My favourite race of the year and the event which saw my first blog piece back in 2016, returns this Sunday for what should be another cracking race. Last year we saw a crazy attack from Gilbert 60km from home after Boonen split the race on the Muur at 90km out. Due to a mix of an incredible ride from the Belgian champion and a crash that took out Sagan, Naesen and Van Avermaet while on the chase meant Gilbert took a dream win.
Behind Van Avermaet recovered and managed to sprint for second, with Terpstra taking third after being denied any chance of doing anything all day because of his team-mate being up front!
Will we see something similarly crazy this year? First though, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.
This section will be a lot shorter than normal as I’m fairly sure you will have read plenty of route reviews this week so I don’t want to bore you with another.
Long and tough, pretty much!
Things only really start to get serious after the first 110km but from there it is a constant mixture of climbs and cobbles for the riders. As we saw last season, the race winning move could feasibly go at any point but the most likely place is on the Kwaremont/Paterberg combination. With 13kms from the top of the Paterberg to the finish line, will anyone up the road be able to hold off a coordinated chase effort?
Quick Step vs Sagan vs Everyone Else
That seems to be the narrative this year.
Quick Step have been utterly dominant in the past few races on home soil with a truly remarkable hit rate in terms of wins. At this race they bring 4 riders (Gilbert, Terpstra, Stybar and Lampaert) who could feasibly take home the crown given the right situation. It will be interesting to see how they approach it; do they take a similarly aggressive attacking outlook to last season? Having one less rider in some ways will make that more difficult as there will be less firepower behind to cover anything, but it also means that if you get 3 guys up the road, you should be able to out-number most squads. The one issue I can see in their squad is that a lot of opposition will fancy doing them over in a sprint, so for one to win, they most likely have to arrive solo.
Sagan has blown hot and cold this season so far but when he’s hot, he’s scorching! Still reeling from the crash last year, he will desperately want to make amends this season. With Oss now by his side he should have a strong rider that will last long into the race. Likewise, he’ll be hoping Burghardt can continue his good form and offer support too; he could possibly go in an earlier move as a bridge for later in the race. If Sagan’s on a good day, very few will be able to match him on the Kwaremont and Paterberg and that will worry a lot of riders. Even though he’s not been as successful this season in terms of wins, people will be wary of the “Sagan factor”. He needs to be isolated and you hope to be on the right side of his; “I’m not working” or “We’re going on an adventure” approach as he closes a gap in a kilometre. It is reading which mood he is in that is the toughest but most vital thing for everyone else in the race!
What about the rest of the peloton? We’ve seen plenty of the likes of Benoot so far this year and a lot will fancy their chances but it will come down to a combination of luck and legs whether they make the right move at the right time. Ideally you want to anticipate and follow a strong QuickStep move but you can’t follow everything unfortunately.
The Three Musketeers
Given that I could hark on for a long time about countless different riders and how they might have a chance, I’m just going to keep this fairly simple. These will be the three guys that I’ll be putting my money on at the end of the day and this is why…
Backing a QuickStep rider for this race is a must and Terpstra has pretty much been a staple of my punting arsenal at Flanders for the past couple of seasons. His record here is incredibly consistent; 6th (2014), 2nd (2015), 10th (2016), 3rd (2017), not bad! On the short cobbled climbs he is one of the best in the world and his power output is sensational, for example last season he averaged 8.5 w/Kg to keep up with Van Avermaet on the Paterberg. Having already tasted personal glory twice this season he will be keen to continue the run. The performance he gave in E3 was nothing short of incredible and if he gets a gap of 15 seconds in the final 20kms it could be goodnight for an uncoordinated chase group, especially if he has a team-mate sandbagging.With the predicted showers and potential 30km/h gusts on occasions, that only increases the Dutchman’s chances: he is a poor weather expert! The one problem for Terpstra is that he doesn’t have a great sprint so he will more than likely have to come in alone if he wants to win, but 260km does strange things to the legs so you can’t count him out. The same can’t be said about my next candidate.
Greg Van Avermaet.
Conspicuous by his absence atop the winners step of a cobbled classic so far this year, GVA has had a quieter build up to this race compared to his all-conquering 2017. However, I think that is the perfect situation for him to be in right now as it means some riders will be more willing to work with him than they were last year. Well in contention for this race up until the crash in 2017, he followed that disappointment up by going on to win Roubaix. As a Belgian, this is the race he will desperately want to win though. We’ve seen glimpses of him at his best on the cobbles this year, albeit they have been brief. I think that has been part of his game plan though so that others underestimate his form; a dangerous thing to do! A brave and attacking rider at times, it will be interesting to see where he plans to make his move and how far out as he does have the luxury of a strong sprint after a tough day. Like Terpstra, he is exceptionally consistent in this race: 2nd (2014), 3rd (2015), DNF (2016) and 2nd (2017). Tell me again why he won’t be fighting for the win this year?
He’s quietly gone about his business so far this classics campaign with a 4th and 6th in E3 and Gent Wevelgem respectively before an unfortuante abandon in Dwars with knee problems. However, he is on the start line for tomorrow and very confident that the issues with his knee are behind him. The only rider to be able to follow Sagan and Van Avermaet last year, he was taken out in the crash which ultimately ruined his race. From that incident he also sustained a knee injury but he went incredibly well in Roubaix the following weekend and if it wasn’t for several unfortunately timed mechanicals, he would have been competing for the win. A rider that seems to enjoy a race the longer it gets, I would expect to see him near the head of proceedings tomorrow as I’m fairly confident he is over any niggles…
Could we see back to back Belgian Champs winning Flanders?
After going missing in action this cobbled campaign so far, Van Avermaet will finally come up trumps with a perfectly timed peak of form.
As Flanders marks my blog’s birthday, I’m running a competition to win a HandmadeCyclist Ronde print. Simply go over to my women’s preview (another shameless plug) that you can view here and leave a comment on the post with who you think will win the race and your Twitter @ so that I can contact you if you win!
The classics are the classics and are often tough races to call so I’m spreading my stakes around a little. With that said though, it has been a good year so far so I’m happy to be a little more frivolous!
2pts WIN Van Avermaet @ 6/1 with Unibet (would take 11/2 in most places although you can get nearly 8/1 on the exchanges!
1pt WIN Terpstra @ 10/1 with most places (you can get close to 11/1 on the exchange)
1pt EW Naesen @ 22/1 with SkyBet who are paying 4 places (would take down to 18/1).
Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? I’m looking forward to a good race. Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.