By David Hunter
The Tour de France is over, we head to Belgium.
The route looks a good one to me. This race has been dominated by Belgian riders over the last decade, probably not a surprise to most. This year we have a couple of potential sprint stages, and three lumpy days. It promises to give us exciting racing.
The opening stage is likely to end in a big sprint. We do have several little hills, but I’d be surprised to see many riders dropped.
The start of the GC battle with 4 cat 1 climbs. We do Côte de la Redoute, but it crests over 50km from the finish. This means the stage might not be as selective as you think, but it depends on how they race it. Please note that tis stage is likely to change due to the recent floods in the area. UPDATE: This stage has been cancelled due to the recent flooding in the area.
With a cat 1 climb cresting with 9km to go, this stage should see a significant selection. Côte de Beffe is a tough little climb, and we also have a tricky uphill finish. This finish was used last year, it was surprisingly won by Arnaud Démare.
We have some nice-looking cobbles with 25km to go, they could have an impact on the race, but it’s not certain. The cat 1 climb near the end is classified as 1.3km at 6.6%, but it’s much harder than that. The climb is basically a wall, 500m at 14%, with a maximum gradient close to 20%. This crests with 10km to go, perfect for the attackers to disappoint the fast men.
It looks like it could be a sprint, but on closer inspection that is unlikely. We have a 300m cobbled climb which averages 12.6%, this is done twice, and at the top we have an intermediate sprint point. The last ascent tops out with just 7km to go, bad news for the sprinters.
Deceuninck – Quick Step – they arrive as the team to beat, especially as Lampaert and Sénéchal are probably the strongest riders at the race. Lampaert was 2nd in the Belgium Tour and then won the Belgium TT title, his form is good. Sénéchal had an excellent spring campaign, this race marks the start of his second half of the year. He’s not had much racing recently, but I would expect him to be strong. The Wolf Pack will look to dominate this race, I’m excited to see Bagioli back on the bike after a long time out due to a nasty crash.
Tim Wellens – was unable to ride the Tour de France due to health issues, so this is his return to racing. It will be hard for him to be at his very best for this race, but he’ll still hope to be challenging for a stage win. If his recent training has gone well he’ll be one of the main men for the yellow jersey.
Aimé De Gendt – he’s not had the year he would have hoped for. A combination of illness and poor form ruined his spring campaign, but I think we’ll see him come back fighting. This is a good race for him, he’s well suited to the route and he’ll hope to be challenging for the podium.
Quinn Simmons – the brilliant American hasn’t raced in Europe since Flanders, it’s good to see him back. He was meant to do the Belgium Tour but missed out due to injury. He’s likely to be a little rusty, but many of the riders at the race haven’t competed for a while. He’ll love the look of most stages, expect to see plenty of him this week.
Jake Stewart – the young Englishman enjoyed a brilliant start to the year, his 2nd place in Omloop is still one of the “shock” moments of the season. He’s still knocking on the door hoping to get his first pro win, I think he’ll have a great chance of getting it in this race. He packs a very fast sprint, especially after a tough day in the saddle, quite a few of these stages are well suited to him.
Timo Roosen – the new Dutch champion will be delighted to show off his new jersey in this race. Roosen is a rider with a huge amount of potential, but he’s struggled in recent times mainly due to injury. His recent win will fill him with confidence, and I hope to see him at his best in this race.
Rasmus Tiller – the big Norwegian has enjoyed a fine season; the highlight was winning Dwars door het Hageland. Uno-X have also impressed, seeming to punch above their weight, they’ve been a welcome addition to the pro ranks. Tiller is well suited to this race; he packs a lot of power.
I’ll take a win for Yves Lampaert, the Wolf Pack look very strong to me.
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