A triple header of one day racing in Belgium this week begins with Dwars door Vlaanderen. The race covers many of the cobbles and ‘hellingen’ as Omloop Het Neuisblad did last month and is another key marker for those targeting the Tour of Flanders in just over a weeks time. In fact, this whole week is a key marker! Around 10km longer than Omloop, Dwars door Vlaanderen is 203.3km, 11.4km of which are ‘Hellingen’ and 10km are cobbled sectors.
The riders will have covered 90km before the first cobbled climb presents itself, in the shape of the Nieuwe Kwaremont – not be confused with its more famous brother. Then the cobbles and climbs come in thick and fast with seven featuring over the next 30km, ending with the Valkenberg. The riders will have 15km to regain some composure before the double hit of the Eikenberg, and Taaienberg greets them. Then a slightly longer respite of 20km before the two big climbs of the day appear the Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg. The race will be ripped to bits by these two climbs and expect the winning group to have formed as the roll over the next sector of cobbles, Varentstraat. From here there is just over 20km to go and once the final cobbled climb of the Nokereberg is passed with 10 kilometres to go. A new edition for this year’s course is the Herlegemstraat sector of cobbles with only 7km remaining, this could slow down any chase attempt by the peloton. That, coupled with the forecasted strong winds and light rain could make for a thrilling finale.
Last year the race came down to a bunch of 30/40 rider contesting the sprint. We don’t think that will be the case this year and we’ll likely see a similar scenario to what we did at Omloop, with a select group break away on the Oude Kwaremont or the Paterberg. With that in mind, we’ll disregard the sprinters in the race.
Quickstep will once again be the big favourites for this race. Philippe Gilbert has been in vintage form, although without taking a win as yet, and he leads the team. However, the likes of Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar and Yves Lampaert could all also be in the final group. It really depends on who is targeting what this week for the team. Gilbert looks to be on for this one for us.
The other big home team is Lotto-Soudal. They have last year’s winner Jens Debusschere, Tiesj Benoot and Jurgen Roelandts. Expect Debusschere and Benoot to be the co-leaders, with Roelandts and main backup. Benoot is still without a win and despite his youth, the expectation and pressure will start to build if he doesn’t start to convert his form into wins. This could be his race.
The team with a huge monkey on its back at the moment is Cannondale Drapac. Sep Vanmarcke rode brilliantly Omloop and we would once again expect him to be part of the final group. Like Sagan, he never seems to need a strong team around him to get him into the key positions, but the experienced Sebastian Langeveld will be road captain and main support for Vanmarcke.
Trek-Segafredo comes with two informs riders in the shape of Edward Thuens, who was third last year, and Fabio Felline. The Belgium is typically better suited to the cobbles, but Felline is the btter climber and both can sprint. However it’s highly likely that Thuens will be the team leader with Felline his main support and back up.
Orica-Scott will have Paris-Roubaix winner Matthew Hayman, but he won’t be their main chance for this race. Luke Durbridge put in a fantastic performance at Strade Bianche, finishing 6th and showing that he is now much more than a TT specialist. Jens Keukeleire will be the nominated leaders, but after Durbridge’s recent performance he looks the more in form and could motor away from a small group.
Arnauld Demare is another rider with good early season form. He took a great win at Paris-Nice but was undone by Sagan’s attack on the Poggio at Milan-Sanremo (but he wasn’t the only one!). He has a great sprint after a long hard day on the bike and if the weather is a bit iffy that will also suit him.
Other riders that are contenders are Lars Boom, who crashed at Omloop and will want to make a mark for the team he returned to over the winter. Micheal Matthews is another rider who was in good form at Paris-Nice. He’s not known for his cobble riding but has done well at De Brabantse Pijl over the last few years and his legs are in great nick on the climbs at the moment. Finally, we’ll be looking out for Oliver Neisen who was in the top ten at both Omloop and Kuurne. He’s another great young Belgium classics rider who will once again challenging for the top ten, if not better.
Our Pick: Its going to be a day for the young Belgiums and Tiesj Bennot could be in line for his first big win and show his form before Flanders.