By David Hunter
St Pieters – Gerarrdsbergen 178.5km
Time for the Muur.
This is a stage that I’m sure we all know well; one that promises much, but doesn’t always deliver. The organisers have slightly altered the route compared to previous years, they’ve included three climbs before we hit the lap circuit, and also reduced the stage by around 20km. I think they’re hoping we see fireworks and groups all over the road.
The stage is one where the break always has a good chance of success, as the vast majority of the peloton are miles down on GC. Even if the morning break doesn’t succeed, a rider who isn’t a threat on the overall can sneak away in the lap circuit.
The world famous Muur. Words are not required.
It doesn’t look much, but the Bosberg is a tough little climb. Those with raw power go very well here, particularly Van Avermaet and Naesen.
We have lots of rain predicted for the morning, but forecasts suggest that it should clear before the racing starts. We’ll have to wait and see!
This is when it starts to get complicated. Lotto have the lead of the race, but this will be a very hard stage for them to control. Both Jumbo-Visma and Sunweb have two riders in contention to win the green jersey, which gives them options in the closing stages, especially as Lotto look a little weak.
It makes a lot of sense for Jumbo-Visma and Sunweb to make the early stages as hard as possible, especially the first lap of the circuit, in order to try and drop as many Lotto domestiques as they possibly can. If they can isolate Wellens, that’s when they start to send Teunissen and Kragh Andersen up the road. Both men are 45 seconds off the race lead, which isn’t a lot on a day like this. This move would allow De Plus (12 seconds) and Hirschi (8 seconds) to sit in the bunch and hope Wellens burns some energy.
If the race then comes back together, these riders need to attack on the final lap, especially De Plus. The climber has the worst sprint of the top 3, he needs to move before the finale. Hirschi does pack a punch, which he could use to chase bonus seconds in the golden kilometre, before going for a sprint finish. This will make life very difficult for Tim Wellens, but he does look in great form.
Wellens will also hope that some teams help with the chase, as there is a stage win up for grabs. Teams like CCC and AG2R will want to hold the race together, as Van Avermaet and Naesen will want to win in front of their friends and family. This is what happened last year, when other teams aided Mohorič and helped bring the race back together for a sprint finish.
What about QuickStep? The team who usually dominate, aren’t at the top of their game. They have Štybar and Gilbert, but it will be very hard for them to win the GC, but they could take the stage. Jungels is much further down on GC, which could see him trying to join the morning break. The stage win by Hodeg did remove some of the pressure on the squad, but they would like another win.
The peloton have a fast run into Geraardsbergen, before they hit the cobbles and the ramp up to the finishing line. You really need to be in the first 5 riders for the final corner, if you want to challenge for the win.
Greg Van Avermaet – he’ll be hoping the stage ends in a sprint. As we have an uphill sprint on cobbles, he’ll back himself to take the spoils. He’s won here before, but was beaten by Michael Matthews last year. CCC aren’t the strongest team in the race, but they should have a couple of riders left to help keep the race together in the final lap.
Oli Naesen – his sprint is getting faster and faster. Naesen doesn’t live too far from here, he’d dearly love to win this stage. The last time this stage had bad weather, he was 2nd behind Boasson Hagen, from a small group of three. Naesen is looking in good form, but I’m not sure he’ll wait for a sprint, favouring a bold attack instead. As he sits a little down on GC, he could be given some freedom if he times his attack to perfection.
Mike Teunissen – his role will be very interesting, as he is one of the fastest riders in the race. De Plus does have a chance of winning the overall, but only if Teunissen sacrifices himself, which gives the team a headache. This is his final race before he takes a well earned-holiday, he’d love to sign off with another win. If we get a sprint, he’d be one of the men to beat.
Iván García – another rider who’ll be hoping for a sprint. The Spaniard was very impressive on Thursday and now sits in 5th place, 43 seconds behind Wellens. He’s not the strongest climber, but won’t panic if he loses a bit of ground on the Muur. This is a stage where groups always seem to come back together, which will certainly help him in his quest to win the stage.
Dylan Van Baarle – the big disappointment on Thursday. The Ineos man started the race as one of my favourites, but he was way off the pace the other day. As he is out of the GC picture, he’s exactly the type of rider who can attack in the closing stages and take the win.
Bob Jungels – a possible candidate for the morning break, but will it stay away for the whole day?
Marc Hirschi – the young Swiss rider is currently enjoying a fine run of form. He’ll throw everything he has at Tim Wellens, in his bid to win the green jersey. He has a fast sprint, but wasn’t quick enough to beat Wellens on Thursday. He’ll have Søren Kragh Andersen to help make the stage hard for Lotto, but at the end of the day it will come down to his legs and whether or not he’s stronger than the Belgian.
Mads Pedersen – nice and strong all week, you can bet he’ll throw everything he has at trying to get a stage win.
Tim Wellens – it’s likely he’ll have to do a lot of work during the stage, making it very difficult to challenge for the win.
A very tactical day lies ahead. We’ll have one of those days where riders go off the front all the time, but eventually, I think it will come back together for a sprint. When the dust settles, Mike Teunissen will take another win to send him on his holidays with a smile! In the GC battle, Tim Wellens will take an emotional title.
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