It’s time for my favourite event of the year and a special race as it marks one year of this blog! To thank you all for your continued support I’ll be doing a competition tied in with my women’s preview (that will be out tomorrow), for a chance to win one of The Handmade Cyclist’s artworks. Well, more specifically their “De Ronde” one, obviously. So yeah, make sure you return tomorrow!
Right, now that those formalities are out of the road, let’s focus on this incredible race.
Last year saw an imperious Peter Sagan just ride away from Sep Vanmarcke on the Paterberg and even with a surging Fabian Cancellara the duo could not catch the Slovak.
Will Sagan be able to double up this year? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.
I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like I normally would), as I’m sure if you’re anything like me you’ll have read plenty about it already this week!
The route in general is pretty much more of the same that we had last year, apart from they have added the Muur at around 90km to go. Although iconic, it will more than likely be too far out for a race winning move to be made there. Instead, we might see some lesser riders attempt to get up the road before it all kicks off.
It’s once we pass the Paterberg for the first time at around 70km to go that the race starts to kick into action and theoretically a race winning move could go from this point onwards. However, the second passage of the Paterberg, which swiftly follows the Oude Kwaremont, will desolate the peloton if it’s still together.
From there, we’ll have attacks go up the road; groups working; groups not working; solo moves; teams having wrong riders in the right move, etc etc. It all gets a bit hectic to say the least!
With only 17km to go the riders then tackle the Oude Kwaremont once again.
This is where Sagan dropped everyone from the group in front apart from Vanmarcke, likewise Cancellara dropped those behind as he motored ahead trying to catch up. The open highway that follows the Kwaremont can see a regrouping, before they tackle the final climb of the day; the last ascent of the Paterberg.
Sagan blew the wheels off of Vanmarcke here last year.
Once over the top it’s a 13km TT between the leaders and any chasers, before the traditional finish in Oudenaarde.
Normally the weather will play a part in this race but it looks pretty benign just now so I’m going to completely skip that section!
How will the race pan out? Team tactics.
Flanders is arguably the race in which the winner is more often than not the strongest rider on the day who gets a bit of luck. The reason for this in my opinion is due to the relentless nature of the cobbles and climbs in the closing third of the race, and due to the severe length of the event itself! A strong rider can create a massive gap on the Kwaremont and Paterbeg combination and with only 13km left, it’s hard to get a concerted chance organised.
Last year you could say without doubt that Sagan and Cancellara were the strongest riders in the peloton. Sagan in a sense you could argue got lucky that Cancellara didn’t follow the attacks at 31km left, and it’s hard to say how the race would have panned out if those two arrived at the bottom of the Paterberg together.
A similar situation may occur this year between Van Avermaet and Sagan, who are one step ahead of everyone else in my opinion, and probably yours too!
The only thing that can stop them is the attitude of Quick-Step. The Belgian outfit need to ride as aggressively as they did in Dwars and E3 if they want to have a good chance of success. They need to be in every move that goes up the road, either by following every move or attacking themselves. But more on that later!
As I’ve just mentioned above, there are two clear favourites going by the bookmakers and anyone who watches this sport!
Defending champion Peter Sagan has looked his usual exceptional self this year. His attack in Milan San Remo was incredible, as was his stage win in Fermo during the Tirreno Adriatico, but oddly enough there are some people who suggest he’s not going well. He has only won one one-day race this season so far, Kuurne Brussels Kuurne, which is pretty poor from him so they might be right…
Is he suffering from being Sagan? Yeah, I think so, but this is the one race a year where being Sagan doesn’t matter as much. If he’s feeling good, he can simply ride away from everyone on the final double ascent of the Kwaremont/Paterberg like we saw last year. The issue for him will be ensuring that he’s in contention going into that final 15km. Therefore, he’ll need to attack/follow the attacks from where he did last year. Re-watching last week’s Gent Wevelgem, he clawed back almost 8 bike lengths on his main rival Van Avermaet on the Kemmelberg. That’s Flanders winning form!
Talking about Van Avermaet, he was the number one performer of the week just gone by and is Sagan’s main challenger.
Three one-day World Tour wins already this season, the Olympic champion is flying. He’s beaten Sagan in a sprint (Omloop); won against tough opposition in another sprint (E3); and outsmarted his opponents (Gent Wevelgem). Results wise, he is the rider to beat! He doesn’t seem to pack the same punch up the cobbled climbs as Sagan does, but he benefits tactically from not being Sagan. He seems not to have the same aura amongst the peloton and riders are more inclined to work with him.
However, I think that might change going into this weekend and he’ll struggle with being Van Avermaet. If you’re going to lose to Sagan in a sprint, you’re more than likely going to lose to Van Avermaet in a sprint as well. So why work with him more than the Slovak?
But hey, as you know if you’ve read this blog for a while, DS’ don’t seem to think as outside the box as I do!
Quick-Step have the best chance of beating the two favourites, due to the number of riders in their team that theoretically could have a chance of winning this race, sorry Keisse and Vermote! The rest, all on their day and given the right group could win. Gilbert will be their pre-race favourite and given his scintillating form, he certainly looks the rider best suited to challenge Sagan and GVA.
He will be able to follow them for the majority of the race and that’s what I would have him do. Let him sit in for most of the race, marking those two out of it. It’s a defensive strategy, using their form rider to mark others, but that’s the teams best chance of winning.
Boonen hasn’t looked in tip-top shape but with only two races left in his career, you would expect him to go well. As much as he would love to win this, I think it might be all about for Roubaix with him. I would save him all-day, hoping he can get close on the Paterberg and that it comes back for a reduced sprint.
Therefore, QS should be attacking from around 70km left with the rest of their riders. Although Lampaert did great in Dwars for the blog, he’s just not strong enough yet on the cobbled climbs to compete here in my opinion. Like Boonen, he is more of a Roubaix kind of guy. I’m not saying he won’t try to get up the road, but he’s not their best option for that.
So that leaves the triple header of Trentin, Stybar and Terpstra, the three riders who made the front group of around 16 in Gent Wevelgem. Trentin is probably the weakest on this terrain and his past results haven’t been that great. Yet, he’s looked very good this season so far and seems to have taken a step up on the cobbled climbs so he can’t be ruled out, especially if he goes in a move at around 50km to go that stays away until the end. Stybar and Terpstra are their aces in the pack though for long-range moves and I would suggest they both need to be up the road before GVA and Sagan make their attack. If they are, I would be confident enough in Gilbert nullifying them before we get to the last 17km and by then it might be too late to bring back.
The only issue with that is if another big team misses the move and has enough firepower to chase. Who will that team be working for?
Kristoff looks the best of the rest on current form. He’s been unlucky in the first few cobbled classics but his efforts in De Panne were exceptional. In particular, it was his TT that stood out for me. Not a discipline he favours, he lost only 2 seconds to Durbridge who himself is going very well just now. The Norwegian loves this race, having finished 15th/4th/5th/1st/4th in the past 5 years. He will be there or thereabouts at the end of the race!
Trek have one of the strongest teams here so they will likely aid in a chase if they miss a move. Degenkolb has looked OK so far this season, but it pains me to say, that he is still missing that extra 5% after his crash last year. I can’t see him winning here unless he goes early, but I think he’ll be marked out of it in that situation. Theuns looked tired towards the end of De Panne and Stuyven has been struggling the past week or so with his form. Time for Felline to step up and make that crucial early move!
Naesen (AG2R) has performed exceptionally well over the past 6 months but this could be a tough ask for him, he’s bound to dip in form soon. Surely?!
Lotto have been awful but their saviour Benoot returns this weekend after missing Gent Wevelgem. He almost guarantees a top 10 result but needs to be attacking to get higher up the pecking order, which he might just do.
Sky have been awful the past week and I haven’t seen anything to think they’ll turn that around here. Which is always when they seem to go well!
Boasson Hagen and Thwaites have been going well, albeit quietly, the past few weeks. Like so many others, they’ll need to be up the road before the fireworks kick off behind.
Durbridge will hope to continue his good form but he seems more of a Roubaix man. The same goes for Demare.
I’d love to see Lutsenko get a top 10 placing which I think is a possibility. He’s been 22nd then 14th in the past two editions.
Vanmarcke still doesn’t look great after his injury and illness.
I’m really stuck on the fence with this one because I don’t know if I can trust Quick Step to use the same tactics I would. If they do, the race is theirs for the taking, as long as they get some help from other teams to beat GVA and Sagan.
If not, the race is Sagan’s to lose. I know GVA is in great form but even he will fear what Sagan can do on the Paterberg. If there is a 3 second gap at the top, then it’s race over!
I think the teams will take a similar approach to GVA as they do to Sagan and will not want to work with him 100%. Therefore, various teams will be keen to get numbers ahead before the final 20km. With Gilbert shadowing the Big 2, QS will get Terpstra and Stybar up the road, along with Felline and a few others, with maybe the likes of Oss there for BMC.
He and his team didn’t get it right in GW, but they won’t make that mistake here. Terpstra to win!
Already have 1pt WIN on Terpstra from the other week at 25/1 (would take 22s)
Stybar 1pt WIN @25/1 with various bookmakers (would take 22s)
Felline 0.5pt EW @ 80/1 with various bookmakers (would take 66s)
Kristoff to beat Degenkolb at 11/10 with PaddyPower (would take it at 4/6 elsewhere Betfair/Bet365). 6pts.
Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win and how will they manage to do so? Remember to return tomorrow for my women’s preview and the competition! Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.