By David Hunter
Aywaille > Namur 210km
A lovely mix of narrow roads and little kickers, no wonder I love this race. It wasn’t raced last year, but it’s back this year and with a decent line up. Some are here to fine tune the form before the worlds, others are hunting for a win. The route is a little different to the last time we were here, it looks a little easier than previous editions.
It’s going to be grey and there is a chance of rain.
Tionne Aux Pierres crests with 21km to go, this is a very important point in the race. It might only be 3.2km at 4.9%, but it’s hard enough to see a selection being made.
The race ends with the usual ascent up to the citadelle, it really is rather beautiful. This year we have two ascents of the climb, but the first-time crests with 42km to go, it’s too far out to have an impact on the race. 2.3km at 5.1% doesn’t sound hard, but when the bunch are flying up it, the legs will be burning. Unfortunately we’re doing the climb from a different side this year, that means no cobbles, which makes it a lot easier.
This race has long been a battle between the puncheurs and the fast men, this year is no different. With the world championships just around the corner, some of the fast men arrive in brilliant climbing form. It’s up to teams like ISUN, AG2R, Lotto Soudal and DSM to make this a hard race. We have quite a lot of climbs in the final half of the race, it is possible to blunt the sprint of the fast men.
Normally in this race we see lots of attacks and strong groups getting off the front of the bunch. If you miss it, you chase hard and bring it back. The constant attacking hurts the sprinters, they want a structured day, one where the early break is gradually brought back, and we get a sprint up to the citadelle. We’ll see what type of race we get.
Christophe Laporte – he performed very well in the Benelux Tour; the Frenchman starts this race as one of the big favourites. He is the perfect type of rider for a finish like this, he copes well with short climbs and has a fast uphill sprint. His team haven’t always been strong enough to support him in races like this, but Cofidis will be confident that the likes of Geschke, Rochas and Lafay should be around in the closing stages.
Ben Hermans – he had some legs on Sunday in Trento, he’ll be hoping for more of the same here. In recent months we’ve seen the Belgian at his best, he was rewarded with a new 2-year contract with the team. This type of race is very good for him, he’ll want his team to make things hard and put the faster men into difficulty.
Greg Van Avermaet – after a decent spring, Greg has struggled to reach the levels we expect of him in the summer months. He’s said that it could be a reaction to the COVID vaccine, something other riders have also mentioned. There is certainly something stopping him from reaching his usual level, maybe AG2R will look towards Dorian Godon.
Nils Politt – the German is in brilliant form, recently winning a stage and GC in his home tour, that followed up a stunning win in the Tour de France. Bora arrive with a strong squad but given his recent form it should be Politt as the main protected rider. We’ll see if he has the punch required to win this race.
Tim Wellens – he won here back in 2017, it’s a race that suits him well. His form is building nicely, he was 6th in Poland and 4th in the Benelux Tour, he seems to be finding that extra something that’s been missing in previous months. Lotto Soudal always go well in this race, Wellens will be hoping to take the win.
Tosh Van Der Sande – he provides Lotto with a brilliant second option. They have Wellens to attack from distance, and Tosh waiting in the wings for a sprint. An uphill finish is great for him, I remember fondly his win in Thuin in 2019. A win in this race would be the perfect way to finish his Lotto Soudal career.
Tiesj Benoot – current form is very good; he must start as one of the favourites. Tiesj was very unlucky in the Benelux Tour, puncturing twice in the crucial GC stage. He was here in 2017 and 2016, both times a teammate won the race and he finished in the top 10. He’ll see this as a big chance to take his fourth pro win, and he looks like he’s got a good team to support him.
Giacomo Nizzolo – wants selected for the worlds, a good performance here would help. If the pace throughout the day is easy, he’ll have a chance of taking the win. If the race is hard, the team will look to Victor Campenaerts, a rider in fine form.
Rasmus Tiller – I love the big man! He’s been brilliant in all cobbled races this season; he’ll be disappointed that the finish isn’t on cobbles. He has a huge frame, that could be a disadvantage on the final climb, but he does climb well.
Gianni Vermeersch – I need to include an Alpecin-Fenix rider in my contenders, they’ve punched above their weight this year. Looking at their line-up, Vermeersch should be their best option, but winning will be hard.
Aimé De Gendt – he approached the Benelux Tour in fine form, and he looked strong in the final stage. The cobbled finish is good news for him, he’s a rider who usually goes well on the Muur, this finish won’t scare him.
Biniam Ghirmay Hailu – form is very good and he’ll benefit from the lack of cobbles at the finish. This is a big chance for the youngster to take his second win for his new team.
The route looks easier than previous years, it should be held together for a grandstand finish. Positioning on the climb is key, as is a fast sprint, so I’m going to take a win for Christophe Laporte.
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