With the cobbled classics now finished, the peloton’s attention now turns to the Ardennes with the “warm-up” event of De Brabantse Pijl.
However, it’s offensive to just call it a warm-up race as it is an exciting race in its own right!
Last year after some probing and strong attacks throughout the day, it all came down to a charge up the final climb from an elite group of five. Vakoc stormed up it, dropping everyone, and holding on to the line to take what was his third win of the season.
It was a good day for me as I had Vakoc at 33/1. I’m not sure we’ll see those type of prices on him again though, but I may be wrong. You’ll just have to find out at the end of this!
Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders this year.
More of the same as we saw in the 2016 edition with a route that remains mainly unchanged, although this year the race is 6km shorter.
A relatively tough day out in the saddle with 26 climbs, some of which are cobbled. Although there is more often than not space to avoid the cobbles themselves and go up the paved section at the side!
The climbs on the day aren’t too tough, but if they are ridden aggressively gaps certainly can be made. Almost as important is the flat section just after the summit, because riders will be on the limit. Last year the winning move was made at the 4km to go mark, right at the top of the penultimate climb.
The Bora rider was unable to follow the five out ahead once they rounded the corner and that was race over.
I’m not going to run through all of the climbs individually, but there is a nifty website that lists all 26 of them that you can view here!
The final climb of the day, Schavei, is 500m long and averages roughly 6%.
There is time for a regrouping once over the top, but on the contrary, riders can maintain a gap all the way to the finish line.
Will it be a reduced sprint or solo winner this year?
Well, there is one factor that could have an influence…
Yep, you guessed it; more racing in Belgium and more windy conditions!
With a constant and fairly strong Westerly wind, the riders will face a variety of wind directions as they go through the race. Starting mainly with a cross-headwind, before some cross winds, then a cross-tail on the run in to the closing circuit.
As a viewer this has amped up my excitement for this race even more, not so much as a preview writer though because it adds another element of unpredictability to it all. I’m sure the peloton will have a similar view with some wind-natives licking their lips at the prospect.
How will the race pan out?
Before I had looked at the forecast I thought the race would be an attacking one this year, with the peloton continuing their aggressive racing from the cobbles classics onto the lumpier events.
The wind should ensure that it is aggressive and there will be plenty of teams looking to take advantage and I think we’ll see some large splits out on the road before we reach our final circuit.
Which in turn should make the last 60km of the race even more attacking because there in theory should be less team-mates to control things.
Or at least I’m hoping so!
Quick Step come here with two big favourites in the form of Vakoc and Gilbert. The reigning champion looked good in Catalunya, building some nice form for his assault on the Ardennes. A brute of a rider, he really comes into his own on this type of terrain and certainly has a chance to double up tomorrow. Of course in Gilbert they have a rider who is on exceptional form. He’s won this race twice in the past (2011/2014/2017?) so knows what is required here! They have some strong domestiques and I expect them to be one of the main teams to try to split things up in the wind, hoping to drop the “sprinters”.
QS aren’t the only strong Belgian team here, Lotto Soudal also have a stacked team with them! I imagine Wellens and Benoot will be team leaders and they are a duo that can certainly challenge for the race win. The former has had a quieter part in his season recently but he looked good following the moves on the stage into San Sebastian in Pais Vasco, and I think he’ll go well this coming week. His lack of explosivity is a downfall, but he is sure to go on the attack at some point. If no one follows quickly, then he could be tough to bring back!
I was disappointed to see Benoot not picked for Paris Roubaix after he has had a terrible cobbled classics campaign due to bad luck. This type of course suits him though and he is much more explosive than his team-mate and I think he’s a dark horse for this race.
Matthews has a great chance to finally win this race after being close on several occasions. In cracking form, his 6th on the TT in Pais Vasco was incredible, he might approach this race differently than in previous years. Normally would hold off for the sprint, but this year he might have to attack as his team doesn’t look that great. However, I fear for him in the wind!
His old team Orica have a few good options to play tomorrow. In Gerrans and Impey they have two strong riders who can follow attacks but also pack a fast sprint after a tough day. I can’t see them chasing everyone down like they did last year!
BMC have a team packed full of young talent who will be looking to impress, lead by a relative veteran compared to his team-mates; Ben Hermans. After a barnstorming start to the season, he’s went off the boil recently but will be hoping to go well in the Ardennes so he should be getting back to his best shape here. If not, keep an eye out for Vliegen as a Kirby inspired, “cheeky side bet”.
Bahrain bring with them a team to support Gasparotto and Colbrelli. Well, when I say support they might be there for the first 100km. The two Italians can mix it up in the sprint after a tough day and both finished in the top 6 last year. Gasparotto has been disappointing this year and has recently returned from a training camp so it will be interesting to see how he goes. Conversely, Colbrelli has been going well for most of the year so you would expect him to decline in form soon, but that probably won’t happen until after Amstel. Like Matthews, I fear for both of them in the windy conditions!
I don’t think Coquard will have a chance this year.
A few other, some less well-known, names to conjure with are Haas and Sbaragli (Dimension Data), Meurisse (Wanty), Bouet (Fortuneo) and Tusveld (Roompot).
We’ll get a hectic first half of the race before we get to the circuit and the peloton will be split in the wind. That will then make the closing laps even more aggressive than normal and luck will be as important as form, and so will having strong team-mates.
I’ll go for a rider who’s been down on luck recently, but that will change here. He’s a great punchy classics man and this route suits him perfectly, but will just have to hope Gilbert isn’t the QuickStep representative up front…
Benoot to win his first pro race!
It also gives me a good opportunity to share my favourite cycling related Instagram post…
Hoping #WinningWednesdays can continue…
1pt EW Benoot @40/1 with Bet365
0.5pt EW Vliegen @28/1 with Bet365
Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the race and how will they do it?! Amstel men’s and women’s previews will be next for me this weekend. Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.