By David Hunter
Stage 3 a – De Panne – De Panne 122km
The double stage opens with a morning race for the sprinters.
This is a stage we know very well, thanks to the crazy corner with around 300m to go. We always get some crashes at this point, I expect more of the same!
This is a nailed on sprint, it always is. A break will go, but it’s hard to establish a big lead and plenty of teams will be interested in setting up the sprint.
The technical finish makes a good sprint train even more important. It is vital you are in the first 5 wheels as you make the final turn. Further back and the race is over.
Marcel Kittel – the big German has a great chance of hitting the final corner in the prime position. He arrives with a stellar lead-out train and shouldn’t have to waste any energy earlier in the stage. With Richeze and Sabatini, I can’t see QuickStep not being at the front inside the final kilometre. Once round the bend, it’s over to the German. Given his incredible power, it’s a finish that suits him. He won this stage in 2016.
Alexander Kristoff – as a regular in this race, he knows this stage very well. The winner of this stage in 2015, he will rely on Zabel, Planckaert and Haller to drive the closing kilometres. That is a strong train and they will be fighting with QuickStep to control the final kilometres.
Edward Theuns – his sprint train isn’t as good as Kittel and Kristoff, but if he and Van Poppel ride a clever race, they might just hit the perfect position for the final corner. To do this, they will need to be lucky and follow the right moves. If in the right position, he showed today that he is sprinting well just now.
Matteo Pelucchi – we shall have to see who Bora turn to for this sprint. The Italian will hope for the nod, but they also have the young German sprinter, Pascal Ackermann. Both sprinters will find it hard to challenge for the win, but they have a chance of making the podium. After a solid start to the season, I fully expect Pelucchi to be their man tomorrow.
Sacha Modolo – won this stage in 2014 and his team arrives with a ridiculous amount of sprinters. UAE have Modolo, Guardini, Consonni and Kump. All four of these riders have the speed to finish in the top 5, that should give them a boost in the closing kilometres. Saying that, I still can’t see them getting in front of Katusha and QuickStep. Modolo is in a good run of current form, he will hope for a strong showing.
Luca Mezgec – Orica only have 4 riders left in their squad, so Mezgec will be a little short handed. The good news is that he has Durbridge, Edmondson and Kluge. That is still a very strong train to drive him into position. He might not have the same top end speed as the others, but this sprint is a lot to do with positioning. He is the dark horse for the stage.
QuickStep to boss the final kilometres and Marcel Kittel to take the win.
Stage 3 b – De Panne 15km ITT
The race ends with a short individual time trial.
At just 15km, it really is a course for the fast men of the bunch. With the podium battle still close, we are in for an exciting afternoon.
A nice sunny day for the riders. The wind is around 22km/h, coming from the south, but should remain constant for all.
Reto Hollenstein – the Katusha man is usually an incredibly consistent TT rider, but this season has not been as good. In 2016, he was always to be found around the top 10 of TTs, a big step forward in his career. After a quiet race, he should have lots of energy left for a big effort in this stage.
Mads Wurtz Schmidt – as you would have expected, he is still trying to find his feet after his big winter move. He finished 4th in the Besseges TT, a very good result considering the step up in quality. He will go into this race, looking to challenge for the overall win. The former under 23 world champion has a huge amount of quality, in this discipline, and cannot be underestimated.
Luke Durbridge – Durbo’s turbo was sadly lacking today. He should have been higher up the bunch as a blind man could see that we were going to get echelons. No doubt he’ll be disappointed, that could inspire him to put in a huge TT. Since he started his transition into a classics rider, his TT bike has been left all alone in the corner of a room! No more is he a feared rider in this discipline and I think he’ll struggle to take the win.
Matthias Brandle – he moved into 2nd place today, thanks to the echelons. Sitting 50 seconds behind Gilbert, he really needs a mechanical to challenge for the overall win. The Austrian will focus on delivering a huge TT, something he is more than capable of doing.
Sylvain Chavanel – the experienced Frenchman has one eye on the podium. He sits 8 seconds behind Kristoff, a gap he’ll be confident of making up. On a very good day, he certainly could challenge for the stage win.
Philippe Gilbert – given his form, why not? On his day, he is capable of a big TT performance. As the field isn’t the strongest, he could surprise and finish in the top 5, maybe even better.
Marcel Kittel – it all depends on his priorities. His next race is Scheldeprijs, will he just have an easy day at the office? I think he will, especially if he wins the sprint stage. If he goes full gas, Kittel would be a strong contender for the top 7.
It really is a 2nd division field of TT riders. On paper, it should be Brandle v Wurtz Schmidt. I would think that Matthias Brandle will have enough to take the stage win, leaving Philippe Gilbert to claim the overall. It really has been a masterclass from the Belgian champion this week.
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