By David Hunter
Kuurne > Kuurne 197km
The race that should really end in a sprint, but rarely does these days.
This used to be one for the quick men, but in recent years we’ve seen teams race it very aggressively and make it much more selective. What will happen this year?
The climb of Saint-Lauren was introduced last year, it was described to me as the second hardest climb in Flanders, despite it “only” being 1.1km at 7.4%. The problem is the big, horrible cobbles, they make it much harder than the figures tell us. The climb comes after 90km, which allows teams to start making legs sore.
Next up is the Kanarieberg, 1km at 8.2%. This is the steepest climb of the day and again helps some teams to wear down the sprinters.
The Côte de Trieu is next on the menu, 1.2km at 7.2%. As it comes not long before the Kwaremont, the battle for position is fierce and this is a very important point in the day’s racing.
For the first time in 2021 we get to see the Kwaremont, my favourite climb in Flanders. From the crest there is 60km to go, what type of race will we see?
This narrow section of road was introduced last year and it’s back. During this section we witnessed many attacks from the front group, the organisers will hope for something similar this year. The wind will be crosswind at this point, but only 18km/h, which means it will be hard for echelons to form, but I live in hope.
The tactics for this race usually follow a similar pattern. Teams who don’t want a sprint make the middle section of the race as hard as possible, once we get over the Kwaremont it’s then time to take stock and decide if it’s worth continuing with the push. Last year the organisers removed a lap of the closing circuit, significantly reducing the distance from the top of the Kwaremont to the finish, but that had minimal impact as we got a fairly standard edition of the race. What about this year?
The main team are DQT, they usually get what they want. They do have Hodeg in the team, but I’m not convinced he’ll cope well with the cobbles. That means they’ll race for the break to be successful, which should ensure we get a brilliant day of cycling.
Other teams who’ll happily join in the fun will be Trek, AG2R, DSM and Alpecin. This means we’ll get another edition where we watch to see if the peloton can catch a sizeable breakaway group. Please note, once in Kuurne, a 5 second gap is more than 20 seconds in real life!
Just like Omloop, we are in for a sunny day. We’ll have temperatures of around 11 degrees and an 18km/h wind from the north-east. Crucially this means a tailwind after the Kwaremont, which is good news for the attackers.
DS Cycling Mole
I’m taking over QuickStep for this race.
Right lads, you all know how this race goes. We get men in the break after the Kwaremont, then we see if it’s successful. Lampy, Styby, Steimo I want all of you in the front group. You all have licence to do what you want. Hodge, have you heard of these things called cobbles? You need to hang in there big man, you are our sprint option, and we need you in the peloton. Maybe just pretend that the cobbles aren’t there, that should work! Boys, I’ll be honest with you, we’ve got the B team out today. Do well, and you can make it into the A team. I love it when a plan comes together.
DQT – today was perfect for them, it really was brilliant racing by the whole team. For this race they swap things around, bringing in Hodeg, Van Lerberghe, Steimle and Steels. At this point I’m unsure how Štybar is after his crash, but I assume he’ll start. This isn’t the strongest QuickStep I’ve ever seen, the don’t look to have as many cards to play compared to Omloop. They will go in looking towards Asgreen and Lampaert as attacking options, maybe they do think Hodeg can hang on in the peloton and be there for the sprint. Looking at the squad, I don’t think this will be a race they dominate. Famous last words!
Trek Segafredo – today did not go according to plan. No doubt they’ll be hurting, lucky this race is tomorrow, and they can try to make amends. On paper they are very strong, I would expect Theuns, Stuyven and Pedersen to survive the Kwaremont. They have the numbers to make it an attacking race, but they also have fast sprinters if it comes back together. One race doesn’t make you a bad rider, they just need to believe.
Mathieu van der Poel – in the last 9 days he’s flown to the UAE, won a crosswind stage and then flew home. This is hardly ideal preparation for a race like Kuurne, losing 2 or 3 training days so close to a race isn’t what you would want. Saying that, MVDP is a ridiculously talented athlete, if anyone can do it he can. The team also have Tim Merlier as a sprint option, but MVDP will attack and be in the front group after the Kwaremont, we’ll then have to see if anyone wants to play ball with him.
AG2R – Greg looked good today, he made the front split with Alaphilippe, but he doesn’t have a good record in this race. He always makes the front split, but the route doesn’t really suit him well. Oli Naesen does provide the team with a second option, especially if both men are in the front group after the Kwaremont. Not only that, but they have Marc Sarreau in reserve for the sprint. Don’t underestimate him, he’s a fast finisher after a tough race.
Ineos – I was pleasantly surprised to see them have so many riders in the front group today, although they didn’t walk away with a result. Pidcock was very impressive, I loved his move to go across to the front group. With the likes of Moscon, Narváez, Hayter and Doull they have plenty of options, but don’t have one of big favourites.
FDJ – they have Küng for the attack, and Démare for the sprint. After Jake Stewart’s brilliant second place today, the French squad will approach the race with confidence. Démare wasn’t climbing well in Provence, I wonder if he’ll be better in this race. Küng has the right skill set to go long, TT riders go well here.
UAE – both Trentin and Kristoff impressed today, it was a real shame that the Norwegian had a mechanical just before the finish. This is a race Kristoff does well in, he’s been second on two occasions and third in the last six years. Trentin gives them an attacking option, just like today, but Kristoff is more likely to win.
DSM – they have Benoot and SKA as attacking option, with Pedersen their likely sprint option. Today wasn’t great, but it was the first race of the season for their leaders. I expect them to be better in this race.
Christophe Laporte – damn, he’s going well. Without help he’s unlikely to win, but expect to see him in the front group after the Kwaremont.
I’ll roll the dice and go for a sprint. Looking at the fast men here, Alexander Kristoff will be the winner.
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