By David Hunter
Sint Pieters Leeuw – Geraardsbergen 188.6km
This is my favourite stage of the week, thanks to the finish in Geraardsbergen. Such a shame it no longer features in the Tour of Flanders.
The riders know this stage well, thanks to it being a regular fixture in the race. Last year, when everyone was looking at Gilbert, BMC launched a stinging attack from Van Avermaet. He powered up the cobbled climb, to take an impressive victory. The Muur is 1.1km at 8.7%, the fact it’s on cobbles doubles the difficulty level. It really is a finish for the cobble specialists. The top 10 in 2014 was:-
Van Avermaet, Dumoulin, Brutt, Breschel, Boom, Terpstra, Thomas, Wellens, Pozzato and Gilbert.
In 2013, Stybar took the stage and the overall. He was in a class of his won and beat Ian Stannard for the stage. Familiar names finishing high were Boom, Quinziato, Kelderman, Pozzato, De Vreese, Bakelants, Grivko and Terpstra.
The finishing line is only half way up the Muur. It is 600m at 7.6%. The race to the bottom of the climb will be crazy. If you get to sneak away from the peloton, it is possible to take the stage and nullify the final climb. That’s something us fans don’t want.
The organisers have been clever and placed the golden kilometre, just after the Bosberg. It comes with 21km to go and will encourage plenty of attacks on the well known climb. The Bosberg is 1km at 6%. Like I’ve been saying all week, the golden kilometre does change how teams approach the race. I’m hoping for more attacking riding.
The lap circuit is hard and the peloton will be greatly reduced, by the time we reach the end. Being the final stage, the break has a fair chance of staying away. We have plenty of riders far down on GC and many teams will not fancy working on the front of the bunch. If we get the right mix of riders, the break will succeed.
The race has ended here since 2012. Lars Boom has finished 2nd, 3rd and 5th on the stage, in those years. His 2nd place in 2012 was enough to win the GC but Boom will be determined to final take this stage. He had a shocker today and has a chance to go in the break, I’m not sure if he has the form after today’s showing.
Niki Terpstra had his race ruined by bad luck. He arrived with great form and would have been targeting the GC and a stage win. This stage represents a huge opportunity for him and Etixx. Just like in 2014, they can send multiple rides in the break. I don’t see the peloton working hard to bring anyone back. Alaphilippe is sitting in 11th place, but he won’t be the focus. I think we’ll see quite a few Etixx riders in the break and Terpstra will be their main man.
BMC have not had the race they expected. Van Avermaet was like a man possessed today. Why an experienced rider would waste so much energy, I don’t know. He clearly had good legs but Wellens showed him how to ride clever. The youngster covered a few attacks and when he sensed the right moment, he made his move. GVA had seemed to conquer his tactical naivety but today was a step backwards.
Wellens was awesome. He had Benoot to cover attacks and I was really impressed by his own attack. To win this race, for two consecutive years, is a massive achievement. Yes, we still have a stage to go, but this race belongs to him. Lotto have the riders to control tomorrow, especially as GVA is over 1 minute down.
After Boom’s disaster, Astana look like coming away from the race, empty handed. Grivko and Lutsenko won’t be allowed in the break, I think they should turn to Lauren’s De Vreese. The Belgian likes this stage and would stand a good chance winning from the break.
Making the morning break is going to be hard and could take quite a while. However, it really is a break you would like to make. Expect to see Boonen, Terpstra, Vandenbergh, De Vreese, Stuyven, Quintana, Geschke, Quinziato and Brutt all trying to escape the pack.
The GC battle is over, this is all about stage glory. Etixx will get numbers in the break and as long as most teams are represented, the break wins. Etixx having numbers, just about guarantees their success, although we all remember times when they haven’t used the superior numbers well! I think an Etixx rider wins and I’ll go with Terpstra.
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