Perhaps the only thing working against the Swiss machine is the fact that every other team in the peloton will likely be looking to make sure Cancellara doesn't win. So dominant has he become in the spring classics, he now commands the complete attention of the entire peloton. The only way to beat Cancellara may be to simply follow his wheel the entire race and risk losing to a move up the road.
Tom Boonen's win at Gent thrusts him into the spotlight as the main foil for Cancellara. After being schooled three straight times by Sparticus last year, Boonen will be smarting for some revenge. He'll pour himself into the next few weeks, and if he falls short to Cancellara it won't be because of poor form or illness. It will be because Cancellara is stronger . . . again.
And then there is Philippe Gilbert. Lost amid the Boonen-Cancellara duel is the other heavily favored Belgian in the race. Gilbert has had Flanders circled on his calendar for the last 6+ months. The course has the climbs required to stretch the field and if a small bunch goes to the line Gilbert has a good enough sprint to contend against the likes of Boonen and Cancellara. Gilbert wants to be considered the best one day rider in the world. A win at Flanders would do just that.
After the big three, there are a host of other names that find themselves in with a very good chance to win. The Garmin-Cervelo team needs a victory, not a good result over the next two weeks. Thor Hushovd is probably their best hope for Roubaix in two weeks, but this week it seems more likely that Haussler will be the primary protected rider. Tyler Farrar too can ride the cobbles and could be a darkhorse.
Alessandro Ballan will represent BMC at the only classic he has ever won, and his recent form suggests that he will be up front when it matters at Flanders. The lanky Italian is all the way back after an abysmal last two years, and seems ready for Flanders in every way.
Other thoughts for Flanders . . .
If I have to choose between Filippo Pozzato and Leif Hoste for Katusha, I'll go with Hoste. Although he is ancient, Hoste seems a better bet than a thus far anonymous Pozzato.
Nick Nuyens of Saxo Bank is on a good year, but a win at Flanders? Nah!
Bernhard Eisel of HTC is so under rated as a classics rider. With Cavendish riding the way he is, it may make sense for HTC to back Eisel at least for Flanders, if not Roubaix as well.
Juan Antonio Flecha of Sky seems done. No other way to say it.
Stijn Devolder comes into Flanders unheralded after being frequently dropped in the previous week's racing. No one thinks he has a chance, which is just how he likes it. Devolder loves Flanders, and performing well at the Ronde seems to be something bred into his legs. Expect a top 10 ride out of the mercurial two-time Flanders winner.
Will Flanders be the race that Lars Boom finally shows himself? Yes he's still learning to be a leader, but isn't he also due for a big result? And if he is off the pace at Flanders, will Langevelde earn the moniker as outright leader? Big questions for Rabobank as the heart of the cobbles approach.
I'm not sure Peter Sagan is ready yet for a big result at Flanders, but he'll sure learn a lot this year. He continues to be one of the brightest young stars of cycling.