Back for another crack and the Belgian cobbles.
Back with some mediocre veloviewer map for you. Let’s take a deeper dive.
The past two editions, the finale has started at Taainberg. Quick Step attacked here in 2021 with Asgreen winning and JV attacked here in 2022 with Wout van Aert winning. Is that the formula? Well – it is here you want to start attacking. In there, you have the Taainberg, Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont as the three most important sectors. All in all, you have 9 climbs, some cobbled sectors.
From there, they head northwest towards Harelbeke for the line.
Harsh winds, up to 8 m/s. More than enough for echelons. To me, it just offers the option of echelons before the finale I’ve mentioned. With such a hard race to come, I doubt it.
How will the stage unfold?
I will go for the same approach as the last two years. The attack on Taainberg. It will once again be JV that launches it. We had 16 riders in the front group after it last year. Somehow, I think the number will be closer to 10 this edition. There is a tailwind over the top too.
So, who will make it with domestiques too? Quick-Step has Alaphilippe and Asgreen, Alpecin-Fenix has SKA and MvdP while FDJ bring Küng and Madouas and Trek-Segafredo has Stuyven and Mads P. Pogacar will be there, but it is usually around this time a year Wellens starts to decline. I do not think the favorites will be isolated this year. And that makes a big difference compared to last year.
In 2022, Laporte and WvA smashed it on Paterberg. I am unsure about the rules, last year, they raced it in the gutter and not on the main cobbled road. I doubt they can just adopt the same tactic, Pogacar and MvdP is here. That means they will likely try to find moves without them. I think it could be one for the B-cards. If every favorite has a domestique, you either follow the moves or you are the one who has to work.
Who will win?
JV – they bring the A-team but only two of them can win in a sprint. Their job must be to keep the four of them (WvA, Laporte, Bennot and van Baarle) together for as long as possible. Either skipping turns while following moves or believing in Wout van Aerts sprint. It is their race to lose after such a dominant performance in the opening weekend.
UAE – Pogacar is the main man. He is damn good on cobbles. The strongest of Ronde van Vlaanderen 2022. I think he and UAE would rather have a race where as few JV riders are in contention as possible but that will be a tough line to draw. He will need Wellens, Trentin and Bjerg to have a good day tomorrow, otherwise, I see him having to work a lot.
Alpecin – Fenix – MvdP took a dominant win in Milano – Sanremo. In 2021, he didn’t have the luxury of a strong team. Tomorrow, that is changed as SKA brings a formidable option to the table. I can see them using SKA to follow moves, while MvdP monitors Pogacar and Wout van Aert. Both of them are quick in a sprint too.
Pedersen – 6th in Sanremo recently after illness. I expect him to be better here. The main issue is, I don’t see him being able to follow the best on Paterberg. He will need a yoyo-race. If things are somehow more or less together after Oude Kwaremont, he is a prober racer. His Tour de France stage win in 2022 tells you his is not just a versatile sprinter. He is a very smart rider.
Quick – Step – bring Alaphilippe and Asgreen. Asgreen would love to attack from far out, but I’m still not sure he is at 100% yet. Alaphilippe had a poorly timed mechanical in MSR. I hope to see him back to his best, he is a fantastic rider to watch but Tirreno-Adriatico did not leave the best impression.
FDJ – you need to mention Küng and Madouas. They were terrific last season. I think Küngs chanced are good, as I see the B-cards from the bigger teams playing a role. He must follow those attacks, not the ones from Pogacar, MvdP and WvA. The same goes for Madouas, he has got no chance fighting it out head to head with the big three.
Who will win?
Who am I trying to fool, expecting to see a stand-off between MvdP, Wout van Aert and Pogacar. It is in their nature to attack. It will be full gas from the Taainberg as usual. They rarely play poker when they are out in front either and it would be suprising to see one of them finish it off with a long solo from Oude Kwaremont over 30 km out.
In a sprint between the three, I will take a win for MvdP. The kick on him in Milano-Sanremo was out of this world.