By David Hunter
Chaudfontaine – Citadelle de Namur 212km
Back to Belgium we go.
A race the does offer something for everyone. We have riders coming from the Vuelta, Canada and some from a recent block of training. The route doesn’t feature any long climbs, but it is constantly up and down. At 212km, it’s a long day in the saddle and one that challenges most riders.
Cote d’Ermeton – 1.2km at 6%
Cote de Lustin – 3.1km at 5.2%.
Tienne Aux Pierres – 3.2km at 4.6%.
Citadelle de Namur – 2km at 5%.
Horrible conditions for the riders. We will have lots of rain and a very strong wind coming from the south-west. That means a vicious headwind for some of the day, but we will also have lots of crosswind action, especially after the climb of Tienne Aux Pierres, where the riders are exposed to the elements.
Coming off the climbs, we have a number of fast descents. Given the wet conditions, I’m worried about the number of crashes we could have. With the worlds fast approaching, some riders cannot afford to take risks.
This looks a brutal day for the peloton and the weather will have a massive impact on the race. Expect lots of crashes and a tiny group of contenders at the finish.
Lotto Soudal – they have a ridiculously talented squad. They have won this race in the last two years and have Gallopin, Wellens, Benoot and De Clercq. Gallopin, the defending champion, was strong in Canada, in fact, so were Wellens and Benoot. Given their love of horrible conditions, the Lotto boys have a brilliant chance of taking another win in this race. They can play a tactical game, I think they’ll have a rider in every important break.
QuickStep – they can match up to Lotto, as they arrive with Vakoc, Brambilla, Gaviria and Serry. Last year, Vakoc was very close to beating Gallopin, he missed out by a matter of metres. As we know, they will ride an aggressive race and look to dominate the closing stages. It would be a big surprise if they weren’t in the mix at the end.
BMC – the other strong team in the race, with Gerts, Elmiger, Hermans, Teuns and Vliegen. That is some sfirepower for a race like this. BMC will expect to be in all the big moves and fighting it out for the win. We’ve already seen what Teuns can do in finishes like this, he’ll be keen to explode on the cobbles up to the citadelle.
Thibaut Pinot – good recent form for the Frenchman and this is a route that suits him. His problem is the finish, he does lack the explosive kick required to seal the win. Given his somewhat patchy descending skills, he might not like the horrible conditions. He will have his eyes firmly set on Il Lombardia and I doubt he’ll take unnecessary risks, if not Pinot, keep an eye out for David Gaudu.
Jan Bakelants – loves this race! Winner in 2013, 3rd in 2014 and 2nd in 2015. After coming from the Vuelta, he was a disappointing 11th, last year. He’s recently been in Canada and looked strong, but he will have been saving something back for Wallonie. He has the perfect skill set for this race and I expect to see him challenging for the win. One problem is the strength of the Lotto, QuickStep and BMC teams, they have an advantage over AG2R.
Harm Vanhoucke – hugely talented 20 year old, who shares a birthday with me! This season has been a breakthrough year for him, winning Flèche Ardennaise and taking a stage in Giro Mont Blanc. He’s riding for the Belgian national team and won’t be winning the race, but he is a rider you should look out for.
Xandro Meurisse – the Wanty rider is another that has the skills to challenge in this race. He loves racing in challenging conditions, this day will suit him well. His season has been consistently good and he has every chance of challenging for the podium.
We have three dominant squads and horrible conditions. This will be a battle of strength and we’ll see lots of DNFs. At the finish, I think we’ll see BMC take the win, it’s a day for Ben Hermans.
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