By David Hunter
We’ve had a change of name, but no change to the brilliant structure of the race. As usual we dart between Belgium and Holland, with a nice mix of climbs, cobbles and sprints. Get ready for a fantastic week of racing.
We open with a standard sprint stage, as long as the wind doesn’t blow. With wide open roads, any wind would cause havoc in the peloton.
The second stage is a 9km ITT. Short enough to interest the sprinters and it also means the winner won’t run away with the GC.
The third stage sees the bunch return to Ardooie, a favourite finish of the organisers. This is one of the most technical bunch sprints, it really is a thing of beauty.
The last of the sprint finishes.
The GC battle begins with a trip through Amstel Gold territory. We have plenty of climbs and a late golden kilometre, making it a very interesting day.
The sixth stage is meant to be a mini-LBL. It features the longest climbs of the week, but a relatively flat finish means we should see a reduced bunch sprint.
The race ends with the brilliant Muur/Bosberg circuit. After a flat opening 140km, we have a crazy final 50km. This is one of my favourite stages in the whole season.
Peter Sagan – after his disqualification from the Tour, the world champion returned in the recent Tour of Poland. An impressive performance would have boosted his confidence for this race. Despite a favourable route, the Slovak has yet to win this race. He has everything required to succeed here, but sometimes his team have let him down. Bora supported him well in his classics campaign, I think he’ll have the help he needs to win the race.
Greg Van Avermaet – another rider yet to win this race. After a sensational classics campaign, he starts as one of the favourites. BMC have a solid team to support him and he will hope you to use his tactical brain in the GC stages. Not the best TT rider, he needs a big performance, as he cannot afford to lose 30 seconds to his rivals.
Philippe Gilbert – quit the Tour due to sickness and was nowhere near his best in San Sebastian. I expect him to be at 100% for this race. QuickStep have their usual mix of strong riders and will expect a big result from their team leader. Another rider that had a very successful classics campaign, he will hope to impress on home roads. Like Van Avermaet, the TT will be very important for him. He should be able to post a good result over the 9km course and he will look to attack the final three stages.
Tom Dumoulin – returned to racing in San Sebastian and took a very impressive 3rd place. He was 2nd here in 2013 and 3rd in 2014, it’s good to see him back. He will look to win the TT and take as much time on his rivals as he possibly can, that will put him into a strong position for the final weekend. He is an underestimated rider in the Ardennes, but his team do look a little weak. He will need a big performance by Soren Kragh Andersen, or he could be isolated late in races.
Tiesj Benoot – after a brilliant debut in the Tour, he followed that up with 9th in San Sebastian. There is no hint of tiredness, instead, I think we’ll see him getting a boost from his first grand tour. So close to his first pro win, I think it could happen in this race. He ended the Tour with his best ever TT, he needs something similar in this race. It will be hard for him to win GC, but a stage win is a realistic aim.
Jasper Stuyven – he looked amazing in Ride London. Despite a hugely successful career, I think we’ve still to see the full potential of this talented Belgian. He’s now 25 years old, but has spent a lot of his time riding for others. Now a fully fledged team leader, I expect big things from him. He has the speed and power required to be successful and I do like his attacking style. Should be aiming for a top 10 spot on GC.
Sep Vanmarcke – 3rd in Omloop was a good start to his classics campaign, but again, it was another campaign to forget about. As usual, bad luck had a big say in this, I would love to see Vanmarcke getting through a race without crashing or getting a mechanical. Recent form has been good, with a strong performance in Austria and Ride London. After some good Cannondale results, the team will be hopeful of Vanmarcke continuing this run of good form.
Oli Naesen – now released from his role of Bardet’s bodyguard, I can’t wait to see the Belgian champion racing for himself. The rising star of the classics campaign, he will be hoping for similar legs in this race. This is where his rise started, back in 2016, with a hugely impressive 2nd place on GC. Since that point, he hasn’t looked back! With a new contract and riders joining in 2018, AG2R are clearly happy with their star. I expect another big performance from him as he looks to finish on the podium.
Michael Valgren – another rider that spent July riding around France, keeping GC men out of trouble. The Dane now gets to chase personal glory and he should do well in these stages. His early classics campaign was good, with 6th in E3 and 11th in Flanders, such a shame his crash in Flèche stopped him from competing in his favourite race, LBL. He should be able to challenge for stage win, this will also propel him up the GC standings.
Wout Van Aert – winning the race might just be beyond him just now, but you just never know. Still in a transitional progress from cyclocross to road racing, that hasn’t stopped him from taking wins this season. His ability is frightening and I can’t wait to see him fully commit to the road.
I can’t see past Peter Sagan. He has the ability to take bonus seconds in the sprint stages, that will put him at an advantage over his rivals. He’ll only lose a handful of seconds in the TT and we all know what he can do in the tough stages. It won’t be easy though, as he have some of the world’s best challenging him. It should be a brilliant race.
Follow us on @CiclismoInter
Join us on facebook: Ciclismo Internacional
Copyright © 2012-2017 Ciclismo Internacional. All Rights Reserved