By David Hunter
Kuurne – Kuurne 201km
Time for more fun!
As usual, this race dominated by the middle section. The climbs of the Kruisberg, Côte du Trieu and Oude Kwaremont will shape proceedings. Long time readers will all know of my love of the Kwaremont, my favourite climb in cycling. The two previous climbs are used to shape the bunch and Kwaremont sees a big split.
Now, coming with 84km to go, obviously means it isn’t the most important point in the race, but it does have a big impact on the next 50km. The sprinters who don’t climb well, take the Kwaremont at an easy tempo, letting the attackers build a good lead. The chase to bring them back cannot begin until after the Holstraat, with 68km remaining. At this point, their teammates hit the front and drive hard. Sometimes they bring them back, sometimes they don’t.
Up the road, we usually have a large break. This means we see riders start to argue with each other and it’s difficult to get the group working well. This is what usually happens, but not always. With Gaviria around, this could change in 2018.
We’ve also seen late attacks work well in this race. The lap circuit is full of opportunities to attack, something that happened in the last few years. Even if the break has a lead of 20 seconds, the peloton can never take it easy. In the break will be the best riders in the world, guys you don’t want to chase! Sprint teams beware.
This is the same issue the race throws up every year. We always see a large selection on the Kwaremont, featuring the best riders in the world. With the sprinter teams chasing from behind, the front group rarely work well together, even if one team is very well represented. However, if the group still has a lead when we hit the lap circuit, it is very difficult to close down the last metres. For the peloton to come back, we need to see cooperation between a few teams, but that depends on who misses the break.
Similar to today. We have sun, very cold temperatures and a relatively strong wind coming from the east. That means a headwind as the riders head to Brussels and a tailwind coming home, but with some areas where echelons could happen.
Open, windy and full of opportunities. If we get a sprint, the preparation is difficult. With narrow roads and crosswinds likely, the last 3km is difficult to get right. In an ideal world, you hit the front and still have two men in front of your sprint once through the final turn.
Fernando Gaviria – was a teammate today, but this race will be for him. QuickStep have decided to rest a number of their big riders, bringing in fresh legs after today’s efforts. After a good start to the season in South America, Gaviria will have targeted this race, it is a good one to have on your palmaires. A worry for the other teams, is that he arrives with Max Richeze. This usually ends in a win.
Dylan Groenewegen – another sprinter who’s enjoyed a fabulous start to the year, with three wins already. He arrives with his fantastic sprint train of Jansen and Roosen, they are a force to be reckoned with. I think Jumbo will throw all their weight behind their sprinter and try to chase down the break. Can he beat Gaviria?
Sam Bennett – his season didn’t start very well in Australia, a cold stopping him from competing in the sprints. He did bounce back to win the criterium race before the Cadel Evans road race, that would have helped his confidence. Like Gaviria and Groenewegen, he arrives with a strong sprint train to support him. The cold weather won’t bother him either, it’s something that he’s grown up with!
Magnus Cort Nielsen – can he continue the brilliant Astana run of form? He raced Omloop as a teammate, knowing that this was the race for him. With Valgren and Lutsenko in good form, they will make the front move after the Kwaremont. That means Cort can sit in the bunch and let others work, but will the break get caught? If he sprints, he’ll fancy reaching the podium.
Arnaud Démare – he has slimmed down his race programme, which means he’s only raced in Algarve and Omloop. Démare is a talent on cobbles, it wouldn’t suprise me to see him make the front group after the Kwaremont. The problem will be a lack of teammates. Will he go all in for the break or wait for the sprint?
Sonny Colbrelli – will be frustrated after today. The Italian looked in fine form, but it wasn’t to be. He moves into this race and has the same dilemma as Démare, as he’s strong enough to make the front move. Do you take it easy and hope that your team can chase the break? That’s the decision he’ll have to make. He won’t mind the cold and loves a hard day in the saddle, but it will be hard for him to win the sprint. Go for the break!
Sacha Modolo – still not on top form. Will wait for the sprint and could challenge for the top 5.
Greg Van Avermaet – looked very strong today, no shame in losing that one. BMC will set a fast pace and they will be interested in making sure the break stays away. Expect to see a number of teammates in the move and then they go full gas. Once in the lap circuit, GVA will use all of his knowledge to try and sneak away from his rivals. I expect a big performance from him.
Jasper Stuyven – was involved in a crash today, this meant he started the Muur in a poor position. He eventually sprinted to 4th place, showing that his legs were good. A former winner of this race, it does seem to get the best out of him. It would be a shock if he wasn’t challenging for the win.
Tiesj Benoot – another that impressed today. Fresh from altitude training, he looked very strong. He performed well here in 2017, it is a route that suits his style. A fast sprinter, he won’t mind a small sprint.
Sep Vanmarcke – brilliant today. His attack on the Muur was very impressive and he clearly has great legs. As I have previously pointed out, he is a rider that rarely wins. I’m not sure what it is, but he needs to crack it!
Matteo Trentin – don’t think he’ll be waiting for the sprint. Was good today, bridging over to the front group after the Muur. In this race, he could do with a teammate or two to help. Trentin broke his collarbone during winter, but he doesn’t seem to be suffering because of it. He should be contesting for the win.
Oli Naesen – considering he has a broken nose, that was a strong performance today. He was great here in 2017, but wasted vital energy by sprinting for a intermediate sprint and some extra cash. Naesen is a clever boy, he won’t be making a mistake like that again. AG2R also impressed me today, the new signings have started well. Naesen will be on a charge in this race.
Dylan Van Baarle – a mechanical at a bad time ruined his Omloop. The Sky man still managed to finish with the peloton, but he would have hoped to challenge for the win. With a little bit of extra motivation, expect to see him come firing back in this race. He doesn’t possess a great sprint, so needs to go long.
Alexey Lutsenko – was the perfect teammate today. After Valgren got clear, he covered a move by Trentin and that ensured the victory for his pal. I was very impressed by Lutsenko’s ride today, he clearly has amazing form just now. He’ll be in the front group and challenging for the win.
The break to stay away and Greg Van Avermaet to take the win. After today, he’ll be fired up!
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