By David Hunter
This is a race I do enjoy, such a shame the start list doesn’t do it justice. Even though the riders get a chance to ride on the World Championship route, the race only has four world tour teams, and one of them is Katusha! Hopefully some of the smaller teams step up and give us good racing.
The race begins with a sprint stage. This means we’ll see a battle between Cavendish and Kittel, with some of the local boys hoping to pull off a big surprise.
A repeat of the opening stage and another sprint finish.
Things start to get interesting. The lumpy stage is still likely to end in a sprint, but not with all the sprinters. Much of the route is on the coast, meaning the teams will have one eye on the weather forecast, as early predictions are for a strong wind.
Almost a carbon copy of last year’s stage, where Stephane Rossetto took a quite incredible victory. With over 3200m of climbing, it’s a tough day in the saddle and one where we should see some great racing.
Team INEOS – new name, same team. You can bet that they want to start with a win, especially as it’s on home soil. They arrive with Froome, Doull and Dunbar as their leaders, making them the strongest unit in the race. It’s likely that Froome will again fill the domestique role, something he did well in the Tour of the Alps. Both Doull and Dunbar have the right characteristics to win this race, but it won’t be easy.
CCC – arriving with Van Avermaet, De Marchi and Pauwels gives them lots of options. Van Avermaet is the defending champion, but after a jam-packed classics campaign, he must be starting to feel tired; he’s been full gas since Nieuwsblad. Pauwels won this race back in 2017, that should give him a confidence boost. His move to CCC hasn’t really worked out, but this could be his big chance. De Marchi arrives after a successful spell in the Ardennes, the team really do look strong for this race.
Tom Slagter – I struggle with this rider. He has a huge amount of potential, but rarely challenges for wins these days. On paper, the final stage is great for him, but it’s been a long time since he actually looked convincing on his bike.
Nathan Haas – the Aussie has endured an awful start to 2019; thanks to a mixture of illness and poor racing. On paper, this is a race that suits him very well, but does he have the form to compete against the riders already mentioned?
Jonathan Hivert – took a great win in GP Miguel Indurain, but winning this race will be very hard for him. Up against the power of INEOS and CCC, he’ll have to settle for a top 5 spot, but only if his legs are good.
Ian Bibby – 6th here in 2018, the Madison Genesis rider will relish another chance at beating the world tour boys. Bibby heads up a very strong team, don’t be fooled by their continental status. Bibby has the ability to challenge for the overall win, a result that would be enormous for his squad. He has the power and the experience; he just needs a little luck.
James Shaw – the young Brit is now back racing at continental level, after Lotto-Soudal decided against renewing his contract. This is a massive opportunity to remind the bigger teams of what he can do, this is a big pressure moment in his career. His team aren’t very strong, but he’ll still be confident of making it into the top 10 and hope to catch the eye of teams for next year.
Scott Thwaites – another rider who stepped away from the world tour, but it was his choice to do so. Thwaites was involved in a bad crash, putting him off his bike for a long spell in 2018. He then considered retiring and stepping away from cycling altogether, but signed for continental team, Vitus Pro Cycling. He’s enjoyed a good start to the domestic season and seems to have re-found his love of cycling. Just remember we’re talking about a guy who finished in the top 10 of Strade Bianche, Le Samyn, DDV and Nokere Koerse.
Tom Pidcock – the young Brit has long been touted as one of the stars of the future. He’s still splitting his time between the road and cross, but that won’t last forever. Still just 19, he’s very young, but is capable of challenging for the top 10 in this race. Team Wiggins Le Col are a very talented squad and you’ll see plenty of them in the four stages.
Alexander Kamp – the Dane is a talented cyclist; one of those guys who can sprint and cope with short climbs. He rides for Riwal, a team who recently stepped up to pro conti level. His recent form is good, he won the 2.2 race, Circuit des Ardennes. I think he could be underestimated by some of his rivals, which would be a huge mistake.
INEOS v CCC, with some of the domestic riders trying to get involved. The race is all about the final stage and as both squads have a number of challengers, it will be interesting to see how the day unfolds; the winner of the stage should take home the overall title. In the battle between the big teams, I think we’ll see Owain Doull take a big win for Team INEOS.
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