By David Hunter
Dreux – Tours 252.5km
World Championships warm up.
The organisers have done a magnificent job of replicating what the sprinters will face in Qatar. Such a shame, as the old route guaranteed attacking riding. This could be a very long and boring day in the saddle.
A pleasant day in France, with a cross/tail wind for most of the day. Once we turn right and head towards Tours, it turns into a nice crosswind. This is when the sprinters will have to beware.
It all depends on the strength and direction of the wind. That is the only thing that can disappoint the sprinters.
Mark Cavendish – even if he’s fit, it’s hard to see Cav being competitive. This will be about trying to get some kilometres in the legs, in the hope of being ready for Qatar.
Tom Boonen – the distance is wonderful news for Boonen. Sprinting after 250km really does slow the legs of the pure sprinters, allowing Boonen to be much more competitive. The world champion from 2005, he has a genuine chance of taking another rainbow jersey. It will be interesting to see how he goes in France, remember he is still recovering from his Eneco Tour crash, but after two races, he should be back to his best.
Fernando Gaviria – teammate of Tom Boonen, so it’s unclear what Etixx will do. The Colombian continues to show fine form and is a faster sprinter than his Belgian friend. The Etixx management will have to make a big call, as this is a race both could win. The distance won’t be a problem for Gaviria, he was very close to winning Milan-Sanremo.
Arnaud Demare – just hitting his second peak of 2016, great timing! The winner of Milan-Sanremo, the Frenchman was magnificent in Binche, taking his fifth win of the season. Has a big chance here and would love to beat Bouhanni before Qatar.
Jens Debusschere – without Greipel, Lotto turn to their former Belgian champion. He’s not as fast as the other sprinters here, but the distance will help bring him closer to the pure sprinters.
Caleb Ewan – this is a great race for the little Australian. The distance will be a challenge, but the easy profile will help him. His team always deliver him into a great position, it will be up to him to finish it off. His recent win in Hamburg was over 217.7km, his longest win to date.
Elia Vivani – has been poor since winning gold in Rio. With Qatar just one week away, he could really do with a confidence boost, especially with Nizzolo netting victories. His team contains some strong riders that are sure to be a help in the closing stages. Rowe and Stannard are not your usual sprint train riders, but after 250km, their strength will be important.
Sam Bennett – despite a recent illness, he retained his Paris-Bourges title. That was a brilliant result. This race is a level above Thursday, but Bennett has the quality to challenge. Do not underestimate the Irishman, he can mix it with the best. I’ve been saying so for the whole of 2016!
Nacer Bouhanni – should be an interesting battle between him and the rest. It didn’t happen for him in Paris-Bourges, but this will be a different story. He doesn’t quite have his full lead-out train, but Soupe and Laporte are good enough to put him into a race winning position.
Bryan Coquard – despite all his success, Coquard has still to win a World Tour race. The good news for him is that this isn’t the World Tour, shame he hasn’t won a 1.HC race yet either! Of his 26 wins, 24 have come in France. This is a rider that doesn’t seem to travel well. It looks like his season is in danger of fading out.
Amaury Capiot – I’m a big fan of the sprinter from Topsport. In fact, I’ll be interviewing him in the near future. Two top 5 results in the last week is a good indication of form and he’ll be hoping to mix it with the big boys. At 23, he’s still young and learning. He has a huge future ahead.
Greg Van Avermaet – just in case we get a late attack or some echelons. GVA will be praying for some challenging conditions, but if the wind doesn’t blow, expect a late charge. He’ll hope to take advantage of the sprinter teams getting tired after such a long race.
Etixx have the best sprint train, with Stybar, Trentin, Sabatini, Boonen and Richeze. I would expect them to give Gaviria the nod, but can he beat Bouhanni? Cofidis don’t have their full train, but Soupe and Laporte are good enough to put Bouhanni into a great position. Once there, I think Bouhanni will finish the job off and take the win.
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