By David Hunter
Quaregnon > Dour 205km
Hipsters go get the beard oil, it’s time for Le Samyn.
The route is very similar to last year, just a couple of slight alterations, the main one is in the closing kilometres.
With temperatures reaching 15 degrees, it’s going to feel like summer for the bunch. The wind won’t get above 10km/h, so it won’t have an impact. Just like in Omloop, the good weather increases the chances of a sprint finish.
Rue de vert Pignon is up first in the circuit. It is 1.4km in length, which is long for a cobbled sector, but the stones are easy and nothing to worry about for the pros.
Côte de la Roquette is next, it is 500m long and averages 4.1%. Uphill cobbles are always harder to deal with, this is a tricky section where differences can be made.
Almost immediately after comes Chemin de Wihéries, which is another rough sector, but only 400m long.
Things then settle down for a little bit until Côte de Nonettes which is another cobbled climb, this time it’s 300m at 4%, which is too short to make a big difference.
The final sector of the day is Rue de Belle Vue, which is also the hardest. It is 500m long and finishes with just 2.5km to go. Last year it looked like a race winning move went away here, but the lead group of 4 didn’t work together and they were caught inside the final kilometre.
The organisers have slightly changed the run up to the finishing line. The riders used to turn right and head through the side streets before re-joining the road that leads to the finishing line. This year they stay on the road, meaning a little more climbing, before heading left and heading through the streets. By the time they re-join the main street there is under 400m remaining.
This is a race that DQT like to dominate, they’ve won three of the last five editions. They normally try the same tactic they use very well in other races, split the group with continued attacks and get numbers up the road. Then take it in turns to attack and further slim the group down until they get into a winning position. This year that tactic might be a little difficult, they aren’t quite as strong as you would think, and the presence of Mathieu van der Poel looms large.
As we again witnessed on Sunday, MVDP doesn’t play by the normal rules, he makes it up as he goes along. With no disrespect to the race, it is “only” 1.1 which isn’t particularly high up in the great man’s ambitions, he’s here to get racing in his legs before Strade Bianche. However, if the opportunity to win the race comes along he’ll take it. I think he’ll ride an attacking race, he’s not the type to simply roll along in the bunch.
When we hit the lap circuit I would expect him to make his move, I don’t think he actually cares if anyone is good enough to come with him. This will allow his teammates back in the bunch an easy ride, which is good for them if it comes back together. Everyone knows what he’ll do, but responding isn’t easy. DQT will be one team who keep a close eye on him, they’ll want to move with him, otherwise they’ll be expected to do most of the work in the peloton.
DS Cycling Mole
For this race I’ve been invited to join up with Alpecin-Fenix, they need a hand managing MVDP.
Gather round lads, time for the boss to speak. This is a race which is all about the lap circuit, which we do on three occasions. Mathieu, are you listening? Do not attack with 80km to go. Did you hear me? Do not attack with 80km to go. Would you like me to write a note and stick it to your stem? If you ignore me, I’m going to get it tattooed on your wrist for future races.
Big man, you have my permission to attack from 50km to go. You’re here to get racing in the legs before Saturday, I know you don’t give a fuck if you win or not. When you go, I want you to go, absolutely smash it. The rest of you, it would be nice if one of you could stay in the peloton, otherwise I’ll take a lot of shit on social media, and we don’t want that. If the group somehow manage to catch the big man, we’ll decide on the road if we sprint for Timmy or Jasper.
DQT – Cavendish, Declercq, Hodeg, Sénéchal, Steels, Steimle and Van Lerberghe. Not a bad team. Declercq loves this race, it’s usually one of the few times in the season where he gets a chance to go for his first professional win, and I think we’d all love it if he did manage to cross the line first. The squad looks strong, but it’s not full of their big hitters. No doubt Sénéchal will be their main man, this is a race he’s won before, he’s an excellent rider on the cobbles. Hodeg will be their sprinter, but he didn’t cope very well last year, and was disappointing in KBK. Steimle is a strong rider, but his ability on the cobbles is a little unknown. Hopefully the team decide to free Tim!
Alpecin Fenix – not only do they have MVDP, but they also have Merlier and Philipsen. We’ll have to wait and see what the great man decides to do, but as both Merlier and Philipsen are very fast, it makes sense for him to attack early and blow the bunch to pieces. We’ll have to see which rider gets the nod in the sprint, but Philipsen hasn’t raced much this year due to what happened in the UAE Tour. The uphill grind to the line is very good news for him, he’s fast in this type of finish.
John Degenkolb – he looked brilliant on the Kwaremont; it was a strong start to the season. We all know he’s very good on the cobbles, the sectors in this race will be easy for him. Lotto Soudal have a young squad at this race, but Degenkolb is strong enough to follow the best riders, and he obviously has a fast finish. If his moves are unsuccessful, watch out or Gerben Thijssen in the sprint.
Aimé De Gendt – I was very impressed by his performance in Omloop. If you just look at the result, you might wonder why, as he finished in 28th position. As the bunch approached the Muur, he quickly moved himself up from the middle of the peloton to the front of the race, he then held his position very well on the climb, that was an indication of very good legs. This race is one he likes; he was 2nd in 2020 and 2019. It’s contract year for De Gendt, I would be amazed if he didn’t move on to a bigger team for 2022, he is a brilliant rider. He will prefer a tough race, but his fast sprint means he won’t be worried if a small group approach the line together.
Sep Vanmarcke – he was very strong in Omloop, but didn’t have a good day in KBK. Given his pedigree in cobbled races, Vanmarcke has to do well in this level of race. He’ll be used as an attacking option, with the team safe in the knowledge that they have the defending champion, Hugo Hofstetter, waiting for a sprint.
Dimi Claeys – he would prefer some horrible weather, but maybe his team can try and make the race selective. The Belgian is an underrated rider, but all you need to do is check his results in the toughest races to see what a talent he is. Jelle Wallays is another good option for the team.
Marc Sarreau – this is the type of race he should be winning. I’ve long been a fan of the French rider, his progression through the ranks has impressed me over the last couple of years. If the good weather means we get a sprint finish, he’ll be one of the fastest. It’s up to his team to make sure we get this outcome, but that won’t be easy.
Amaury Capiot – another rider who looks forward to this type of race. 12th in Omloop was a decent start to the year, but he should do better here. He copes well with the cobbles, and sprints fast, he should be looking to force his way into the top 5.
Jonas Iversby Hvideberg – what a ride by the young Norwegian in Kuurne, but he must be tired after an epic day out in the break. With world tour teams already circling, he’ll be off to the big time in 2022. Given the way he rode on Sunday, I hope to see him at the front of the race, showing everyone what he’s capable of.
I think the main man will attack from distance, and take a select group with him, but without anyone from his team. Then we’ll see some fun and games in the front group before Mathieu van der Poel takes the win.
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