As I don’t have enough time to do a full GC preview I thought I’d include them at the start of this preview.
Last year we saw Tim Wellens secure the overall title in absolutely horrendous conditions on Stage 5.
He won that stage by almost 4 minutes and it highlights how bad the weather can get in the region. There is some rain forecast for this week but it changes severity and when/where it will fall every day so there is no point looking too far ahead.
As for the stages themselves, it will be stages 3, 6 and 7 that decide GC. Although it will mainly be 6 and 7. Stage 6 is almost a carbon copy of the stage Wellens won last year, with Stage 7 very similar to the day that was cancelled last year due to the weather.
The bookmakers have made Sagan their favourite, which is hilarious. I know that we will most likely see Tour Sagan here, meaning that he can climb better than Spring Sagan, but the final two days will be too tough for him, even with the bonus seconds he should get. They’re proper GC days.
However, calling an actual winner of the race will be tough. Riders arrive all over the place in terms of form and looking towards the end of the season. We have no real dominant teams with stand-out riders so to speak, and most squads have a couple of guys who could theoretically challenge. Therefore, I’m hoping that we see some aggressive and unpredictable racing over the coming week!
As for a name to throw into the hat, I think Jan Hirt could go well here. With a breakthrough performance at the Tour of Croatia, swiftly followed up by an even more outstanding 12th on GC at the Giro, he really is having the best season of his career so far. Riding for Polish Pro-conti team CCC Sprandi Polkowice, I imagine they’ll have targeted this race to go well at. Looking at their squad, Hirt looks like the rider best suited for a GC push and if he picks up where he left off at the Giro, he is a dark horse here.
Enough of me throwing about wild outsiders for the overall, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the opening day of racing
You might be tricked into thinking that tomorrow is a day that wouldn’t look out-of-place in the Ardennes. However, once you realise that they Y-axis is completely messed up then you’ll realise it is a straight forward sprinters stage!
Like I have done for throughout the Tour of Poland, I have made a profile of the opening stage. (The one you see above).
It is almost pan-flat throughout the day with very little to worry the sprinters. The only thing that might cause them some concern is the little 6.7% kicker in the closing circuit, but I mean that is really stretching things as it only lasts for 135m!
The closing circuit itself is very straightforward with only a few tight turns. Once the riders pass under the Flamme Rouge it is a straight run in to the line. There is one traffic island that splits the road briefly at ~800m to go but that is all there is by means of difficulties for the riders.
We should see a really fast sprint and a big fight for position between the lead-outs. Unfortunately, this could lead to a crash as it often seems to be on the most simple run-ins that riders come into difficulty.
Sprint Contenders – A Two Horse Race?
The Aussie pocket rocket starts as the bookmakers favourite and I can understand why. A flat stage with a criterium style finish sounds right up the Orica riders street. He’s proven himself to be one of the fastest sprinters in the world on these types of finishes and in a lacklustre field he will fancy his chances. Having Mezgec as last man for him could be crucial.
Bitterly disappointed to be kicked out of the Tour, he will no doubt be here with a point to prove. With his season’s goals now shifted ever so slightly; I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him go to the Vuelta. This race will be ideal for him to keep his legs ticking over. He was flying in the pure sprints at the Tour de Suisse and I see no reason for that to be any different here. He’ll be Ewan’s biggest rival.
Away from those two we have several riders who will be hoping to challenge for the podium and with a bit of luck, possibly sneak the win. I won’t talk much about them as I don’t really know what to expect after most of them not having raced for a while.
Has shown a lot of promise this year, including a fairly strong cobbled campaign. God-awful at the Giro (I’ll blame myself for that one), he bounced back fairly strongly to win d’Argovie, yet he was trounced by Sagan in Suisse. I think the latter might happen again.
Bonifazio – A hot and cold sprinter. Sometimes seems like he could be the next big thing, but more often than not is out of position and finishes fast.
Van Poppel – Hasn’t really had an opportunity to shine at Sky this season but on his day he has a good turn of speed.
Walscheid – Has taken 5 pro sprint wins in his career, all of which were at Hainan last year. Can he make the step up at World Tour level? In this field he has a chance.
Sbaragli – Would prefer something tougher but the Dimension Data rider has one of the best lead-outs here. Will that be enough to see him onto the podium?
Debuscherre – Not really taken the step forwards that I had hoped this season. A fast rider on his day, he doesn’t have much support so will have to freewheel.
Minali – Fast young Italian sprinter who should enjoy the pan-flat nature of the route. Could surprise like he did at the start of the season.
Two horse race and going purely off of form, I have to give this one to Sagan!
He was on another level in Suisse and who knows what he could have done at the Tour. After losing out to Ewan in January, he’ll want to remind him and everyone that’s watching of how fast he is!
GC wise I’m going to have a small one on;
Hirt 0.25pt EW @ 150/1 with various.
2.5pts WIN Sagan @ 3/1 with SkyBet. (Would take 11/4 with others)
Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and the race overall? If you haven’t already, please do check out my Ride London Classique and San Sebastian previews that are on the site already. Thanks! Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.