By David Hunter
Beaufays – Namur 205.5km
After three weeks of racing in Spain, we head to Belgium.
We have a traditional route for the GP Wallonie, a race that is usually very exciting. The peloton are climbing most of the day, but the serious hills come in the final 25km.
First up is Cote de Lustin, 3.1km at 5%. That is quickly followed by Tienne oux Pierres, 3.2km at 5.3%. We then head along the river, before turning left and climbing up to the Citadelle de Namur. It’s one of the most beautiful finishes in cycling.
Around 2km at 6%, but mostly on cobbles, this is a tough finish to the race. It has a little flat section, just before the final sprint to the line. Last year, Jens Debusschere, won by attacking with 1km to go. It’s a climb that suits the puncheurs.
Beautiful conditions for the race, the total opposite to 2015. In fact, the heat might actually make this race too tough for some.
Inside the last 30km, it’s all about trying to get a teammate in the break. That allows your team to rest up, until the finale. The nice weather should help, as more riders will be in the peloton at the end of the race. That means plenty of riders to chase down attacks. Expect a biggish group to arrive at the final climb together.
Tim Wellens – is one of multiple options available to Lotto. His form is usually very good at this time of year, as he looks to defend his Eneco title, for the second time. The final climb does suit him, but he could do with it being a little harder. Needs to arrive alone, to take the win. Was competing in Canada on Sunday, so he might have a bit of jet lag in his system.
Tony Gallopin – the Frenchman did have a good Tour of Britain, finishing in 4th position. He is looking to top up his form before the European Championships, and provides Lotto with a terrific second option. Would not be a surprise if he won.
Tiesj Benoot – still waiting for that first pro win. I think it will happen before the end of 2016.
Hubert Dupont – despite being 35, the Frenchman is enjoying his best ever season, thanks to his 11th place in the Giro, his best GT result. After a rest, he is back to form, taking 3rd in the Tour du Limousin.
Jan Bakelants – the Belgian just loves this race. He arrives with “Vuelta” legs, and is looking to continue his fine run in this race. He hasn’t finished off the podium in the last three years. With so many kilometres completed recently, he might be at a level above the other competitors.
Fernando Gaviria – it’s great to see the Colombian sensation back on European roads. Etixx are still trying to work out what type of rider he is going to become. The problem is, he’s so good at everything! These hills really shouldn’t bother him, so the others had better watch out. With numerous options, it will be fascinating to see how Etixx approach the closing kilometres.
Petr Vakoc – just like some of the Lotto riders, he’s just back from Canada. Discounting that, this is the type of race made for him. Back in the spring, he won De Brabantse Pijl and took a very creditable 5th in Strade Bianche. The big Czech rider certainly has the kick required. He was excellent in Montreal, on Sunday, unfortunately crashing in the final corner.
Sebastian Reichenbach – the FDJ man had a good Tour de France, then finished 19th in Rio. After a few weeks off, he returned on Sunday in Tour du Doubs, taking a very respectable 6th place. He lacks a sprint, so will have to attack early on the final climb.
Larry Warbasse – what about another rider with Vuelta legs? The American is “fresh” from the Vuelta and could benefit from having those kilometres in his legs. On the other hand, he might be cooked!
Christophe Laporte – took 3rd place here in 2015, a very solid result. We saw him mixing it in the Tour de France sprints, but he is also a good one day racer. He has a very fast finish, but the final ramp might just be too much for him.
Maurits Lammertink – the Roompot man is off to Katusha in 2017, an excellent move for him. He had a strong spring, but has only just returned to racing after a long lay off. If not competitive yet, Roompot should turn to Pieter Weening.
Floris De Tier – the Topsport youngster has secured himself a contract with Lotto-Jumbo, thanks to a solid 2016 season. He still lacks a win, but he has been very consistent. It’s hard to see him winning, but he should make the top 10.
Thomas Sprengers – teammate of De Tier and a very classy rider. A lot was expected of him, but injury has hampered his season. Recent signs have been promising and he looks to be finishing the season well.
Xandro Meurisse – has just joined Wanty, so you would expect him to work for others, but he was a magnificent 7th in the Tour of Britain. He is climbing very well and also packs a sprint finish.
Baptiste Planckaert – a sensational season has seen the Belgian land a big contract with Katusha. He deserves so much credit for not losing confidence in his own ability. He can climb and sprint, perfect for this race. Like Laporte, the final ramp might just be too hard for him, but given the season he’s had, he cannot be written off.
Looks very much like Lotto v Etixx v AG2R. Lotto have Wellens, Benoot, Vanendert and Gallopin as real options for the win. Etixx have Vakoc, Gaviria and Martinelli. Looking to get in on their party is AG2R, with Bakelants and Dupont.
Considering recent races, I’ll go with Etixx and Petr Vakoc. He has the power needed to win, hopefully he’s not got jet lag!
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