By David Hunter
Leuven > Overijse 202km
The race that provides an excellent transition from Flanders to the Ardennes. Due to roadworks we have a slight change to the lap circuit.
The 22km lap circuit is rammed full of crucial points, first up is the Hagaard, which is 300m at 10%.
This is quickly followed by the Hertsraat which is 700m at 4.5%, and it’s a cobbled climb. The organisers open up the gutter which makes it a selective point in the race.
The Moskesstraat was introduced to the race in 2020, it’s a brutally steep cobbled climb, 550m at 9%. Big moves can go here, gaps can be made between the favourites. Since last year the road has been resurfaced, you can see it’s much smoother than it used to be, which is a shame.
The Holstheide is 955m at 5.4%, this is where weaker riders can be dropped from the front group.
This is where the change is. Out goes the Schavei climb and in comes Brusselsesteenweg, which is 1km at 4%. This is a little easier than before, but it’s still a tough way to finish the race. The finishing line comes just over the crest of this hill.
Cloudy sunshine, but a little on the chilly side.
No van der Poel or Alaphilippe, the two riders who dominated the race last year, which opens the race up a bit. No Paris-Roubaix also means we see some riders at the race who wouldn’t normally be here, quite a few have a realistic chance of challenging for the win.
The big problem for everyone is the presence of Wout Van Aert, he’s the massive favourite to take the win. The big problem for him is Jumbo-Visma arrive with an inexperienced squad for this race, he could lack support in the final lap but I’m sure the team will hope that Eenkhoorn and Roosen can last deep into the race.
The strongest team is Deceuninck – Quick Step, yet again! They might not have Alaphilippe, but they do have Cavagna, Lampaert, Honoré and Sénéchal as potential winners. Having a number of options really does give them the upper hand, this is a race where we see groups going up the road on a regular basis. The Belgians can play the numbers game, ensuring they are always represented in the moves, forcing others into chasing and ultimately burning through their domestiques. They don’t have the big favourite, but we’ve seen for many years that if they get multiple riders in the front group they can win.
Looking to try and keep the race together will be the teams who have a sprinter. Riders like Michael Matthews and Sonny Colbrelli always go well here, the hills are short enough that sprinters can survive, but only if they have good climbing legs. This means we’ll see BikeExchange look to control the race and stop the breakaway from winning, but what will Van Aert do? Will he ride the race conservatively and go for the sprint? Will he go full out attack? If he attacks, his teammates won’t be able to follow, which will leave him isolated in the front group. I think we’ll see him let his team try to control until the final lap, then he’ll decide how he needs to approach the finale of the race.
Bahrain look very strong to me, nearly as good as DQT. Colbrelli loves this race, but they also have Mohorič and Teuns, two riders who should enjoy this one. This will allow Bahrain to join in with the attacks, they don’t have to gamble on Colbrelli winning from a sprint. I would expect to see Bahrain and Deceuninck – Quick Step dictate the type of race we get.
Wout Van Aert – he did win Gent-Wevelgem, but I guess he’ll be a little disappointed with his results in one day races this season. He was in the winning group in both E3 and Flanders, but blew up on both occasions. He’s had a little time to rest and recover for this race and Amstel Gold, before he disappears up to altitude and focuses on helping Roglič win the yellow jersey. With just two races left to chase personal glory you can bet his motivation will still be high, but how much does he have left in the tank? The same can be said for all the classics riders, after such a demanding spell can they dig deep again? This race is tough, but it should still be well within his capabilities, especially as he was able to have a little rest after Flanders, the cancellation of Roubaix might just have been a blessing in disguise. He starts the race as the big favourite, but winning will be tough, hopefully we see him on the attack in the final 30km.
Deceuninck – Quick Step – so many options, which is great for this race. Honoré is in terrific form, this is a race that suits him well. Then we have Lampaert who must be frustrated by his results this year, he’s look in great form, but that hasn’t translated into victories. No Roubaix means this race becomes a target for him, he should like the punchy hills, I think they suit him. Sénéchal provides them with a sprint option, but he can also attack and make the race hard, and don’t forget Cavagna. The Frenchman has a huge engine and he’ll surely be used to make the race hard as soon as we hit the lap circuit. Can DQT pull off another tactical masterclass?
Bahrain – they have Colbrelli, Teuns and Mohorič, which is a strong looking team to me. Colbrelli is a former winner of this race and always goes well here, he’ll benefit from having strong teammates. Teuns has impressed me at times this year, but he’s another who doesn’t have the results his form justified. The Ardennes are his cup of tea, I think he’s not far from top form. Mohorič was very close to a win in Catalunya, he’s another who seems to be hitting form, and he’ll love the look of this race. We have lots of climbing, which means we also have lots of descending. Bahrain are looking ominously strong.
Trek – Segafredo – Stuyven and Theuns will be their protected riders, and both should go well here. Stuyven has performed well in the classics, he won Sanremo, was 10th in DDV and 4th in Flanders. He’s another rider who normally wouldn’t ride this race, but the cancellation of Roubaix allows him to do so. He climbs well and has a fast sprint, perfect for this race. Theuns has similar qualities to him, he made the initial front group last year, but couldn’t follow the big attacks by van der Poel and Alaphilippe. Both Stuyven and Theuns are great one day racers, they’ll be hoping to challenge for the win.
Michael Matthews – Flanders didn’t go according to plan, but he has lots of chances to make up for that in the upcoming races. He was second here in both 2014 and 2015, it’s a race that suits him well. Since then he’s developed into more of a puncheur, he rarely waits for the sprint anymore. The Aussie will want the race to be selective, but he’ll find it hard to beat Van Aert in a sprint, but everyone has that problem. BikeExchange will need to ride a great race if Matthews is going to take the win.
Greg Van Avermaet – 3rd in Flanders was a good result, his best ever at the race. No Roubaix allows him to line up here, and I expect to see him at his attacking best. He would like the climbs to be a little harder, but his current form is good, and he should be capable of challenging for the win.
Christophe Laporte – he’s enjoying a fine run of form, but winning big races like this will always be hard for him due to a lack of team support. This season we’ve seen him climbing very well, he will expect to be challenging for the win, but I doubt we’ll see him crossing the line first.
Valentin Madouas – after a shaky start to the season, I seem some signs of form. The Frenchman is a wonderful talent, but he will have been frustrated by his form this season. Flanders was a little better, and we now reach a period of races that suit him well. He’s not one of the big favourites, but he could surprise.
Tom Pidcock – after going very well in Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo he must be a little flat after E3, DDV and Flanders. Given his amazing talent expectations were always going to be very high for him, but remember he’s only 21 and still very inexperienced on the road. I’m not sure how much he’ll have left in the tank, but this race does suit him well. If not him, Ineos also have Carapaz at the race, which I’m excited about.
Sep Vanmarcke – 3rd in Omloop, 4th in Kuurne and 5th in Flanders, Sep can be happy with his season so far. He seems to be sprinting faster than before, which is good to see. Given his current form this race should be one he performs well in, but he rarely wins.
Anthony Turgis – after another consistent classics campaign, time to see if he can get a win. The problem he faces in races like this one is a lack of support from his teammates, winning will take good legs and a lot of luck.
Van Aert is a deserving favourite, but I do worry he’ll find himself outnumbered in the front group. I think we’ll see one of the stronger teams taking the win, I’ll go for Matej Mohorič.
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