By David Hunter
Chartres – Tours 211.5km
Route change alert!
The organisers have decided to have some fun and totally change the final of the race. Like usual, we have a flat run towards Tours, but we now have 9 sections of gravel roads. I’m told that most of the gravel roads aren’t too hard, but the AG2R boys suffered lots of punctures when they did their recon.
The action will really kick off from the 175km mark. Over the next 14km we have nearly 10km of gravel roads, that sounds like chaos. Not only that, but we have a number of short climbs to deal with:-
171.6km – Côte de Goguenne 700m at 5.8%.
176.2km – Cöte de Montfort 700m at 4.5%.
183.4km – Cöte de La Rochère 400m at 10.7%(not only steep, but ridiculously narrow!).
189.2km – Cöte de La Valléè Chartier 700m at 5.8%.
194.6km – Cöte de Vouvray 500m at 5.3%.
201.3km – Cöte de Rochecorbon 800m at 4.7%.
With many exposed roads, it doesn’t take much to split this race. The wind will be moderate and coming from the north, meaning a tailwind for the majority of the day. As the peloton head west towards Tours, there will be chances to split the race. Quite a few of the gravel roads head west, making it perfect for echelon action!
The forecasters are also predicting rain for the race. Rain, wind, gravel road and short climbs…perfect!
Once into the gravel road sections, the roads are incredibly narrow. The battle for position will be fierce as all the favourites will want to stay near the front for the final 30km. Poor positioning on a gravel sector could cost you the race.
It’s not looking very good for the quick men. With so many little climbs and tough gravel sectors, life will be very difficult for any team to control. Some of the sprinters will be near the front of the race, but I don’t see a large sprint finish.
Oli Naesen – form is great just now. In his last 9 races, he’s only been outside the top 10 on 2 occasions. Over this period he’s managed one win and two third places, it certainly has been a good end to 2018. Oli had his classics campaign dogged by bad luck, he just couldn’t buy a break. Now free from misfortune, he looks like one of the main favourites for this race. Being in France, AG2R will be extra motivated to do well and he’s their top boy. Another top 10 is guaranteed, but can he take the win?
Tiesj Benoot – didn’t enjoy himself on Sunday, but that was a week ago. Benoot was in sparkling form in Tour de l’Eurométropole, but was just pipped on the line. This followed a frustrating Vuelta, where a crash and antibiotics ruined his hopes of winning a stage. We all remember his brilliant win in Strade Bianche, the gravel roads won’t pose any problems for Tiesj.
Philippe Gilbert – I was surprised to see him winning GP d’Isbergues, his first race back after his crash in the Tour de France. He was racing in Binche on Tuesday, but was in a domestique role for his teammates. The profile of this race is perfect for the Belgian, but what role will he play? QuickStep have Gilbert, Lampaert and Terpstra, which means they’ll have lots of options in the closing stages. Does Gilbert have enough racing in his legs to compete for the win?
Soren Kragh Andersen – can the Dane squeeze one last performance out of his season? 2018 has been a good year for the Sunweb rider and he was 2nd here last year, but was in an impossible position against Trentin and Teprstra. His fast sprint is a massive worry to the other contenders, they won’t be happy taking him to the line.
Arnaud Démare – in recent races we’ve seen him try and go toe to toe with the attackers, but it’s not worked out for him. It’s been interesting to see him not simply waiting for the sprints, something I do admire, even if it hasn’t worked. Going into this race, he’ll have to adopt the same strategy and hope that it works. The Frenchman has gone close in this race, but there hasn’t been a French winner since 2006. Can he make the home fans happy?
Timo Roosen – another rider who has enjoyed a fine season. Most of the year he’s been crucial for Dylan Groenewegen, but when given freedom he hasn’t disappointed. Top 5 performances in the recent Canadian races was an indication of what he might go on to achieve in the future and this is one of those races he could do well in. With Groenewegen also competing, we’ll have to wait and see how Jumbo approach the race, but I hope that Roosen has some freedom.
Taco van der Hoorn – after a large portion of his season was ruined by his recovery from concussion, the Roompot rider has been in amazing form since the Binck Bank Tour. His breakaway win in that race was great to watch and he’s followed that up with a win in the Primus Classic and top 5 performances in Binche, Antwerp and Druivenkoers-Overijse. This fine form has seen him sign a contract with Jumbo and 2019 will see him step up into the world tour. Can he land one last result for Roompot?
QuickStep v Everyone else, sounds like groundhog day! Looking at recent form, I’m going with Oli Naesen. He’s currently riding better than he’s ever done before.
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