By David Hunter
Roselare > Waregem 184km
DDV is a beautiful race, it offers hope to most riders. It’s not as hard as E3, which interests the sprinters, but it rarely ends in a sprint.
A cracking day in Flanders. Temperatures will reach 23 degrees and the wind will only be around 15km/h, coming from the south-west. Even though the wind isn’t strong, it’s a great direction to make the race hard. The direction is the same as it was in E3.
The Cote de Trieu has a big impact on this race, as it is climbed twice. The first ascent comes with 72km remaining in the race, this is the point where van der Poel attacked in 2019.
The cobbles of the Stationberg are tough, especially the uphill section. This is a hugely important point in the race, as a good position at the end of the sector means you start the Taaienberg at the front. There is less than one kilometre between the end of the Stationberg and start of the Taaienberg, moving up the bunch will be near impossible.
We head to the Taaienberg. In E3 we saw Deceuninck – Quick Step blow the race to pieces here, there is every chance they try the same again. Barriers will be in the gutter forcing the riders onto the cobbles and making this climb even harder.
Once off the Taaienberg the riders head towards Berg Ten Houte but instead of going directly there, as they did in 2019, they go in a little loop which could be very significant. You can see the road is very narrow, this means the group who escape on the Taaienberg will have a chance to establish an advantage before the next climb.
Berg Ten Houte is a little devil of a climb, and since we were here in 2019 the local council have now laid cobbles at the start, which last for around 400m. This is a great chance for the front group to push on and consolidate their advantage, with the next climb just 6km away.
Kruisberg – Hotond comes next. From the crest of the climb to the second ascent of the Trieu there is just 6km of road. The frequency of the climbs makes it very hard for the peloton and great for the attackers. The last time up the Trieu is perfect for riders to jump out of the peloton and try to bridge across, but it’s a slog for the sprinters and their domestiques.
The next challenge for the peloton is the Varentstraat which is a tricky cobbled sector. In 2019 the organisers put barriers up forcing the riders onto the cobbles, I hope they do so again. The sector is relatively long (2km) which again makes life tough for anyone trying to organise a chase in the peloton.
The Vosenhol is the last of the significant climbs, in my opinion. It isn’t that hard, but weaker riders can be exposed. From the crest there is 22km remaining and that does include the Holstraat and Nokereberg, but they shouldn’t bother the top riders in the race.
The organisers have also tinkered with the closing stages of the race. We now have quite a lot of corners and some narrow roads too, which is good news for the attackers and not for the sprinters.
Will we get a sprint? The weather increases the chances, but the route doesn’t make it easy for the domestiques. With so many climbs and narrow roads it’s just very difficult to organise the chasing group, which means it’s good for the attackers. If sprinters want to have their fun they need to hope that the peloton is still quite big in the closing stages, but will it be?
How Deceuninck – Quick Step approach the race will likely dictate the type of day we get. They arrive with a sprint option in Ballerini, but he enjoys a tough race. Given the riders at their disposal, I think they’ll want to make it selective.
As always the shadow of van der Poel looms large, DQT got their tactics spot on in E3, but repeating that won’t be easy. I think we’ll see them making it tough from the first ascent of the Trieu, then splitting the bunch on the Taaienberg. If the right group gets away at this point I don’t think they’ll be seen again. Their chance of success depends upon getting multiple riders in the front group and trying to work over van der Poel. The big issue they will face is the Trieu, this is where van der Poel can attack and drop most riders. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him slim down the front group the last time up trying to make it a race between team leaders.
How van der Poel approaches this race will be fascinating. We’ve already seen this season that he’s in wonderful form, but he must be wary of being outnumbered by DQT. This race is easier than E3, which I think makes his life easier too. He will be keen on getting the racing started early on, but needs to be careful to not do too much. If we gets away on the Taaienberg with a strong group, there is only 20km until the Trieu, which is where he has to put in a big dig. If he can then get the group down to leaders only he’ll be confident of winning. It’s up to Deceuninck – Quick Step to stop this from happening.
DS Cycling Mole
After a recent cold, the boss man is having a rest and making sure he’s 100% for Flanders.
Mathieu van der Poel – if you think he’ll go easy with one eye on Sunday then you’re wrong. After missing out in E3 he’ll be keen on winning this race, especially with Van Aert winning Gent-Wevelgem. His team aren’t as strong they have been in previous races, bringing both Merlier and Philipsen is a funny one to me. Given he’ll try and make the race hard from far out, he doesn’t need a strong team at his disposal. Can he take his 5th win of the season?
DQT – the strongest team in the race, but aren’t they always? Alaphilippe, Asgreen, Lampaert, Sénéchal and Ballerini could all win this race, they really are incredibly strong. They will all be used as attacking options, even Ballerini, this gives them a huge advantage over all the other teams. Lampaert is a two-time winner of this race, he’s been looking very strong in recent races, but doesn’t have the results to back this up. Asgreen and Sénéchal were obviously super strong in E3, this is a team that don’t just arrive with star riders, they arrive with star riders in brilliant form. Then we have Alaphilippe, he’s had a little break after Sanremo, so should be nice and fresh. He’ll love this route; the climbs are great for him to push on and make the race hard. Even though van der Poel is the strongest, the Belgians start as the favourites.
Trek-Segafredo – they didn’t have a great day in E3, and couldn’t race in Gent-Wevelgem due to a positive COVID case. Thankfully the team have been given the all clear for his race, they’ll all be eager to get racing again before Flanders. Stuyven will be the leader, his current form is good, and this race should suit him. I would also think that Simmons will have freedom to follow the early moves and see what happens. They aren’t the big favourites, but the team have already enjoyed a lot of success this year and that usually breeds more success.
Tiesj Benoot – he loves the Trieu; it is the perfect climb for him. He told me in the E3 preview that he’d been sick after Paris-Nice, so it was good to see him doing okay on Friday. With that race in his legs he’ll be stronger here and this is a race that suits him well. Both he and Søren Kragh are strong options and DSM will expect to be challenging for the win.
Anthony Turgis – I’ve been very impressed by his level of consistency in recent classics, especially as he rides for a smaller team and often has no support in helping to position him for the key points. This season he finished 15th in Omloop, 2nd in Kuurne, 10th in Sanremo, 12th in E3 and 9th in GW. That is a serious set of results, and don’t forget he was 4th in Flanders at the end of 2020. The Frenchman was 2nd here last year, despite all the big stars at this race it wouldn’t surprise me if he won.
Tom Pidcock – he looked very good in Omloop, Kuurne, Strade and Sanremo, but didn’t have a great day in E3. On paper this should be a good day for him. His performance on Friday does raise some questions, we’ll have to see if it was just a bad day. If he’s 100%, he’ll be fighting for the win.
Dylan Van Baarle – another rider who’s looked good in recent races. Top 10s in E3 and GW are a good return for him, but I feel he’ll be looking for more. I’m not sure this race suits him perfectly, but given his current form he could still make the front group. He clearly has a huge engine, which means going solo isn’t a problem.
Tim Wellens – another rider who had a little rest after Sanremo. His big focus will be the Ardennes classics, I’m not too sure he’ll be challenging in this one, but the Trieu does suit his style of riding.
Valentin Madouas – I’ve been left a little disappointed by his performances this season, but I did notice some green shoots in Tirreno. This is a race that should suit him well, but only if he can find some form.
Tim Merlier – if we somehow get a sprint then I think the Belgian looks the best bet.
Despite the obvious strength of Deceuninck – Quick Step I still think Mathieu van der Poel will take the win.
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