By David Hunter
Zottegem – Koksijde 217.2km
After the excitement of stage 1, the riders head in the opposite direction in stage 2.With the wind coming from the West, that means a headwind for most of the stage. All of the bunch will have to be extra vigilant, when they turn right in Loker. At this point, we should get a strong crosswind. The fight for position will be fierce and expect a few crashes.
Not long before that we tackle 5 climbs. The hardest of these is the Kemmelberg. We saw it in all it’s glory during Gent-Wevelgem. This is a tough old climb, with difficult cobbles. With around 90km remaining in the stage, it might not be decisive but if some riders decide to make it hard, we could get a group of around 30 riders escaping. This is what happened in 2014, but that was due to hard riding by Etixx. Does any team possess the riders and will to do the same?
Alexander Kristoff is in a brilliant position. He has a 44 second lead over the GC riders and that’s a great gap, considering he has a decent TT in him. With the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, it’s unclear whether Kristoff will place much value on winning this race. He simply cannot go too deep, with such a long and demanding race under a week away. His team are very strong and they will have a lot of work to do.
As predicted, Lotto were very aggressive today. They now have Debusschere, De Bie and Bak all sitting high on GC. Both Bak and De Bie possess a good TT, so they will now assume protected status. Debusschere has now delivered two big rides in just three days. He’s bound to be feeling tired. If the race holds together, their focus will turn to Andre Greipel. The Gorilla was very visible today, often seen at the front of the peloton. He would love a morale boosting win and this stage looks good for him.
The forgotten men of 2015, Demare and Modolo, looked good today. Both will hope to be turning the corner, in terms of form and fitness. This stage also looks great for them and they too seek a confidence boost.
Sky, Orica and BMC have ground to make up. They need to ride aggressively and put Kristoff under pressure. They can try to attack on the climbs and have another chance in the crosswinds. Both Durbridge and Wiggins need to make a few seconds back on Kristoff, before the TT. Stage 3a is one for the sprinters, so stage 2 is their only chance.
Stijn Devolder put his bad luck behind him today and delivered an excellent performance. With Cancellara out of Flanders, his team would have been delighted with his showing. Back in the day, Devolder was an excellent TT rider but it’s been a while. With a nice gap, he has every chance of finishing this race on the podium.
We will get attacks on the climb and Lotto are in pole position. With 3 riders up on GC they can put Katusha under pressure. If they buckle, the other teams can take advantage. Expect an aggressive ride from BMC and Orica. I think we will get echelons but there is a chance it could come back together, before the end. The final kilometre is difficult and suits a sprinter that can hold his position in the bunch. For that reason I’m looking towards Sacha Modolo to repeat his 2014 success. Lampre looked good today and he’ll have a excellent lead-out with Pozzato and Cimolai riding well.
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