Nokere Koerse 2018 Preview

By David Hunter

Deinze – Nokere 191km

After a week of racing in France and Italy, we head back to Belgium.

The race is made up of two different lap circuits, both containing cobbles and the climb of Nokereberg. This cobbled climb is 350m at 5.7% and contains the finishing line.

The first of the lap circuits is 14.2km long and is covered four times. This lap also contains the cobbled sector, Herlegenstraat.

The closing circuit is 29.3km long and is covered twice. This lap features three extra sections of cobbles. This is an interesting change for the organisers to do, in previous years we’ve only had the 14.2km lap. The introduction of more cobbles will certainly interest those that don’t want a sprint finish. The cobbles have been used in Omloop, but covered in the opposite direction. They aren’t overly difficult, but there should be enough of a challenge to hurt the sprinters.

New Cobbles

Lange Aststraat – only 400m long, but it does kick uphill.

Huisepontweg – the longest sector, at 1.8km, but this is an easy section.

Kouterstraat – still very short, at just 300m long, but this is a very narrow section of road. It ends with just 4.5km to go and coming straight after the Huisepontweg section, this is where the difference can be made.

Weather

After a few rainy days, the weather is to be much better for the race. The peloton should be blessed with sunshine and a little wind. The wind is coming from the south-east. It should be strong enough for some teams to put it in the gutter, but I’m not sure if we’ll see echelons.

Tactics

I do like this new lap. This race is usually one that favours the sprinters, but the extra cobbled sectors is bad news for them. The shorter lap will see the usual attacks, but I don’t think the racing will really begin until the final 40km.

In recent “smaller” races, QuickStep have been able to bully their opponents, but this won’t happen here. They will be joined by BMC, Sky and Sunweb. It means that the Belgians will need to think carefully about their tactics as the other teams also have a lot of strength.

BMC have arrived without a sprinter, expect to see them launch many attacks in the closing laps. They will look to slim the bunch down and then launch a big attack in the last 10km. This is where the teams who want a sprint will have to be very careful. If a move contains all of the big teams, it is unlikely to see it getting brought back.

Contenders

Florian Sénéchal – after some recent health issues, it’s time for the new QuickStep man to deliver. He’s only 24 years old and must have received a huge confidence boost when QuickStep came calling. He always looked a great prospect and his time at Cofidis was successful. He is a solid rider over the cobbles, finishing 12th in the 2017 edition of Paris-Roubaix. He was 2nd in the recent Dwars door West-Vlaanderen, “allowing” his teammate to take the win. After being a good teammate, this race will be for him.

Loïc Vliegen – BMC have a youthful squad with them. Vliegen has now been around for a few years and it’s about time he took some big results. He’s been close on a number of occasions and I think we’ll see him take a step forward this year.

Luke Rowe – as the Welshman recovers from his broken leg, he’s firmly in the Sky B team. Considering his lay off, I was really impressed with him in Abu Dhabi. Given the cobbles in this race, it is perfect for Rowe. Team Sky have a few different options, but I’d like to see Rowe given freedom to attack.

Frantisek Sisr – fresh from winning Ronde van Drenthe, the CCC man will be full of confidence. Clearly on good form, he was 11th here in 2017. Given the better standard of rider compared to Drenthe, it will be hard for him to win this race.

Zico Waeytens – he’s taken a step down in 2018, moving from the World Tour to pro-conti level. Waeytens is a hugely talented rider, but just hasn’t been able to fulfil his huge potential. The move down will hopefully provide him with more opportunities and it would be great to see him challenging for the win. His start to the season has been disrupted, he needs some racing before the classics.

Damien Gaudin – he was brilliant in Le Samyn, but could only manage 3rd against the power of QuickStep. The Frenchman is an amazing rider on cobbles and this finish is good for him. Direct Energie have the winning habit, can he continue the run?

Edward Theuns – had to abandon Paris-Nice due to illness, we will have to wait and see how his body has responded. If 100%, he would be my favourite for the race. Brilliant on cobbles and packs a fast sprint, a dangerous combination for this race.

Kristoffer Halvorsen – should be Team Sky’s sprinter, he was 2nd here in 2016. The Norwegian is just starting to find his feet at his new employers, a win would certainly help with his confidence.

Bryan Coquard – a win in Oman lifted the considerable pressure on his shoulders. The little Frenchman is going to find life harder riding for Vital Concept, they just aren’t as strong as Direct Energie. He’s good on cobbles and he’ll like the uphill sprint, but will the race end in a sprint?

Timothy Dupont – endured a horrible 2017 with Vérandas Willems-Crelan, but his move to Wanty seems to have breathed new life back into this career. Dupont has always been a fast finisher, but his professionalism has been questioned. This season has seen him enjoy some good results, but he’s yet to win. Winner of this race in 2016, he would love to take the title home with him.

Sean De Bie – moved from Lotto to Vérandas Willems-Crelan, he’s immediately started with a bang. De Bie won the uphill sprint in Etoile de Bessèges, a very impressive victory. He moved from Lotto to get more leadership opportunities and seems to be enjoying the extra responsibility. They arrive with a very strong team, it’s not every day a pro-conti squad has three riders like De Bie, Waeytens and Van Aert.

Amaury Capiot – after injury destroyed 2017, Capiot is back to old ways. The 24 year old is a sensational rider and a good season will help him make the step to the World Tour in 2019. He has a fast sprint, but he’s much more than “just” a sprinter. Capiot will be very keen to show off his form and impress those watching from World Tour teams.

Prediction Time

The local lap will split the race up, especially final time around. Expect a small group of riders to arrive together, with Florian Sénéchal taking the win for QuickStep.

David Hunter

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