The cobbled action continues with some mid-week Belgian racing in Flanders as Dwars door Vlaanderen marks the final race before De Ronde this weekend.
Last year’s edition saw a strong Quick Step team control the race with Gilbert launching the attack that ultimately led to the winning move from 76km out on the Berendries. The group was slowly whittled down to 4 riders; Gilbert, Lampaert, Durbridge and Lutsenko. Quick Step played the old 1-2 perfectly with the Belgian Champion attacking first followed by Lampaert attacking just after he was caught. The local rider managed to stay away and take the biggest win in his career!
Behind, Gilbert sprinted home for second with Lutsenko showing promise of what was to come later in the year in third. Unfortunately for Durbridge he finished in 4th place after doing a lot of the work to try to bring back the winner on the day. He’ll hope for better this year!
It was a great day for the blog too as the race almost went exactly to plan (which is strange) and Yves brought home the 66/1 winner. More of the same exciting racing this year? I hope so! Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.
After a fairly hard parcours in 2017, the organisers have made this edition easier given its new position in the calendar just 4 days before the “big event”. That doesn’t mean the racing will be boring though and lots of riders will fancy their chances at a good result.
Fewer climbs, fewer cobbles and a slightly shorter distance. Nonetheless, the riders will have to face 12 bergs and 5 sectors of cobbles throughout the day so it isn’t exactly an easy route, just easier than last year.
The main focal point of the race is the Knokteberg which the riders will cover three times throughout the day.
1.1km long at 8% it is punchy enough that the strongest riders can attack it at a fierce pace and complete the climb in roughly 2’40. On narrow roads, positioning is vital because if the pace does increase you don’t want to be too far back as it will be a struggle to make up the ground.
It’s at the second passage of this climb I think we’ll see some action because it crests with roughly 65km to go. From that point, it is less than 10kms until we hit the busiest part of the race in terms of “obstacles” with Kortekeer (1km at 6.6%), Steenbekdries (a 600m climb at 3.4% that is part of a 2.1km long section of cobbles) and the Taaienberg (890m at 7.1%).
That is the most challenging part of the route as there is no room for rest so if a few teams decide to go wild then it could be goodbye to those at the back of the bunch.
10kms after the Taainberg comes the Kruisberg which is a 1.8km (4.8%) climb. However, it is not just a simple flat road between the two climbs as the parcours rolls a bit and doesn’t give anyone who has went into the red on the Taainberg much time to recover.
At the 147km mark the riders will face the Knokteberg for the last time and is the last place a puncheur can make any massive difference.
With 34km remaining all the obstacles aren’t over though but they aren’t as difficult as what they have faced so far. Nonetheless, climbs such as the Holstraat or Nokereberg could still prove decisive. Especially the latter as it comes 10kms to go and is swiftly followed by the final set of cobbles.
Will it be a solo rider, small group, or large group arriving into Waregem? Well, one factor might play a big part in that…
It might now officially be Spring, but that doesn’t mean the weather is getting any better.
The image above is the forecast for Waregem and as you can see it is to be rain, rain and more rain! The riders might get some respite from the wind as it is only meant to pick up in the evening, but that could easily change overnight and they might have to face some windy conditions earlier into the race.
Either way, it looks set to be a tough day out for most although I’m sure the locals will enjoy it.
How will the race pan out?
At a glance, the easier parcours would make it seem that a sprint is much more likely. With the major obstacles completed by 30km to go there is enough time for teams to band together and bring anyone up the road back. However, the terrible weather forecast almost negates this as riders will be more drained than they normally would after a race of this length and some guys just simply hate racing in the rain.
So a 50/50 chance in some ways and a lot of teams seem to be covering both options by bringing a sprinter along with more traditional cobbled classics riders.
Yet, I think we will see something similar to last season where the race is ripped up early in the day. If the stronger riders attack the 105km -> 135km section then they should have enough of a gap to ensure that the sprinters struggle over the last 50km and don’t have the resources to bring it back in the end.
A strong team is important as having a rider up the road means you don’t have to chase and you’re able to sit on and just follow any attacks. Quick Step done this brilliantly for Terpstra’s win but tried a different approach in Gent that backfired a little. They don’t have as strong a team as normal but with Lampaert, Terpstra and Stybar then those three should expect to be at the head of the race when things get tough.
BMC and Trek will also to have a few riders present in any major attack.
It looks set to be a very intriguing and tactical race!
Ones To Watch
This list won’t be exhaustive as I’m only selecting a handful of riders who I think might have a chance.
Guillaume Van Keirsbulk.
Did someone say a wet and potentially windy day in Belgium? The Wanty rider has slowly rode his way into some form this year and he made the front group on Sunday before ultimately finishing outside the top 20. A fan of grizzly conditions the rain won’t put him off and it will possibly see him ride even stronger! With the possibility that some riders might have one eye on De Ronde, it opens up the possibilty for a PCT level rider to score a good result in a WT one-day race. I expect to see him attacking at some point!
Bitterly disappointed to have missed the first group on Sunday after being too far back on the Kemmel, he comes into this race seeking a much better result. He was 2nd here in 2015 when then team-mate Wallays won. It’s a route that he apparently likes the look of so it would be a surprise not see him feature. With Boonen retired, Theuns appears to be the rider who loves to rip it up the Taainberg; more of the same tomorrow?
Another who was disappointed with his performance in Gent, he had a mechanical/crash which saw his race ruined. His form is on the up though, after returning from an injury in the Aussie Nationals. Brutally strong on his day he has slowly developed over the past few seasons into a reliable cobble rider. In an interview on his team’s website he says he wants to be aggressive and go better than last year. He just needs some luck!
He’s had a fairly quiet start to the cobbled races, doing a great job for his team-mates by marking riders in groups behind or pulling on the front but he’s not been prominent himself. Despite that though, he does have two top 10s to his name so the form is there, just not the big result. However, this could be his race to shine; he can cope with the short steep climbs and the cobbles are no issue to him. The weather also won’t bother the former cyclo-cross star. I’m intrigued to see how QuickStep play it, but I think Stybar will be their guy, maybe…
Wout Van Aert.
The youngster has been somewhat of a revelation this year on the road, although i use the term “somewhat” loosley as he had a good 2017 and even the least interested cyclo-cross fan knows that he oozes talent. Strade was a super impressive performance and marked his ability to compete with the best in a WT race. He made the front group with what seemed ease in E3 so tomorrow shouldn’t be too hard for him. In fact the shorter distance is ideal and he’ll go to sleep tonight doing a rain dance!
One of the riders who might benefit from his team captain not wanting to take any risks before Sunday, Küng was impressive in E3 last week. In fact, he seems to have progressed up another level this year with strong showings in Strade and the final stage of Algarve. He came home in the main group behind the front 4 last season so knows what is required in this race. With his strong TT prowess he might be able to slip away from a group and hold an advantage all the way to the line.
The Australian has bounced back from a terrible 2017 that was plighted by injury with some strong showings in his 12 race days so far this year. Another who suffered misfortune in Gent Wevelgem, he punctured before the Kemmelberg and expended too much energy to play any part in the finale. Yet, he was happy with his race and where he is at form wise. With the weather that is forecast, I can’t help but think about his win back in the 2009 Tour de France; can he pull of something special again?
No way this ends in a big group sprint, it will be too cold and wet for that!
It will be a tactical race that could be won or lost at anytime. Originally I had this down as a Stybar win, but the more I think about it, I really like Wout Van Aert’s chances. The distance, parcours and weather conditions are great for him and this presents an excellent opportunity to take his first win at this level!
Or, Valverde just continues his incredible season…
1pt EW Van Aert @ 33/1 with Bet365 (Would take 20/1, even 18/1 at a push)
1pt EW Stybar @ 20/1 with SkyBet (Would take 15/1)
0.5pt EW Durbridge @ 100/1 with Bet365 (Would take 66/1)
Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.