By David Hunter
Kuurne – Kuurne 202km
Now, this is interesting.
Change of route alert! In come the climbs of Mont Saint Laurent and La Houppe(harder side), in order to try and make the central section of the race a little harder. The organisers have also decided to take a different route back towards Kuurne, which means that the Tiegemberg and Nokereberg are out. The biggest difference is that the riders now only do one lap of the circuit to finish, which cuts the distance from the top of the Oude Kwaremont to the finish down from 85km to 59km.
I’m glad the organisers have decided to change the route, it certainly makes it more appealing for the non-sprinters. In previous years we’ve witnessed a rather predictable race, where a large group go away on the Kwaremont, and we get a big chase from the sprint teams. The headwind means the break usually get caught, but late moves have seen success for Stuyven and Jungels. The new route means that the break which establishes on the Kwaremont have a much better chance of succeeding, but the sprinters still have a hope of fighting it out for the win.
The wind won’t be quite as strong as it was for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but it will still be bloody strong. Coming from the south-west, we’ll see gusts of 40km/h, which is plenty strong to break the race up. The biggest problem could be the rain, with some forecasts suggesting a very wet day for the bunch.
For this race we are joined by Cees Bol of Team Sunweb. The hugely talented sprinter recently took an impressive win in the Volta ao Algarve, beating the likes of Fabio Jakobsen. This man mountain is going places, he’ll be one of the very best in the world in no time at all. Mark my words!
This is your first time at KBK, what do you know about the race?
“I know the race from watching it and seeing old results. I also reconed the old course in December, the new course was made public a week after I was there. I reconed the new one this week, now I know everything I need to.”
How much of a boost was your recent win in the Algarve?
“A win is always a boost for confidence, but especially the good legs I felt during the week was good for the morale.”
The route has been made harder this year, but the sprinters still have a chance. How do you see the race going?
“It’s hard to predict the race, also because of the weather forecast. It can be a sprint, but history has proven that smaller groups or a strong soloist can make it as well.”
You handle the climbs quite well. How do you think you’ll cope with the Kwaremont?
“The Oude Kwaremont is a nasty climb. I like cobbled climbs more than asphalt, normally it suits me better.”
What are your hopes for the race?
“I hope for a top result. However, I need some luck with the form of the day and the way the race unfolds. We also have Søren who will race more attacking, so we can play both cards as a team.”
Mont Saint Laurent is a new climb for the race, and I love the look of it. Not only is it 1.1km at 7.4% but the toughest section of the climb is on rough looking cobbles. This is the second hardest climb in Flanders.
The next hard climb is the Kanarieberg, another toughie!
By the time the peloton face the Côte du Trieu the racing is usually full gas. A group can escape the peloton near the crest of the climb.
Oude Kwaremont, my favourite climb in cycling. The numbers don’t do it justice, 2.1km at 4.4%, but we all know just how hard this is.
It depends on when the race splits in the wind. A lot of this race takes place on exposed roads, I simply cannot list all the points where the race can be blown apart. What might put teams off doing this early is the headwind that follows. Saying that, some teams will simply want a hard race from the gun to destroy the legs of the sprinters. When the organisers changed the route heading back towards Kuurne, they deliberately chose a road that would be perfect for echelons. With 46km to go, the riders turn right, and hit a full crosswind.
Narrow road + Crosswind = Carnage. Now, at this point in the race the large break will still be up the road, with the peloton chasing. The crosswind means the peloton will be blown to pieces and it will be very hard for them to get the chase going again. The weather conditions mean a big sprint isn’t very likely, as long as the forecasts are correct.
Remember, the front group after the Kwaremont is usually quite big, we’re talking around 20-30 riders or so. When they hit this section, it will be a chance to slim down that front group so it only contains the strongest riders, there could well be some fast men in there. If this happens, we could well see a fascinating final 30km of the race, with few riders in contention for the win.
In these conditions the strongest teams always come out on top. QuickStep are the obvious squad to focus on, they have Jungels, Štybar, Asgreen and Lampaert. What I find interesting is that most teams look rather weak to me, they lack the depth I would expect in this race. Joining Quickstep at the front of the race will be CCC, Sunweb, Trek and maybe Ineos.
QuickStep – they have four outstanding attacking options, and Fabio Jakobsen for the sprint, they’ve got all the bases covered. Big classics races like this usually are dictated by QuickStep, they always seem to get what they want. It will be fascinating to see how they approach this race, as they could try to hold it all together for a sprint, or turn it into a brutal day in the saddle. Jakobsen can handle the windy conditions, and his climbing is improving too. Can he make the front group after the Kwaremont? If he does, I think we’ll see QuickStep ride for him. If he doesn’t, expect to see Lampaert, Jungels, Štybar and Asgreen given the freedom to attack and cause chaos.
CCC – Van Avermaet and Trentin are two strong options for this race. Trentin will be tired after today, GVA should be relatively fresh. This isn’t a race Van Avermaet has a good record in, he always finds himself marked out by the other squads. The problem is that we don’t have any climbs near the end of the race, he needs this to break away from the others. This will be a tough race for CCC to win.
Trek – they took a brilliant win today, what a difference a year makes. Stuyven’s win will have filled the team full of confidence, and they’ll arrive in Kuurne with a swagger about them. No one has ever won the double, that means Pedersen should be given freedom to chase personal glory. He looked okay today, but I doubt he’s strong enough to win this one.
Sunweb – Cees Bol and Søren Kragh Andersen are two strong cards to play in this race. SKA had a disappointing 2019, much due to injury. Bol, as you’ve already read, is a rider who I have high hopes for. The big Dutch sprinter certainly won’t mind the wind blowing, cast your mind back to last year’s Gent-Wevelgem, he was in the big break that day. He would prefer a sprint finish, but I’m not sure we’ll get one this year. Kragh Andersen was strong today, he clearly enjoyed his training on Mount Teide. He looked empty at the end of the race, which will have an impact in this one. Bol is a serious contender for this race, but can his team hold the race together?
Ineos – Doull was second here last year, which was a big surprise. They arrive with a group of riders who won’t mind a tough day out in the saddle, especially the likes of Doull, Stannard and Rowe. The squad have never done much in the classics, but they’ve spoken about trying to put that right. One issue they have is the standard of their protected riders, they simply don’t match up to the big favourites at this race.
NTT – Valgren and Boasson Hagen, with Nizzolo for the sprint. NTT have a solid enough looking squad for this race. You wouldn’t have them as the big favourites for the race, but they certainly have a chance of tasting success.
Oli Naesen – he’ll make the front group after the Kwaremont, we’ll then get to see how he goes about beating the teams with multiple riders. Naesen will hope to see some of his teammates in the attack, but there is no guarantee this happens. He’ll have been frustrated by today, hopefully he can use that motivation to spur him on here. Such a strong rider, a big win is surely just around the corner.
Dimi Claeys – loves a tough day in the saddle. The Cofidis rider is one that usually flies under the radar, but I appreciate him. If the wind makes it selective, he’ll be in the front group looking to take advantage of any tactical mistakes by the bigger teams.
Niki Terpstra – will he ever get back to his QuickStep form? This is exactly the type of race he should be doing well in, especially with the weather forecast. Terpstra is one of the best riders in crosswinds, the harder it gets, the better he is. This could well be the race he returns to his old level.
Sprinters – aside from Jakobsen and Bol, we have Kristoff, Philipsen, Merlier, Colbrelli, Degenkolb, Nizzolo, Van Poppel and Halvorsen. Of these riders, you would expect Kristoff and Colbrelli to handle the tough conditions, and the climbing, but there is no guarantee. It is very hard to tell if the race will end in a sprint, but if it does, Jakobsen will be hard to beat.
QuickStep are by far the strongest team at this race, which should spell danger for everyone else. Lampaert went very deep today, I doubt he’ll be fresh enough to win the next day. Looking at the rest of their riders, I’ll go with Zdenek Štybar, as I can’t see it being a sprint.
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