race for 48 years.


The connection? In another world, Evenepoel as the Belgian left-back at Euro 2024 was a very real possibility.

The 24-year-old played for the academies of both Anderlecht and PSV Eindhoven, captaining Belgium up until under-16 level, and played with two of Belgium’s current squad: forwards Jeremy Doku and Lois Openda .

Other past team-mates included Arsenal pair Jakub Kiwior and Albert Sambi Lokonga , while he shared a private training coach with Youri Tielemans and Michy Batshuayi , who were older but from the same area of Brussels.

“He was at the highest level,” Bob Browaeys, Evenepoel’s coach with Belgium Under-16s, tells The Athletic . “I never had a player with such a high-performance mindset. That was unbelievable.”

This is the story of how football helped create one of the world’s biggest cycling stars.

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Eden Hazard’s mouth is open and the mirrored sunglasses cannot hide the pain etched on his face.

The ex- Chelsea and Belgium superstar, famously averse to physical conditioning during his playing career, is cycling up the lunar slopes of Mont Ventoux, one of the sport’s most iconic climbs.

  View this post on Instagram   A post shared by Eden Hazard (@hazardeden_10)

Clad in the kit of minor Belgian cycling team Intermarche-Wanty — the equivalent of turning up to five-a-side in a Leyton Orient shirt — his Instagram post is flooded with impressed messages. Thibaut Courtois , the Tour de France, and Evenepoel himself all have their say. “Fenomeno,” says Evenepoel.

Hazard’s post shows that, in Belgium, there are two sports of importance — cycling and football — and Evenepoel has lived them both. And despite Belgium’s golden football generation, the cyclists are invariably more beloved.

Eddy Merckx, widely considered the greatest cyclist of all time and another to comment on Hazard’s post, is Belgium’s greatest sporting son. In modernity, Evenepoel has won back-to-back Sportsman of the Year awards, despite the achievements and popularity of Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku . Wout van Aert, another cyclist, won the previous two.

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Evenepoel’s father Patrick was a cyclist; not a major talent but still good enough to win the 1993 Fleche Wallone, a high-profile race in Belgium, before being forced into retirement with a heart condition. A great-grandfather, Frans Van Eeckhout, was also a professional. Remco, born in 2000, picked up their genes.

  View this post on Instagram   A post shared by Remco Evenepoel (@remco.ev)

“At five years old, he accompanied me to the Gordel (a cycling tour around Brussels),” said Evenepoel’s grandfather Eduard in 2022. “He insisted on riding the 50 kilometers. He barely stopped twice. We had only removed the two stabilisers from his bike for a month.”

But Evenepoel’s first love was football, where he was a left-footed midfielder who amazed coaches with his ability to run. Diminutive and with a mop of shaggy hair, his first coaches nicknamed him “Smurf”.

“His gloves were bigger than his face,” former Anderlecht youth coach Marc Van Ransbeeck told Belgian newspaper DH. “He wanted to become a goalkeeper when he first joined and dreamed of being Daniel Zitka, the starter at that time.

“But he already ran very well and had incredible endurance — I always compared it to a moped.”

Evenepoel was quickly moved outfield, where he formed a midfield partnership with Sambi Lokonga, now at Arsenal. The cyclist is an Arsenal fan and was at the Emirates Stadium for their 5-0 win over Chelsea on April 23.

“Lokonga is actually in the team I dreamed of being in, so he’s actually made my dream come true,” Evenepoel said two years ago.

Lokonga himself is similarly impressed at his former team-mate’s exploits. Evenepoel won the Vuelta a Espana in 2022, one of cycling’s three Grand Tours, and would likely have won the Giro d’Italia the following year, which he was leading, if not for a Covid-19 diagnosis.

“He was one year below me but sometimes the 1999 and 2000 players trained together, and so he trained with me,” Lokonga tells The Athletic “It’s crazy what he’s done. I know that when he was young, when we had to run up and down, he was already one of the best so that maybe helped with the distances you ride when you are a cyclist.”

When Evenepoel was in the under-10s, his father showed Anderlecht coaches a document. It was his son’s stress test results. The doctor had left a comment in the margins: “Never seen that in my career”. His coaches’ response was that Evenepoel was displaying triathlete numbers — and they were not far wrong.

From an early age, Evenepoel was aware of some of the technical limitations in his game. He worked hard to improve his right foot, doing post-training ‘extras’ before he reached double-digits.

Nevertheless, his best attributes were always those where he didn’t need the ball at his feet: fitness and mentality.

“My style of play was a bit similar to how I ride a bike,” he has described. “I had a big engine and tried to cover every blade of grass.”

From 11 until 14, Evenepoel moved to the Netherlands to play in the academy of Dutch side PSV Eindhoven. His competitiveness was evident, frequently entering pitched table tennis battles with the father of his host family. However, in 2014, he moved back to Anderlecht for family reasons: his mother was ill in Brussels.

Ter bewijs dat ze echt samen gespeeld hebben: Hier scoort Cody Gakpo na een (mislukte) voorzet van Remco Evenepoel. https://t.co/kb4hKRIr9y pic.twitter.com/yipf63elWS — Hidde Spaan (@HiddeSpaan) September 12, 2022

The same year, Evenepoel was called up to the Belgium Under-15s, which was the first time that Belgium Under-16 head coach Browaeys saw him play. The next year, when Evenepoel graduated, Brouwaeys kept him as captain.

“I spoke to him often in that role,” Browaeys tells The Athletic . “And I was always puzzled. He was so professional at such a young age; just 15, talking about his preparations for games, for his careers. He was special. Uncommon.”

“In the older age groups, you’re the right hand of the coach but that’s not always easy with the youth teams because they’re so young,” agrees Anderlecht coach Stephane Stassin, speaking to Cycling Weekly. “Remco, however, was the exception: he was effectively the right hand of the coach and he talked to his team-mates. When I asked him to do something, sometimes he would say that he had already talked with his team-mates and arranged what was needed.”

Though Browaeys kept Evenepoel as captain, he did make one major change: with more technical players in the midfield, he moved him to left-back, where his charge could bomb metronomically up and down the wing.

At Anderlecht, coaches had been wary of controlling his running ability, describing him as inventing a new position: a player who attacked as a No 10 and defended in front of the back four. He would run 12km each game as a young teenager — a huge amount at that age. His biggest rival in endurance tests was defender Hannes Delcroix , one year older, now at Burnley.

“You would see Remco, on the beep tests, continuing to run while everybody else had stopped,” says Stassin. “He always wanted to know before how well Delcroix had done. They had a little competition — and we considered Delcroix a physical machine. That defines Remco. He would never let go if he was not the best.”

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In his later years at Anderlecht’s academy, coaches say he even beat the conditioning results of first-team defensive midfielder Lucas Biglia, a starter for Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final after moving to Lazio.

One real-life story — improbable enough to sound like legend — came during the Brussels half-marathon when Evenepoel was just 16.

“I started the race a bit earlier because I was running with a disability association,” says Stassin. “At one moment, I heard a whole group of really fast runners come by, some Kenyans, and then there was one guy who said ‘Hey coach, how are you doing?’.

“He (Evenepoel) was running like crazy again — the morning after playing a game on the Saturday. He finished eighth, I think, in 87 minutes.”

Everybody has a similar story. Sebastiaan Bornauw is a Belgium international centre-back, now at Wolfsburg , who played with Evenepoel at Anderlecht.

“It was a big coincidence that we were once both staying in the same hotel in Lanzarote,” he told Cycling Weekly. “It was a sports hotel with all the facilities, so we were playing some football and doing some pre-season together.

“One day, he asked me to join him cycling. I love cycling — I’m typically Belgian in that I love the classics in Flanders. He asked me to go on a bike tour with him and I said yes. I thought it would be 50km.

“He said, ‘Ah, yeah, the tour is between 160 and 180km’. I said, ‘Remco, good luck!’. I didn’t join him.”

Cycling is a dangerous sport. Last year, Swiss climber Gino Mader died during a descent in the Tour de Suisse; there have been dozens of other tragedies in recent decades.

In August 2020, Evenepoel endured his own terrifying crash during an Italian race: Il Lombardia. He ran wide at a narrow turn over a bridge and his handlebars caught the stonework, sending the rider, just two years into his professional career, over the edge and into a ravine.

Evenepoel fractured his pelvis and punctured his lung — but if branches had not cushioned his fall or a small ledge had not stopped him from falling further into the ravine, the consequences could have been far worse. Nevertheless, the recovery was long and arduous, with Evenepoel open about the psychological distress it caused him. However, he had come through dark times before.

tour of flanders gcn

Bornauw — alongside other former team-mates such as Alexis Saelemaekers, Lokonga, Openda, and Doku — all became professional footballers. Evenepoel did not.

“I was captain of the national team, then they put me on the bench and I started to ask myself questions: ‘Is it worth continuing?’” he told The Lanterne Rouge cycling podcast last year. “Then, I wasn’t even on the bench anymore. I just wasn’t in the top 15 players. Then I really started to hate the sport.”

Browaeys, his national manager at the time, thinks that as coaches, Belgium’s management team could have collectively improved other parts of his game.

“His football was based on his physical skill and mentality — but we missed the tactical progression a little,” he remembers. “He maybe played too much with his heart and not enough with his brain‚ but that’s logical when you’re 15 years old. From March 2016, Anderlecht began to leave him on the bench and it was very difficult for me to select him after that — especially difficult because he was my captain.

“He was often poorly placed on the pitch,” Koen Boghe, a coach at KV Mechelen, where Evenepoel played for six months after his eventual release from Anderlecht, told DH Sports. “Especially when losing the ball. We played him as a left-back and he had difficulty correcting himself tactically.

“I had the impression that he was always going full throttle, like on his bike, except that sometimes, you have to hold back from riding so as not to get caught in the back. I wonder if he could have made up for his shortcomings.”

Another view was that while Evenepoel’s fitness was good, he lacked short-distance explosiveness. When his boyhood club released him in January 2017, Evenepoel was distraught. He has never gone into detail about his final months at Anderlecht but spoke of getting “a disgust of football simply because of everything that happens inside the clubs”.

One former team-mate, Vince Colpaert, told the Belgian website VP that “Mechelen wanted him but Anderlecht was childish… they did not want to release him and he was only allowed to play practice matches, while we had competitions every weekend. Then he played twice in six months.”

“I was close to depression,” Evenepoel has said. “I’m a very sociable person, but I didn’t talk to anyone anymore.”

tour of flanders gcn

Close to the end of his time at Mechelen, Evenepoel sat in the woods on his bike. He had always used mountain biking as a form of off-season training — but the trails had brought him to a crossroads. He was even considering stopping elite sport himself and becoming a physio.

“I said to myself: ‘Either you do your training and you go for it, or you take your bike, go back home, and change sports, your whole life’,” he told the Lanterne Rouge podcast. “This was at 17. I was a very good student but that year, I was just trash at school. It was an up-and-down year. I just lost my mind.”

That day, he made the decision to quit football and, based on his raw biometric data, pursue cycling.

“He still had a nice profile for a wing-back,” remembers Browaeys. “I was surprised when I heard he had become a cyclist because honestly, for me, it was still possible to become a professional player.”

But stubbornness has always been part of Evenepoel’s make-up and on this day, he was resolved. As he tells it, he snuck into the family garage and took his father’s road bicycle, which was far too large for him.

“My parents didn’t know I was changing sports. Only my personal physical coach,” Evenepoel remembers.

From his home, he rode up the famed Mur de Grammont (more widely known in Flemish as the Muur van Geraardsbergen), completing the 117km in three and a half hours — and at a startling average speed of 34kph. It was his first time using a road bike outside.

As soon as his father saw the data, Evenepoel no longer needed to keep his riding secret. He immediately competed in his first races as an unaffiliated rider in a black jersey — coming 10th in a local time-trial with an ordinary bike with road handlebars, 50 seconds off the winner.

tour of flanders gcn

In cycling-mad Belgium, even local races are closely watched by teams — and Evenepoel was immediately picked up by a junior club. His rise to the top of his new sport is another story entirely, but here are some highlights.

He won 34 of his first 44 races. At the 2018 European Junior Road Cycling Championships, just 14 months into his new career, he won both the road race and time trial — finishing nine minutes ahead of the second-place finisher in the former. Both titles in the Junior World Championships followed later that year.

The crash at Il Lombardia in 2020 set him back but Evenepoel is now entrenched as a Grand Tour winner and one of the world’s best all-round riders, a half-step back from the current big two: Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar and Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard.

What role did his football career play? Relatively few players reach such a high level of football before successfully switching sports, owing to football’s onus for early specialisation. British sprinter Adam Gemili is a rare counterpart. Evenepoel’s raw fitness, in a sense, has always been there but football fostered his competitiveness — and though some coaches deemed him tactically naive, Evenepoel still thinks it provided his strategic outlook.

“I think football maybe helped me with the mind games during the race,” he told reporters in April. “In football, you have to try to crack your opponents mentally by putting your foot a bit harder on their toe than you should do.

“Stuff like that helps me, in a race, to go over the limit a bit and try to have different tactics than other teams would. Maybe physically, football didn’t help me a lot to come into cycling but more the mental games and the other games going in the bunch during the race. Nothing negative but sometimes, when you are suffering, you have to make it look like you are not suffering. Stuff like that is what I learned more from football.”

His tactics were good enough to win the complex 21-stage Vuelta a Espana in 2022, while victory in the following year’s Giro was cruelly prevented by Covid-19. The peloton is agreed that Evenepoel is a rider with the potential to win all three Grand Tours over the course of his career.

The Tour de France is next — and though he sustained a nasty crash in the Tour of the Basque Country two months ago, fracturing his collarbone, he recovered enough to win the time trial at the Criterium du Dauphine in June, the Tour’s main warm-up race.

Back in lockdown, Evenepoel returned to Anderlecht to train. When crowds returned, a parade finally gave him the opportunity to wear purple in front of a capacity Lotto Park. But an interview during training allowed him to explain how he really felt.

“I spent 11 years here,” he told reporters. “To be honest, the last few years were the toughest. They broke me a bit mentally.

“But when I look back on it now, it has made me stronger as a person and in life. Thanks for trying to break me. Frankly, I am more proud to wear (my cycling) jersey. And now I have more fun.”

(Top photo: Getty Images; design: Dan Goldfarb)

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Jacob Whitehead

Jacob Whitehead is a reporter for The Athletic, who covers a range of topics including investigations and Newcastle United. He previously worked on the news desk. Prior to joining, he wrote for Rugby World Magazine and was named David Welch Student Sportswriter of the Year at the SJA Awards. Follow Jacob on Twitter @ jwhitey98


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