Once more, a dance between cat and mouse.
The route has become longer, now a total of 260.9 km needs to be raced.
First up to light up the show is the Kemmelberg – Belvedere (east). Still a long way from home. The corner down at the right hand site is very important too. We see splits over the top, but it is not the race defining climb.
Moving on, we have the same ascent of the Kemmelberg – Belvedere (east) again. Then, the penultimate climb is the Schomminkelstraat-Rodeberg before the Kemmelberg – Ossouire (west).
This is the Kemmelberg – Ossouire (west). Wout van Aert had a gap over the top, but a group of 8 riders (Wout van Aert, Benoot, Laporte, Asgreen, Mohoric, Van Baarle, SKA and Mads Pedersen) had a gap not too big before becoming a bigger group. In 2022, they had a headwind home
This is the run for home, This is where a group of four (Girmay, Laporte, Gestel and Stuyven) attacked and held off to the line.
The wind will blow from the west 5 m/s before turning and starts coming from the north at the end of the race. That means a crosswind home from Kemmelberg – Ossouire (west) compared to the headwind last year. More importantly, it seems like the Belgian spring has arrived – it will rain heavily throughout the day.
How will the race unfold?
With rain and a longer route, it suits the attackers more than the sprinters. Let’s take a look at the strongest teams.
Jumbo-Visma – Wout van Aert, Laporte and Van Hooydonck. Unfortunately, no Dylan van Baarle after his crash in E3 and no Benoot who had an unfortunate mechanical too in E3. I have a feeling they want to attack on Kemmelberg – Belvedere (east) with 83 km left. Why? It is a strong crosswind over the top until the next ascent of the same climb, just a short headwind section. However, Laporte has not been on the same phenomenal level of last year – perhaps the best chance is to ride all out for Wout van Aert.
Other strong teams look to be Quick-Step, but they are starting with both Merlier and Jakobsen plus Asgreen. It is an odd compination of riders, knowing Lampaert rarely works for the team either. Alpecin-Fenix have their best card in Phillipsen, he looked fantastic in Brugge-De Panne. Trek-Segafredo has Stuyven, who had a crash in E3 and Pedersen, who can’t follow the best uphill.
I can ramble on. What I see is this. When the group goes clear over Kemmelberg – Ossouire (west), who of Asgreen, Pedersen, SKA, Mohoric, Küng and Wellens want to sprint up against Wout van Aert? On the other hand, how many domestiques will De Lie, Merlier/Jakobsen and Phillipsen have left efter 240 km of racing in the rain?
To be fair, I have a very difficult time predicting the race.
JV – so, who can follow Wout van Aert? No one. Can he win solo? Yes. They also have Laporte and Van Hooydonck, once again, their team has the biggest width. I think their best option is riding for Wout van Aert. Once over the Kemmelberg for the last time, let him ride solo, keep monitoring moves and disrupting the chase for as long as possible.
Pedersen – very good in a sprint after a hard day of racing. He and Trek should opt for getting a sprint without the fastest sprinters which will be difficult. He is stuck in the middle, perhaps not the worst place to be, when it seems very difficult to predict if the attackers or the sprinters takes the win.
Alpecin – Fenix – with two bases covered. Phillipsen is phenomenal after a tough day in the saddle, while SKA needs to be used offensively to sit on wheels in the group of favorites. It is not two bad cards to have on your hand.
Mohoric – he usually gets better and better the longer the race. They don’t get much longer than tomorrow. His current form is fantastic but it is difficult for him to win in the current peloton. He is not quick enough in a sprint against the sprinters and currently he is just a level below the likes of WvA. I still expect him to race offensively and get a good placement.
Wellens – is the gas running out? Otherwise, I doubt he will work together with WvA if he manageds to follow him over the Kemmelberg.
Asgreen – hear me out. Quick-Step needs to get their fingers out of the asses and ride for Asgreen. Senechal and Lampaert, get your mind set to racing for your best rider instead of having him chase down moves, while you sit at the back of the group, getting dropped every climb and sprinting for a top-16.
Girmay – last year’s winner. His current form makes it difficult for him to do so again.
Who will win?
I will take a win for SKA. I like the fact he likely will have a sprinter behind him, it makes it more plausible for him to skip turns. I am completely unsure, how the race will unfold – but he can both sprint from a reduced group (will not beat the likes of Mads P and WvA) and attack solo. He has a big engine