By David Hunter
Blankenberge – Ardooie 182.3km
We head back to Ardooie, a regular finishing town in the Eneco Tour. This stage is all about the last 10km.
The finale really starts to heat up with 8km to go. With the last kilometre being ultra technical, the usual battle for position starts earlier than usual. Once the turn is made with 7km remaining, the peloton hit a wide road, but it does narrow down to one lane at times.
The next big rush is for the turn with 4km to go. Teams will make this part of the finish very fast, making it hard to move up the bunch. This is the opposite to the finish on Monday.
After this turn, teams will begin to swomp the front. The road condition is not great, but we do have enough space for one team on the pavement! The frantic battle for the front of the bunch is crucial, thanks to the corner with 1.4km remaining. After this turn, we have another two tight corners, making it impossible to move up the bunch.
Once the corners are finished, we have one kilometre to the finish. It is possible for a rider down in 10th place to still win, but not from further back. This is a stage for those with brilliant bike handling skills.
The last three winners here have been Boonen, Bouhanni and Renshaw. Although, Renshaw escaped from the bunch through the last corner. It’s not a finish that Greipel is now a fan of, but he did win here in 2011 and “won” the bunch sprint for 2nd, behind Renshaw, a year later.
Having a long sprint train is a disadvantage in a stage like this, as you will be too deep in the bunch. The corners make it much better for a short train to hit the front with 2km to go. Ideally you line the bunch out here, with 3 men in front of your sprinter. Crucially, as the corner approaches, the lead man pulls off and blocks the inside of the bend. That stops any crazy riders from jumping inside the rest of the bunch. Watch out for this move! This is the only way Greipel can win the stage and it’s a move the Lotto boys know well, but it relies on being on the front into the left hand corner. This is not easy to do.
Marcel Kittel – Etixx timed in perfectly in 2015, winning with Boonen. Kittel is not the best in these finishes, but he’s not the worse. With Tony Martin and Bob Jungels, they have the power needed to dominate the finish. The other thing in the favour of Kittel is his power sprint. He can make up a lot of ground, if he has to start sprinting from deep.
Andre Greipel – not really his type of finish anymore. Far too many corners inside the final 1.5km, he will lose the wheel of Debusschere, and that will be that.
Peter Sagan – oh yes! This is ideal for Sagan and I can’t wait to see what he can do. With Bodnar and Valgren, they can compete for the front of the bunch. That will leave Gatto to help out near the end, but only if Sagan needs him. The World Champion is amazing at looking after himself in tricky finishes.
Arnoud Demare – 2nd here in 2015, and FDJ looked very strong on Monday. They just seemed to lose their way inside the final kilometre, but they did impress me.
Nacer Bouhanni – won here in 2014, and was close on Monday. Cofidis didn’t get it right in the closing kilometres, leaving Bouhanni boxed in. He used his skills to move up the inside of the other riders, but lost due to his starting position. He’s a big threat in this type of finish.
Caleb Ewan – Orica are a team that are masters of the small sprint train. They almost got it right on Monday, but they lacked one more man. Ewan is also a brilliant bike handler, he grew up in the Aussie criterium environment, so he can handle this finish.
Edvald Boasson Hagen – strong, fast and good bike handler. The big Norwegian will go well.
Dylan Groenewegen – 5th here in 2015, when riding for Roompot. After a brilliant win on Monday, he’ll be flying and competing for another victory. Two in one race would be sensational.
Tom Boonen – won here last year, but arrives with Kittel! Do not be under any illusions, if the German losses his sprint train, Boonen will quickly fill his role. After some terrific recent results, a stage win would not be a surprise.
With the Worlds fast approaching, I wonder if any of the big sprinters will decide against sprinting. Whatever happens, I can’t see Sagan not having a huge say in the outcome of this race. Having three corners in quick succession is his ideal finish, and he clearly is in great form. I’ll go for Sagan, it might be his last win in the rainbow jersey.
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