By David Hunter
Ghent > Ninove 201km
The opening weekend.
The Wolvenberg is short and punchy, this is perfect to stretch the elastic of the bunch. Once over the riders town right and head down the cobble stones of the Holleweg.
The combination of steep climb followed by cobbles is perfect for those looking to put the pressure on.
The Molenberg is a horrible little cobbled climb. The entrance to the climb is tight, the road is narrow, and the cobbles are in poor condition. Once over the road continues to be very narrow, a good position is important for this climb.
The beautiful cobbles of the Haaghoek, which then leads into the Leberg climb. Back in the day Ian Stannard forced a move on the Haaghoek, but I haven’t seen it be decisive for many years.
The Berendries, 900m at 7%, this is the hardest tarmac climb of the day. It is perfect for the puncheurs to make a difference and gap some of the sprinters.
The legendary Kapelmuur, no words are required.
The Bosberg doesn’t look much, but it always weeds out the weakest from the front group.
Pure sunshine, 10 degrees and a very light win coming from the north-east. This is not Flanders in February.
What type of race do DQT and Trek-Segafredo want? They are the teams with the most options in their squads, but AG2R also have a couple of hitters. The nice weather means the race is unlikely to split early, it actually increases the chances of seeing a sprint finish for the first time in many a year.
Much of this week has been spent waiting to see if MVDP will start, but he won’t, you can hear the sigh of relief from all the other contenders. This means we should see a race where DQT try to take advantage of having so many good riders. They’ll try and use each climb or cobbled section to put pressure on the other teams and wear down their domestiques. Once into the finale they’ll look to get riders in the front group, and see if they can win the race. Given the squad they have, they hold all the cards and beating them won’t be easy.
Saying that, Trek-Segafredo will give it a bash. They are the defending champions and also have strong options in their team. For any break to be successful, I think it needs riders from these two teams and given the sprint finish of all their main riders, Trek will be quietly confident of taking another win.
The rest of the teams will just have to wait and see how the race develops. Going up against these two squads won’t be easy, but a good rider will always have a chance of winning. I also have to consider the chances of a sprint finish. It would be very unusual, but the nice weather certainly makes it more likely, but it all depends on the quick men surviving the Muur.
I’m joined by Edward Theuns of Trek-Segafredo. We take an in-depth look at the closing stages of the race.
DS Cycling Mole
Turn off that bloody Europop and sit down, my head’s banging already. I’ve moved heaven and earth to be here today, I had to sit in economy all the way from the UAE and a doctor went elbow deep up my nose with a cotton bud. Now listen up. This is the big one. The opening weekend. We were brilliant here last season, even if Jappy closed the door on Lampaert.
In the early stages I want Quarterback, Mulso and Eggy to look after the boys. The nice weather means it won’t split early, but it increases the chances of crashes. Be alert, be near the front and stay away from guys who can’t handle their bikes.
Once we get into the final 50km that is when we switch on. Madso, Fast Eddie and Kirschy you get to play your cards between the Wolvenberg and Muur, if a break goes we must be in it. If we miss it, I’ll be kicking your heads in for the rest of the classics. If the move is successful, you have freedom to take your chance, you all deserve it. Jappy, we save you for the Muur. You’ve been away getting a sun tan in Tenerife; we’ll have to see how your legs react. Do not save any energy for Kuurne, leave it all out on the road. Now get out there and beat those silly wolves. I mean, they aren’t even a nice animal.
DQT – so many options, but we’re used to that by now. Alaphilippe, Štybar, Ballerini, Lampaert and Sénéchal are their potential winners, they’ll be very hard to beat. We haven’t had much racing this year, but Alaphilippe and Ballerini have already impressed, they both look in great form and have to be protected in this race. The rest of the squad will be allowed to sniff out an opportunity, it helps that they can all sprint well from a reduced group. With so many options they start as the massive favourites to win the race, especially with MVDP not racing.
Trek Segafredo – Stuyven, Theuns, Pedersen and Kirsch are four strong riders. Theuns was good in Bessèges, he’s feeling strong and back to his very best. Stuyven has been up at altitude, and hasn’t raced yet this season. Pedersen wasn’t great in Bessèges, but he usually needs racing in his legs before he gets going. Having four strong riders gives the team plenty of options, they used their strength in depth well last year, Stuyven got in the right move and took a very impressive win. It will be hard to retain the title, but it sounds like they have a plan.
Tim Wellens – his win in Bessèges was very impressive, but he had to pull out of Provence with a cold. At the time his team said it was just a precaution, so I don’t think he would have missed much training. In the last couple of years Wellens has gone close in this race, but 3rd is his best result. Lotto Soudal no longer have a particularly strong team in races like this, no doubt Tim will attack from distance and take his chances, waiting for the Muur isn’t the right move for him.
Greg Van Avermaet – he’s not won yet this season, but he’s looked bloody strong. He walked away from Bessèges with a couple of 4th places, and was 2nd in Haut Var on Friday. He’s certainly climbing very well, something that will help him in this race. AG2R have a strong team, especially considering they have Oli Naesen as a strong second option, although he doesn’t always go that well in this race. Greg will expect to challenge for the win.
Tiesj Benoot – his first race of the year, which makes it tricky trying to beat those who have already raced, but not impossible. Tiesj is just back from a three-week camp on Mount Teide, which means he should be at a high level. Lacking racing could cost him the win, but I expect a good performance from him as he always seems to have good legs in this race.
Christophe Laporte – I’ll throw his name in as a contender, his 2021 form deserves it. He walked away from Bessèges with a 1st and 2nd, and then he was 11th in the uphill finish in Fayence, on Saturday. This is the best I think I’ve ever seen him, especially going uphill. Cofidis don’t have a strong team, Laporte will have to ride his luck a little if he wants to become the first ever French winner of this race.
Dylan Teuns – looked good in Provence, if a group disappears on a climb, he should be in it.
Gianni Moscon – another who impressed me in Provence. With all eyes on Pidcock, there is a chance the Italian will be overlooked, a dangerous thing to do considering his talent.
The boys in blue to dominate, and Davide Ballerini to win. They’ve been looking for the new Tom Boonen for a number of years, I think they’ve found him.
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