By David Hunter
Roeselare – Waregem 203km
We are back in Belgium, for the beginning of a terrific few weeks of racing. DDV is a great race, one where we sometimes get an upset.
We have the usual climbs and cobbles, but the organisers have decided to change things up a little by adding in a new sector of cobbles, just 6km from home. Like everyone else, when I heard of this inclusion I got rather excited, unfortunately, this cobble section is very easy and shouldn’t trouble any of the favourites. The cobbles featured in the recent Nokere Koerse.
Dry, but there seems to be a fair wind blowing from the south. I’ll whisper it…echelons!
The Eikenberg marks the start of the race. As we approach it, the riders will all want to be near the front of the bunch. Soon after, we hit the Taaienberg and the race begins! Like in all of these races, we will see the first selection made over the top of this climb, but with 20km until the Kwaremont things can comeback together.
The most important section of the race is the Oude Kwaremont, quickly followed by the Paterberg. Both climbs have mythical reputations and a serious impact on all races. This is where we’ll start to see if the break will win.
As we start heading towards home, it is possible for the peloton to catch the front group and set up the sprint. It is a race that favours the breakaway riders, but that doesn’t mean the sprinters can’t win. The wind is favourable for the break to survive.
Teams will try and make most moves in the closing section of the race. If you miss the move on the Taaienberg, your team will have to work very hard in the next section of the race. Those teams that make the initial selection, can take things a little easy back in the bunch. Teams that have multiple options are better suited to this race, it’s very hard if you can only win from the sprint.
In these races, we are used to seeing the Belgian squads destroy the rest of the field. To be honest, both QuickStep and Lotto Soudal have been disappointing in the one day races this season. Will that continue here?
It isn’t a huge surprise to see QuickStep struggling a bit, they seem to have changed focus a little and lack their usual supply of super domestiques. Their signing policy was a little strange in the winter, adding riders like Jack Bauer, Dries Devenyns, Tim Declercq, Enric Mas and Max Schachmann. That didn’t really excite many fans. We all understand that teams need loyal workers, but these riders are short of the quality the team possessed with Stijn Vandenbergh and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck.
They did add Philippe Gilbert, a rider that needs no introduction! He clearly is another leader, and slots into this race beside Stybar, Terpstra and Gaviria. Iljo Keisse has impressed in recent races, but this is not the team of old. Gone are the days of them dictacting the whole race, QuickStep are no stronger than the other big teams. They still have riders capable of winning, but they have to carefully plan their moves.
Lotto Soudal are another team that can’t be happy with their start in these races. For me, there stand out rider is Tiesj Benoot. It seems that they struggle to make this decision, instead, continuing to protect riders like Jurgen Roelandts and Jens Debusschere. Although capable of big results, this pair are frustrating to watch. Yes, Debusschere won here in 2016, but his results this year have not been good enough. If they gave Benoot their full backing, he would deliver the results. He is a huge talent!
That leaves a power vacuum in this race, can another team fill it? The race has been promoted to world tour status, but with E3 and GW coming straight after, some of the biggest names are sitting out. That means teams like BMC are a little weak, they have talented youngsters but not enough to control the race.
Trek-Segafredo might just be the team to fill the void. They have workers in Boy Van Poppel, Fumiyuki Beppu, Laurent Didier, Mads Pedersen and Marco Coledan. That leaves them with two very strong options for the win: Edward Theuns and Fabio Felline. To me, this team seems to have a good balance and a clear hierarchy. Theuns is a fascinating athlete and one that loves this race. He was 2nd here in 2015, helping teammate Jelle Wallays take a huge win for Topsport. Last year, he was very active in the race and still had enough to take 3rd in the sprint. This is his chance to lead the team, he will be on domestique duties in the other races for Degenkolb and Stuyven. Expect to see a very motivated rider.
Edward Theuns – gives Trek a great option from a reduced bunch. He knows all of these roads and can use that local knowledge well, giving him an advantage over some of his rivals. We have three races this week, for Theuns, this is his number one focus. He isn’t riding E3 and will work for others in Gent-Wevelgem. Expect to see him giving it his all.
Fabio Felline – a good second option for Trek. The Italian was hugely impressive in Omloop, a real surprise to me. He has a lot of quality and a very fast finish, if he arrives in a small group. With these two options, Trek will expect to have a big say in the outcome of the race.
Tiesj Benoot – so attacking, but so unlucky. He’s still waiting for his first pro win, but it is coming. He seems to always make the front move and it’s only a matter of time until his luck changes. If the wind blows, he will come into his element. He was good here last year and I expect another big performance.
Oli Naesen – another one of these ridiculously strong Belgian riders. He made the front moves in Omloop and Kuurne, finishing in the top 10 in both races. It’s hard to imagine him not making the top 10 in this race, and if things go his way, it could be a visit to the podium. Great in the wind, fast on the climbs and packs a good sprint. Naesen has the qualities required to be successful.
Fernando Gaviria – the Colombian was looking in a great position here last year, but he went backwards in the sprint. After a solid performance in Milan-Sanremo, he arrives in good shape and hopeful of a top result. He gives QuickStep a wonderful option for the sprint, but he also likes to attack. The team will carefully think about their tactics, if it was up to me, I’d instruct the Colombian to save his legs and wait for the sprint. They have other options for the breaks.
Niki Terpstra – if it’s windy, he always delivers. In my opinion, he is the best rider in poor conditions. His form seems to have been building nicely, I was impressed by him in Tirreno. He gives QuickStep a wonderful option and is looking to win this race for a 3rd time. He will be delighted with the extra section of cobbles near the end of the race.
Sep Vanmarcke – brilliant in Omloop, but not much since. He crashed in Strade Bianche, injuring his ribs, but says he is better now. He is a very strong rider, but not one that wins very often. He now rides for a team, that doesn’t win very often either. Not a great mix!
Arnaud Demare – a rider that is looking strong. His win in Paris-Nice was special. He looked good in Milan-Sanremo, but was unable to defend his title. The Frenchman is a fan of these races and you could argue that his real strength lies here. He struggles to match the sprinting speed of the very quickest, but does love a sprint after a tough day in the saddle. He starts the race as one of the big favourites.
Lars Boom – his crash in Omloop was not what he was looking for. After his move back to Jumbo, he would have liked a strong start to the season. Remind yourself that Boom is a very talented cobbles rider, and he’s fairly good on the climbs too. If he can avoid bad luck, he has a great chance of making an impact in this race.
Sam Bennett – can only win if the peloton brings back the break. Clearly in awesome current form, do not underestimate the Irishman. He looks ready to take a step up in 2017.
Luke Durbridge – gets better with age. Turbo Durbo has been slowly developing into a classics rider and moving away from TTs. That transition is almost complete, he was 12th in Kuurne and 6th in Strade. He has the quality to make that front group and also the engine to make a move from distance. I expect another top 10 result for the Aussie.
If it gets windy, the strongmen come out to play. I think we’ll see Niki Terpstra taking his 3rd title.
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