We have the exact same route as in 2022.
They are racing in Wallonia, close to the French border. The riders start going north, getting a few kilometers before moving down south. Here, we are the circuit with the finish in Dour.
There is one big lap.
Afterwards, they turn unto the smaller lap. They do this three times.
The circuit will have it’s usual four cobbled sectors.
Rue du Vert Pignon – 1600m. Not too difficult and mostly downhill.
Côte de la Roquette – 500m at 4.1%. Comes straight after a sharp turn. A good position is important.
Chemin de Wihéries – 400m. It is quite close to the abovementioned. Poor condition, narrow roads.
Côte de Nonettes – 300m at 4%. 9 km from the line, very short but once again narrow roads.
Rue de Belle Vue – 500m. Inside the finale. Good condition, just 2.75 km from the finishline.
The finale, where if I recall correctly, MvdP lost one of his handlebars in 2021. A long drag uphill. We have the cobbled sector Rue de Belle Vue with 2.75 km left – the rest is on tarmac.
Not as windy as in KBK, the is now down to 5-6 m/s. It will be cold with temperatures approximately 5 C. And once again, no rain on the forecast. It means a cross/tailwind on the first half of the circuit and a cross/headwind home. Pink and dark blue is optimal.
As for the impact on the race, it does mean we could see echelons. They enter the circuit at 15:00 local time and are expected to be finished 17:00 – 17:30.
From what I can see, here are three god spots on the circuit to try and split the race in your favor. This is the first, at the southeastern part of the route. It is after leaving Dour (finishline) down towards Rue du Vert Pignon. As the turn into a nice tailwind on the easy cobble sector into another good section of crosswind, this should be your starting point.
That means the best area is around Rue du Vert Pignon until the start of Côte de la Roquette. It is a two km stretch. As you can see, we have moved to the southwestern corner.
Last sector is after Chemin de Wihéries and before Côte de Nonettes. As you can see, this small section has trees on the right side of the road, I am unsure how much an impact that makes. It is also closer to a tailwind than a crosswind.
If you feel like doing echelons, you can do it at the southern part of the circuit. It is 22.5 – 14 km from the finish on the last lap, 48.5 – 40 km on the penultimate lap and 75 – 67.5 on the lap before.
How will the race unfold?
It is a flat classic. Therefore, it is either a reduced bunch sprint or a smaller group going to the line. That is the two possible scenarios. It depends on what the strongest teams want. Once again, my own opinion.
Sprint: Soudal – Quick Step (Jakobsen).
The only team I think we could see solely riding for a sprint. I think they will follow moves and see how different outcomes could be beneficial for them. It could be a good race for Asgreen, but I think he still is a month from top level.
Inbetweeners: Alpecin-Fenix (Groves / SKA, De Bondt).
Do they really think Groves can beat Jakobsen in a sprint? I wouldn’t. I would try to have De Bondt and SKA up the road, preferably together.
Group: Intermarché (Taco, Page, Teunissen), AG2R (Naesen, Dewulf), Lotto-Soudal (Campenaerts, F. Veermeersch), Arkéa-Samsic (Hoffstetter, Mozzato, Le Berre, Biermans, Dekker). Trek-Segafredo (Stuyven, Theuns, Kirsch)
Intermarché has one of the strongest teams here. They do not want to sprint against Groves or Jakobsen. The same can be said for AG2R and Lotto-Soudal. Arkea-Samsic has a strong team with five riders who potentially could do very well at this race.
I doubt we will see a sprint, as we only have 1-2 good teams hoping for that outcome and there are even doubts about them.
Jakobsen – If it somehow becomes a bunch sprint, my money is on him.
Asgreen – you can’t write off a winner of Ronde van Vlaanderen for Le Samyn. I do think he is a little hampered by recent illness.
SKA – the legs just didn’t respond as he thought they would in Omloop. Perhaps getting that first race-day done and dusted helps him find the form he is supposed to be carrying. If the rumors are true, he will be tough the compete with.
De Bondt – He is doing very well at the moment. He got some intense training in Ruta del Sol lately, that was quite impressive. He is usually a much bigger threat when the race does not have a lot of climbing meters. He was on the podium last year, a result I think suits my own evaluation of his chances tomorrow.
Intermaché: Teunissen already has some racedays in the legs. 11th in OHN was a good result. The team should be smart enough not to have him waiting for bunch sprint. If he gets into the right group, few in this race can beat him in a sprint. I will be surprised if Taco van der Hoorn is allowed in the morning breakaway tomorrow. This is a perfect race for him, just like Dries de Bondt, the results tend to be better the flatter the race. Third option was inform Down Under – Hugo Page.
Campenaerts – without De Lie starting, it is up to the ever-attacking Victor Campenaerts to try and make the difference. It is difficult for him to win in a group, simply because he doesn’t pack a very good sprint. Nonetheless, as we should see a group going to the line, I wouldn’t count him off completely.
Arkea – Samsic – I think they have the best width of every team. Biermans has been riding brilliantly so far. Hugo Hofstetter is the first rider I think of when I hear “Le Samyn”. He has had multiple good results in the past three editions with 2nd, 5th and 1st in the last three editions! Le Berre had a fantastic ride in OHN – he is a rider who was 2nd in Paris – Tours Espoirs last year. He is young and flying under the radar. Dekker provides the sprint option while Mozzato provides the same as Hofstetter, a sprint from a reduced group.
Trek – Segafredo – the bring two riders who could go well here. First of is Alex Kirsch, I think he was my pick in one of the previous editions. He has been top-10 in three editions, he knows the course. Then, Jasper Stuyven is the more safe approach for the team. 10th in KBK but 58th in OHN, he usually starts the season off in better shape. They have a strong team – perhaps they will be the ones to create splits in the wind? They have Theuns for a sprint too.
Vanmarcke – with the team down to just five riders for the start tomorrow, it is difficult to ride for a sprint. Vanmarcke has to hope he follow the right moves, the team doesn’t have the numbers to follow the wrong ones.
Who will win?
A few things need to be checked off. Good in echelons, good on cobbles and a decent sprint. Having a strong team is an advantage too. I will with a win for Alpecin-Fenix and none other than Søren Kragh Andersen. So far, rumors Danish riders being in good shape seems to be true.