Ypres > Wevelgem 248.9km
They dust has settled after a brilliant E3, now it’s time for something entirely different. Yes, the form guide is there from Friday, but this race is significantly easier, especially if the wind doesn’t blow. One of the big factors in this race is the distance, not all the sprinters cope well with the 250km.
Another beautiful day in Belgium, northern Europe is experiencing an unseasonable spell just now. Temperatures will be around 17 degrees and the wind shouldn’t go above 20km/h. We have lots of exposed roads as the bunch head north to Veurne and when they turn and head south and go through De Moeren. Those who want to split the bunch will give it a go, but they would like the wind to be stronger.
The most important part of the race starts after almost 200km, this is where the shit hits the fan, and we see who’s got the legs to challenge for the win. The riders are faced with the Monteberg, Kemmelberg, Baneberg and back again to the Kemmelberg.
Last time up the Kemmel is normally where the race explodes, it really is a horrible climb. Can the sprinters hold on? Just how big will the front group be?
Jumbo-Visma perfectly executed their game plan on Friday, it was a hugely impressive performance by the team, now they can sit back and see how the others respond. If the race doesn’t split in the wind, it swings the advantage over to the sprinters. They’ll be very pleased to see that it’s a block headwind from the Kemmel to Ypres, the front group will find it hard to hold off a chasing peloton, especially if the bunch still has domestiques able to work.
If the wind does split the race up, then we’re talking about a selective race, and a relatively small group fighting for the win. The headwind after the Kemmel will still be important, it would be a brave man who decides a solo move is the way to go. Everything is pointing to a sprint of some description; we’ll just have to wait and see how big the group is.
For the first time I can remember, QuickStep arrive with questions to answer. People will tell you this season has been a disaster for them, that’s utter nonsense, don’t listen to them. The Wolfpack have 15 wins to their name, but they have found the classics hard, something we’re not used to seeing. In recent years we’ve seen Asgreen, Sénéchal, Štybar, Alaphilippe and Ballerini help the team to dominate races like Omloop and E3, but this year a combination of illness, injury and poor form has left them depleted and unable to hit their usual levels. Their main saving grace this year has been the form of Fabio Jakobsen, he’s already taken 6 wins and looks like the fastest sprinter in the world. He’s spoken openly about this race being a big target for him, expect to see QuickStep ride for a sprint.
Wout Van Aert – the defending champion will start as the big favourite, and quite rightly so. He was stunning on Friday, and the Kemmelberg is a climb that suits him perfectly. Last year, he decided to keep the front group together instead of attacking the last time up the Kemmel, it was a decision that worked out very well for him. I’m interested to see how Jumbo-Visma approach the race, they’ll be slightly concerned about the presence of Jakobsen and Merlier, it will be up to them to make the race too hard for them. Flanders is just one week away, but there won’t be any thoughts of Wout taking it easy, the team have carefully planned his schedule to ensure he’s at his best until Roubaix. Personally, I want to see attacking Wout, not defensive Wout!
Christophe Laporte – what a signing he’s been, but that’s not a surprise as Laporte is a brilliant rider. This is a great race for him, it’s likely we’ll see both him and Van Aert attacking on the Kemmelberg in the hope of burning the sprinters and getting a small group off the front. A repeat of Friday is unlikely, but you just never know.
Fabio Jakobsen – has spoken openly about this race being a big target for him, you need to take note of things like that. The wind conditions are good for him, especially if the opening 200km is relatively calm. He won’t make the front group after the final ascent of the Kemmel, that is an unrealistic aim. The team will surround him with the likes of Lampaert, Sénéchal, Ballerini and Van Lerberghe. Once the Kemmel has been climbed, then they get to work in the final 34km of the race. They need all their boys to have a good day and survive the climbs, numbers will allow them to chase down the front group and set up a sprint. The headwind after the Kemmel is brilliant news for them.
Mads Pedersen – disappointed in E3, but it’s a very tough race to get right. One poor result doesn’t change the fact he’s having a brilliant season. Trek – Segafredo are a team who would like a sprint, Pedersen seems to find an extra gear when sprinting after 250km.
Tim Merlier – form is very good, it’s all about how he copes with the Kemmelberg. He’s a previous winner of the Koksijde Classic, a race that also features the Kemmel, it’s a climb he knows well. Alpecin-Fenix are a brilliant team, this would be a huge win for them. They also arrive with Philipsen and Veermersch; we’ll have to wait and see how they approach the finale of the race.
Arnaud Démare – he’ll likely make the front group and should be challenging for the podium.
Matteo Trentin – he’ll hope to be in the front group after the Kemmel, and he’ll want it to stay away. Winning will always be tough as there are others who are faster than him, but he’s a crafty soul.
Kasper Asgreen – he’s here to annoy Jumbo-Visma, just wait for it! He looked very strong in E3 but was forced into covering several attacks before the big move on the Paterberg. He’ll be in the front group after the Kemmel, but don’t expect him to do any work. Asgreen will be there and looking to disrupt the move, in the hope that Jakobsen gets back to the front. This will seriously piss off the others at the front of the race, get ready for some pointing and shouting!
Stefan Küng – it’s very hard for someone without a sprint to win this race, but I need to include Küng in this section as he’s been brilliant so far this season.
Biniam Girmay – the revelation of E3. Having this race just two days after will likely be too much for the young man, but you just never know.
It’s all about how big the group is after the final ascent of the Kemmel. Too small, they’ll get caught. Too big, they won’t work together. I think Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl will get back to winning ways and Fabio Jakobsen will land his first big classic.