Brugge > De Panne 205.9km
The surprisingly few days of De Panne! Get ready for a big sprint.
A cracking day over in Belgium. Lots of sun and not much wind, it won’t be splitting in De Moeren.
The same finish as last year, it’s tricky to get right. We spend much of the final 5km on the main road, right beside the railway tracks. With 2km to go, the bunch head off the big road into the side streets, with a series of corners in rapid succession. You really need a good spot for the turn at 2km.
Just before the flamme rouge the riders head straight across the town square, this is where QuickStep moved to the front last year, it was poetry in motion.
Be at the front with 2km to go!
Mark Cavendish – Mørkøv is riding, what else do you need to know? They nailed it in Milano-Torino, but I did notice that Cav lost his wheel a couple of times. In a finish like this, Cav cannot afford to do that. With Honoré, Steimle, Van Lerberghe and Mørkøv the train looks strong, but they do miss riders like Lampaert and Sénéchal. Cavendish will start as the favourite but winning this won’t be easy.
Tim Merlier – for the first time this season he’s reunited with Jonas Rickaert, one of the best lead out men in the whole peloton. They two of them form a very strong partnership, with Thwaites, Meurisse and Gogl also strong riders to have in a sprint train. After picking up wins in Tirreno and Nokere Koerse, confidence will be high, and he’ll be hopeful of yet another win on home soil. 12 out his 20 pro wins have come in Belgium, that’s a great record.
Arnaud Démare – he did very well in Sanremo, that should have given him a confidence boost. He’s here with his usual sprint train, I’m interested to see where Bram Welten fits in. With a strong sprint train to support, he’ll hope to be challenging for the podium.
Arnaud De Lie – he’s a big talent, but I don’t think he’s ready to win a race like this.
Olav Kooij – his sprint train is better than it’s been in previous races, something the young man deserves. He’ll be counting on the experience of Van Der Sande, Eenkhoorn and Roosen to help guide him in the closing kilometres. We’ve seen in recent races he has the speed required to win; he just needs to start his sprint from higher up.
Dylan Groenewegen – after the sprint train misfired in the UAE Tour, they’ll be hoping to get things right here. On paper, it looks very strong with the likes of Durbridge, O’Brien, Stewart and Mezgec to help guide in the closing kilometres. In the sprints where he’s started in a good position, Groenewegen has looked fast, he should be challenging for the win.
Pascal Ackermann – took his first win of the season on Friday, but this race is a massive step up. He’ll have a lot more support than he’s had in previous races, hopefully he gets to start his sprint from a good spot.
Nacer Bouhanni – his sprint train is full of fast finishers, Arkéa will be hoping to get Bouhanni in a good spot for the sprint. His second place in Milano-Torino was a good result, but he was significantly slower than Cavendish. I doubt he can win, but the podium is a realistic target.
Sam Bennett – got all the way to the final stage in Paris-Nice before pulling the plug, he’ll hope that race will serve him well. Unfortunately, he was sick and had to miss Sanremo, so his current shape is unknown. He won here last year, sprinters love going back to races where they’ve tasted success. Looking at his train, it looks very impressive, with the big engines of Mullen, Politt, Koch and Van Poppel. If Bennett is fit, he’ll have a big say in the outcome of the race.
QuickStep v Alpecin-Fenix. This is a tough sprint finish to get right, it’s very easy for sprint trains to lose shape in the closing stages. Knowing the roads is a big advantage, I’ll take a win for Tim Merlier.