By David Hunter
Bredene > Koksijde 200km
A new name, and a new look, but one I recognize.
This race used to be called the Handzame Classic, which was one for the sprinters. In 2019 it changed name and route, making it a harder race, but it still ended in a sprint. This year it’s been made even harder, it reminds me of the stage that used to be in the 3 days of De Panne.
The race is dominated by a double ascent of the Monteberg and Kemmelberg, just getting us excited for Gent-Wevelgem.
The Monteberg is 900m at 6.4%, it’s not that hard, but it uses up vital energy before the big one.
The Kemmelberg is 800m at 6.6%, but it has a maximum 17.3% and takes place on poorly maintained cobbles. It is a brut of a climb. With just 30km in between the two ascents, it is perfect to seriously reduce the peloton. From the crest of the second ascent there is still over 90km to go, which gives the sprinters some hope.
Sprinters, time to hide behind the couch. The wind will be between 30km/h and 45km/h. It’s going to be coming from the north-east, which means lots of crosswind throughout the day. It will also be cold, and potentially wet.
The vast majority of the route is wide open, and we have a cross/tailwind for much of the opening 100km. This picture is taken right at the start of the race, it could split in the opening kilometres.
Once the bunch turn and head north towards Koksijde, the wind turns into a cross/headwind.
Welcome to heaven or hell, it depends on your echelon ability. De Moeren is one of the windiest places in the whole of Belgium, by the time the bunch come through here the wind could be close to 45km/h. I’ll go for heaven, especially if the direction just comes round a little to the east.
Once all the fun is over the riders take on two full laps of an 11.5km circuit, which is well protected from the elements.
With 1.1km to go the bunch have to take a sharp left at this roundabout. Just as well the peloton will likely be small.
Then there is a right turn with 600m left.
The final bend comes with 400 remaining. Being on the inside is the best idea.
It’s not a question of it splits, it’s when. This is going to be a horrible day for riders who don’t cope well with windy conditions. Having two ascents of the Kemmelberg would normally make it 50/50 for the fast men, but the weather conditions mean that only the strongest will survive.
Nokere Koerse showed that chasing the morning break isn’t as easy as QuickStep make it look, it will be interesting to see who takes control of this race. Very few teams stand out as being super strong, it’s much like Wednesday all over again. In fact, the start list is one of the weakest I’ve seen for a while. Due to lots of races getting cancelled we’ve grown used to every race having lots of top riders, we’ve been spoiled.
Florian Sénéchal – the Frenchman starts as the standout rider, despite only having two pro wins to this name. One of the big problems he’ll face is QuickStep not having a strong team. These guys are so used to being extremely well protected by their domestiques; they only have to put their noses in the wind when they have to. Adapting to a new style of racing isn’t easy, but Sénéchal has a lot of quality and should be one of the favourites to win. After disappointing on Wednesday, the boys in blue will want to do better.
Nils Politt – the German has started his Bora career quite well, he was in the top 10 in both Omloop and Kuurne. He sometimes struggles when competing against the very best riders, but this race is wonderful opportunity for him to take a rare win. He copes well with cobbled climbs and echelons shouldn’t bother him too much. He has to start as one of the main favourites.
Mads Pedersen – most people seemed surprised that he’s not riding Milan-Sanremo, but I don’t think the Poggio suits him very well. The team have decided that he’s going to ride this race, as preparation for bigger goals in the next few weeks. After a tough Paris-Nice we’ll have to see how he’s recovered, especially considering how tough this race will be. Given his ability, he’ll start the race as the man to beat.
Jhonatan Narváez – he continues to impress in Belgian races, but he’s still not troubled the scoreboard. Will he continue to improve, or will the windy conditions be too much for him? It’s hard to tell as I don’t remember seeing the Ecuadorian race in echelons before. He’s coping well with the cobbles, and he should do well on the Kemmelberg, so this race should be good for him. He does pack a good sprint, but not up against a pure sprinter. Ineos don’t have a strong team, that makes it harder for him to win.
Ethan Hayter – I watched him quite closely on Wednesday, and was intrigued by what I saw. He sat at the back of the bunch for most of the race, clearly gambling on nothing happening and looking to save energy. Then all of a sudden he attacked in the closing 10km, but surprisingly didn’t manage to get across to the leaders. I doubt think that shows he’s got the form to win this race.
Jake Stewart – positioning seemed to be a slight issue on Wednesday, hopefully he learns from this and improves, but some of the fault needs to be shouldered by his teammates. The issue for the young Englishman will be surviving the Kemmelberg, but as it comes in the middle of the race he should be okay. If we get a sprint from a relatively small group of riders, he has a big chance of taking his first pro win.
Tim Merlier – if the wind doesn’t blow, and we get a sprint, then Merlier should be the winner.
I have no idea! The power puff start list increases the chances of an upset, but the poor weather conditions should help the strongest riders. I’ll go for Florian Sénéchal, he’s a rider who always impresses me.
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