By David Hunter
Aalter – St Pieters Leeuw 202km
The race starts to get a little bit harder for the sprinters.
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As you can see the route is hard. First we have some cobbles:
Paddestraat 2300 m
Lippenhovestraat 1300 m
Vollezel 300 m
Schavolliestraat 1600 m
Brabantseban 1900 m
Nachtegaalstraat 800 m
We also have three climbs that are completed as part of a circuit:-
Drasop – 1.2km at 5.5%.
Alsemberg – 1.2km at 4%.
Bruine Put – 900m at 8.2%.
The final climb is the one where the race could split up, but it crests with 12.4km remaining(the race book says 13.7km), so it will be hard to stay away. That is what you would normally think!
The Golden Kilometre
I could kiss the organisers. They have placed the start of “bonus street” just 100m into the final climb. This will ensure lots of attacks, something I can’t wait to see.
Don’t see this being a breakaway day, too many teams want a stage win and bonus seconds. Expect some attacks on the first ascent of Bruine Put, this will soften the legs of the domestiques. Second time up will be chaos. If a rider can escape and claim crucial bonus seconds, the pressure will be turned up on Rohan Dennis.
The only problem for any willing escapee, is the presence of Greg Van Avermaet. It’s very hard to see any rider being able to gap him on the climb, this provides BMC with a wonderful insurance policy.
With the TTT coming on Friday, teams have to try and distance Dennis. This will not be easy, as he is climbing well, but it could happen. The best chance for the others is to form a small group, but it must have Van Avermaet in it to succeed. You might need to sacrifice a stage win, in order to eliminate Dennis from the GC battle.
The sprinters also have a chance. A move will go away on the final climb, it will be up to their teams to bring it back. A few of the sprinters will find the final climb too hard, but plenty of quick men will cope with it.
Slightly uphill, with no corners to worry about.
Peter Sagan – his win has moved him within 3 seconds of Rohan Dennis. I cannot see how Sagan won’t claim the race lead after this stage. With the golden kilometre and seconds available at the finish, it is very much in the interests of Tinkoff to make the race very hard. Sagan will not be waiting for the sprint, he will attack near the top of the final climb. He’ll then take his chances from a small group.
Greg Van Avermaet – the Olympic champion is in the ideal position. He can follow the attacks on the climb and then refuse to do any work, saying he is anchoring the move for Dennis. That would leave him fresh for the sprint.
Tim Wellens – knows it is very hard for him to retain his title, but a stage win is within his capabilities. He doesn’t have much of a sprint, but if he gets in a small group, Wellens can surprise and solo home.
Tom Boonen – this is a wonderful stage for Boonen. Etixx have Kittel, but he will find the final hill difficult. They will also want representation in the late move, we shall have to see if that is Terpstra or Boonen, maybe both! He is going very well just now and would love a stage win in Belgium.
Oliver Naesen – legs of steel just now. IAM have multiple options, with Elmiger, Devenyns and Naesen all high on GC. It would be great to see Naesen attack on the final climb. He also packs a mean sprint!
Michael Matthews – will cope with the hills and can sprint fast, but I just don’t see him winning.
Alexander Kristoff – his type of stage, but needs the race to come back together. He will hope the hills shed the fastest sprinters, allowing him to compete against the rest. If Greipel and Kittel are dropped, the Norwegian has a big chance.
John Degenkolb – similar to Kristoff. He needs the fast men to not be there.
Andre Greipel – given his lack of sprinting in the opening stages, the Gorilla should really be up for this stage. A fan of the classics, the climbs shouldn’t be a problem. A reduced sprint would be much better for him, given his last two efforts.
Nacer Bouhanni – not a bad climber, and he’ll be very determined after his two podium places.
Danny Van Poppel – was outstanding today, a big surprise. He loves stages that involve some climbing, so don’t expect him to be dropped.
Dylan Groenewegen – won a tough stage in the Tour of Britain. I can’t see him being dropped and he does have a sprint faster than a lot of riders.
I expect the late attack to stay away, as quite a few teams will be represented. The peloton will look at each other and wait to see who starts chasing. With a solid group up the road, they will be too strong to bring back. In that group, I would expect to see Sagan and GVA. As he can stay fresh, I think Van Avermaet will take the win, with Sagan moving into the race lead.
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