The audition for Ronde van Vlaanderen. A slight chance in the route means they skip Holleweg which was the 2nd cobbled section last year. It will not make much of a difference – the rest of the route is similar to last year. That means we have 2156 climbing meters.
Out east and back again with lots of hellingens and cobbled sectors before heading back to Harelbeke.
The cobbled sectors.
The first one is Taainberg. We saw Quick-Step do a TTT up here last time, completely changing the dynamics of the race. The finale started here last time and I think it will do again tomorrow. It starts approximately 80.5 km from the finish.
Eikenberg is up next. Not that steep, but a long section. It starts with 62.8 km left.
One of the worst, Paterberg. Short but steep. Also the battle for positioning here is harsh if we have not had a big split yet. It starts with 42.5 km left.
The last one is the iconic Oude Kwaremont. We all know it and all love it. It comes with just 39.5 km left, shortly after the Paterberg.
The last hard effort is the “kick through the forest” the last time to really make a difference uphill. It does not look like much, but the same does Poggio in Milano-Sanremo. We saw a split in the front group last year at this point.
We pray for crosswinds, but the weather in Belgium is too nice this spring. Definitely not what I remember about my stay in the country. This means crosswinds are highly unlikely – on the brink of impossible. No rain either.
How will the stage unfold?
Often we see a solo or a group of 3-5 sprint for the win.
We have two teams here better than the rest. We have Quick-Step and Jumbo-Visma.
From my point of view, Quick-Step’s best chance is Asgreen by a long mile. We have had a lot of sickness in their camp and I doubt they will TTT into the Taainberg as dominantly as they did last year. Senechal is looking better, but that’s about it.
Jumbo-Visma have the best team. Laporte and Benoot as superdomestiques or potential attackers. This year, we should see Wout van Aert work WAY LESS than in recent years, otherwise those signings have been for nothing. Benoot has been training regularly since his crash in Strade Bianche – luckily it seemed to be damaged on the outside and not the insides. I think they will do the TTT up Taainberg and see how the race develops from there.
Wout van Aert has the strongest team. Last year he had to chase Asgreen with MvdP. This year, he has better company. I do not think he wants a sprint from a big group, which it rarely is here. He wants that small group sprint. Will Laporte and Benoot be used offensively? They might cover Quick-Step. Laporte will beat most in a sprint in a small group.
Asgreen is the strongest rider for Quick-Step at the moment. His best shot, get the team to demolish the peloton early. In a sprint, we all know his chances – they are not half bad. I think Quick-Step wants the Quick-Step 101 – to have the numerical advantage. Tomorrow it will be hard, which means I think Asgreen will try and tear everyone apart.
AG2R with the Belgian duo. Last year, they did not maximize what they could have done. Both of them were in the front group but no clear tactic. Naesen left Paris – Nice with a cold, which meant he did not train for 5 days. He has not been doing a lot of long rides lately. GvA did alright in the opening weekend. Tirreno – Adriatico or Milano Sanremo do not tell us anything. He has a good record here of his last four edition, finishing 6th, 3rd, 3rd and 1st. He should be up there.
Mohoric is a joker. I think he is great on cobbles and he just won a monument. On the other hand, he does not really have a lot of results to back my statements up. With Haussler by his side, we know he will be positioned well. He knows how to read a finale and ride steep inclines. I think he will do well.
Valgren was in the front group at MSR before a defect on the descend. The form is good and he has too often been a victim of early crashes in the spring season. It has been some time since he won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but my gut is telling me he will do well tomorrow. 11th in Strade is not bad either.
SKA is riding well. If you can almost drop Pogacar, WvA and MvdP on Poggio, your legs are diamonds. He wants to win this solo. It will be difficult but we know he will attack, which will make the race hard.
Trek-Segafredo with Pedersen for the sprint and Stuyven to cover moves? That’s two boxes checked. We know Mads is doing very well but Stuyven is a question mark. The opening weekend was not too good but his work at Paris – Nice was. None wants to sprint against Mads Pedersen which means people will attack to try and drop him.
Turgis had a breakthrough season last year. This year, he seems even stronger. He will finish in the top-10, but he rarely wins.
Stefan Küng has shown good form this year. A solo attack is his best shot. We will have to see what he does, he loves to get out in front early but I doubt he will win.
INEOS have some candidates. Narvaez is getting better and better on the cobbles. Dylan van Baarle is looking solid too. Magnus Sheffield is one of the biggest talents we have out there. In GP de Denain, he did very well. I think he needs another year at the WT, but I will not be surprised to see him finishing well.
Who will win?
I think the race will be very, very hard. This means a sprint from a small group or a solo. Jumbo-Visma should have this, I will take a win for Wout van Aert.