The opening weekend. The edition is very similar to the last editions but there is a big but. The Molenberg is back and we have more common Belgian weather. It will be cold and windy.
The finale normally starts around Wolvenberg. I think this year will start around Molenberg. Now, I’m not going to sit here and not give credit to Mole since I saw his interview with Jorgensen before looking at the weather myself, but he has a very good point regarding crosswinds and the position of Molenberg.
The thing is, it is a bunch sprint to the corner. It is such a narrow cobbled climb for such a large peloton. This year, no shenanigans and cutting the lane.
The reason why it is so good, just to repeat Mole, is the fact it stretches out the group and over the top, they have a massive crosswind. Single file peloton – 7 m/s. You do the math.
Moving on – I think their will be a select group of riders going clear. The question is, who is represented and do they want to work together? If not – things get back together and vice versa.
Next up is the intermezzo. What happens here? We now Berendries is Benoot’s climb. It is a climber’s climb. Therefore, if things are back together we should see attacks from the likes of Benoot, Wellens and Cosnefroy. These type of riders.
And if everything still is together, it is the Geraadsbergen and Bosberg to seal the deal.
The top has moved 1 km closer to the finish. These two together are so iconic – like a gin and tonic. Wout van Aert attacked just before the Bosberg last year to everyone’s surprise. It is the last chance to drop the fast men.
As mentioned, cold and windy (6 m/s). From 67 km out and to the finish, we could see echelons. It is fantastic. Last season had too good weather in the classics. Degrees around 5 C.
Time to try and get it back. This is my indication of favorites (green), outsiders (yellow) and don’t-think-they-will-win (red).
Use the arrows to navigate. We will see a selection on Molenberg simply because Phillipsen and De Lie is here. Therefore teams must attack. We could see a smaller group get over the top or a larger group.
Moving on to the second slide. These are the riders I expect to put on a good performance. Here we start seeing the strength of some of the teams – especially INEOS and JV, with UAE, Lotto-Dstny and Bahrain not that far after in terms of level.
The last slide removes the last riders. 13 riders I have tried to boil it down to. More on that in the “Team tactics” section.
Team tactics and contenders.
Here, I try to break down the strongest teams or the teams with a favorite. What is their best scenario according to me.
Jumbo-Visma: The best team.
Sprint from a reduced group: Laporte
Fuga de la fuga: Benoot, Tratnik, Van Hooydonck and van Baarle.
Tactics: They just have everything.
INEOS: The in-form CX rider.
Sprint from a reduced group: Pidcock
Fuga de la Fuga: Sheffield and Turner
Tactics: Best option is to either have Turner or Pidcock for a reduced sprint. It is a huge advantage for them. Pidcock won a stage in Volta ao Algarve but let me be clear. He has not YET impressed me on cobbles. Nonetheless, few beat him in a sprint after a tough day. They must follow moves, having Sheffield close moves where neither Pidcock or Turner is represented.
Lotto-Dstny: Got the man of the hour.
Sprint from a reduced group: De Lie
Fuga de la Fuga: Campenaerts and Van Moer.
Tactics: I wouldn’t go all in on De Lie. He did well in Besseges but to break it down, stage 1 was impressive. Stage 3 was impressive but let’s be honest. He didn’t close the gap to the 8 man group. They messed around and others chased before his attack. Get van Moer/Campenaerts to disrupt cohesion in groups. The further they get to the line, the more they should concentrate on De Lie as neither Campenaerts or Van Moer are good enough for a solo win or winning a sprint.
Quick Step: It is a new year.
Sprint from a reduced group: Casper Pedersen
Fuga de la Fuga: Lampaert, Senechal, Steimle
Tactics: It is odd to call them underdogs or outsiders but that is the new truth. Asgreen is not here and he was the best rider for them in the cobbled classics last season. I am most of curious to see C. Pedersen. He has won Paris-Tours – he knows how to ride on cobbles. With none of the usual suspects showing early form besides him, I think he may be their best option. He is in very good form.
Bahrain – Victorious: Two is better than one.
Sprint from a reduced group: Mohoric and Fred Wright
Fuga de la Fuga: Mohoric and Fred Wright
Tactics: They have two riders who are quite equal. That is not a bad thing. They way to race is follow moves and the other one sits one waiting for things to get back then vice versa. They are both quick enough to beat Laporte and Pidcock after a tough day in a sprint. That is all about legs.
UAE Team Emirates: Without Pogacar
Sprint from a reduced group: Trentin and Wellens
Fuga de la Fuga: Trentin and Wellens
Tactics: The same as Bahrain-Victorious. They have to riders who are looking sharp and who can sprint from a small group. I have high expectations for Wellens tomorrow, I think he is one of the favorites.
Alpecin: Two captains.
Sprint from a reduced group: Phillipsen
Fuga de la Fuga: SKA and De Bondt.
Tactics: In Danish media, SKA is supposed to be flying. Last time I heard about a Dane being in good form was Vingegaard in Gran Camino. I think it is true. He has a podium result here, loves poor weather conditions and wind. De Bondt is also in quite good form which we saw in Ruta del Sol. As for Phillipsen – don’t ride for him – ride to follow moves and sit on.
Other riders: Küng, Stuyven and Tiller.
Who will win?
Before trying to resolve the puzzle tomorrow – my five favorites were: Wellens, Pidcock, Laporte, De Lie and Mohoric.
I think and hope it will be a very difficult edition. Therefore, teams with multiple options have an advantage. The weather will make it difficult. I dont see a sprinter such as De Lie, Kristoff or Phillipsen win – despite understanding De Lie being the bookies favorite. I think the crosswind and the race tactics of different teams will not allow for a 2021-scenario.
That gives, in my book, Bahrain, INEOS and JV. JV has one problem, Laporte is the only one who will be winning a reduced sprint. Somehow, I find myself seeing Fred Wright taking the win. Bahrain-Victorious has two in-form options who can both sprint, that is what I will be going for tomorrow.