A change to the route, let’s see if that changes the dynamics.
So, more or less the same terrain the first half of the race, but the circuit around Huy has changed.
This is the 2022 and 2023 circuit. So I hope this works. There should be two arrows you can drag to compare. The thing is, the finale is just flatter. In 2022, we had 10.5 km after Mur de Huy before Côte d’Errefe started, in 2023 it is 17 km. They have just made the circuit longer.
This is the last three climbs. It is more or less the same. The change in circuit will not change the outcome – and they have also made the race a bit shorter.
Côte de Cherave
Mur de Huy
Positioning is key.
Wind blowing 6 m/s from the NE and going up to 7 m/s near the time they finish. That means a nice tailwind for the first half of the race. Does that mean echelons? It could. Before diving into that, still quite a warm day.
How will the stage unfold + echelons.
Let’s start with the chance of echelons. Firstly, the short section that leads them to the circuit. We are a long way from the line still. But it could create a more classics-type-racing than the sprint up the Mur.
Moving on to the circuit. Whenever they push over the Mur, they get up to an open area with crosswind before turning into tailwind. That is the perfect spot. Attack near the top – hope some favorites are sitting at the back, blow the race apart. Few teams can do this – we will get to that. We have this section twice.
And that is about it. It is a change, but I would give echelons 33% chance of succession. Hopefully, I’m wrong. The team to do it is UAE Team Emirates – blowing away the field on the first lap, having Pogacar attack far out. It is a bit too risky.
We start with a big favorite in UAE. It is their task to do the hard work but we all know, that is not how cycling works. INEOS will help for sure, same goes for loads of other teams. A lot of teams think their riders can get a top result. It is still a very good result to reach the podium in a race such as this.
The short race and the increased amount of flat means it will likely be as selective pre last time up the Mur. What is important is how well you can position yourself. You need a few riders left to do so, I will try to rank that with the contenders to my best abilities.
I will be going for the usual La Fleche Wallone despite Pogacar starting. It is really that that selective, plenty of teams will have helpers left to chase attacks.
Pogacar – starts as the favorite, it is his race to lose. UAE have a good team to control the early part of the race and a strong set of climbers and puncheurs to make it difficult for anyone who would like to attack far out. I would expect him to start in a good position, rarely has he been out of position – it happened in E3 this year and Dwars door Vlaanderen last year – the two instances I can recall.
Pidcock – still really can’t figure him out. I expect him to get better with each race after his concussion – he will challenge for the podium. INEOS bring a strong team and often does very well positioning their riders.
Mas – doubt he will win, challenging for a top result nontheless. I think 7-8th is most likely.
Woods – He was caught behind a crash and then had a mechanical at Amstel Gold Race. I would have quit the race too, it was over. 6th in Basque Country was a good sign but there is one major problem, he always starts too far back on the Mur de Huy. Hopefully, having Clarke, Houle, Impey, Neilands or Schultz here it will be different – but do not get your hopes up.
Gaudu – according to FDJ, he was in the front group that went away early in AGR. He did not finish the race. He has two top-10 results here in the past, that is what I would hope he can achieve tomorrow. The form seems to be going in the wrong direction. The team is good, he should have plenty of help getting in a decent position.
Higuita – loves a steep mur. DNF in AGR is not a good sign though and Bora-Hansgrohe has not shared anything regarding it. It is him or Hindley that will create a good result. Personally, I am thinking Higuita. He performed above expectations in Basque Country. Positioning is not always well and the reason is, he likes to sit at the back – reaching the front too late.
Maxim van Gils – A good shout for a top-10. Currently, he is going very well. He may be the dark horse for the podium to be fair.
Ion Izagirre – form is good but rarely gets a good result here.
Skjelmose – let’s see what he can do. He was 6th in the steep, yet similar, uphill finish in Basque Country stage 3. Remember, it was on Mollema’s bike and he was caught behind the crash uphill too. A top-10 is something I think he can do.
Sobrero – Basque Country proved he is not just a time trialists. Otherwise, Tour of Slovenia proves he can go up the steep climbs too.
Quick-Strep – I find it difficult to say who their choice is. Bagioli is the purest puncheur, Schmid to be is more of a versatile diesel and Van Wilder a climber. The Italian to score a top-10.
⭐⭐⭐ Pidcock, Higuita
⭐⭐ Mas, Van Gils, Gaudu, Bagioli
⭐ Skjelmose, Sobrero, I. Izagirre, Hindley
Who will win?
Pogacar to sweep the floor. Pidcock and Higuita on the podium with him.