Roeselare > Waregem 183.7km
The organisers have decided to significantly change the race, introducing roads that are rarely seen in big races. We still have climbs and cobbles that we’re used to seeing, but at first glance the route does like easier than previous editions. What the profile doesn’t show is the narrow roads, this will make life difficult for teams looking to organise a chase. Sprinters will still have a chance, but the race isn’t straightforward.
A cloudy day in Belgium, but it will stay dry. Temperatures will be around 14 degrees. The wind will be around 18km/h, with lots of headwind throughout the day.
The proper race should kick off with Berg Ten Houte, where the winning move went last year. This nasty cobbled climb is quickly followed by the Kanarieberg (1.2km at 7.1%), Trieu (1.1km at 7.2%), Mariaborrestraat (cobbles) and Ladeuze (1km at 6.5). Once the bunch crest the Ladeuze climb there is 38km to go.
The race ends with a circuit, one that features a cobbled sector and lots of narrow roads. Controlling the peloton will be very difficult.
The new route means predicting tactics will be hard, but I’ll give it a bash. Most of the tactics depend on what van der Poel wants to do. He’s here to prepare for Flanders, but he wants to win every race he starts. When does he want to attack? Normally it would be after the Trieu, but not long over the top the bunch head onto a wide road and into a blockhead for 5km. The wide road and wind aren’t great news for the attackers, but if a good group of strong riders get away, the bunch will find it hard to bring them back.
Some might gamble and wait for the Ladueze climb, which quickly follows a mainly downhill section of cobbles. The same problem appears for the attackers, there is still a headwind, it doesn’t stop until 27km to go. All the talk of headwind will get the sprinters excited, it significantly improves their chances of success, but it’s still not a nailed-on sprint.
I’ve already mentioned van der Poel, it’s now time to consider the impact Pogačar will have on proceedings. He’s here to gain a little bit of experience on dealing with Belgian cobbles before he makes his Flanders debut on Sunday. Just like MVDP, he always races to win. The climbs in this race aren’t long, but he can still do a lot of damage on a hill that’s 1km at 7%. He’ll be looking to attack and put everyone else under pressure. I don’t think the climbs are hard enough for him and MVDP to sail away from the peloton, we’ll likely see a group of 5-10 riders escape the pack and fight out the win. Saying that, we’ll have to see who misses the move and decides to chase.
Mathieu van der Poel – returned to racing at Milan-Sanremo, and almost walked away with the win. He then went to Coppi Bartali and carefully selected the days he would go full, taking the win in stage 4. That day he spent 80km in the break, got caught, and still had enough to win the sprint. With Flanders just a few days away, I think we’re all excited to see what shape he’s in, I expect him to be strong. This is a good route for him, he’ll be able to smash up the climbs and put others into difficulty, and his team arrive with a strong group to support. As usual, he’ll start as the favourite.
Tadej Pogačar – not a perfect route for him, but the kid is a bike racer, he always finds new ways of winning races. He’ll attack on the climbs, forcing a group off the front, then he’ll look to use his TT ability and sprint to take the win.
Tiesj Benoot – current form is excellent, now he gets a chance to ride for himself. In recent races we’ve see Tiesj fulfil a teammate role, making the pace hard to slim down the front group. In this race, he gets to save energy in the bunch, before the finale starts. Remember, the Trieu is his climb, he’s always one of the best up that hill. He’ll make the front group, then we’ll have to see if he can escape and take the win.
Victor Campenaerts – lives in the area, he knows the roads well. This is a massive goal for him, but he needs to avoid the bad luck that’s haunted him so far this season. He’ll have a plan of where he wants to attack, he’s a rider that loves to investigate the finer detail.
Stefan Küng – form is great, he should be in the front group and challenging for the win.
Søren Kragh Andersen – another with great form, and he has the advantage of not having to worry about Flanders, as he’s not racing. In recent races we’ve seen him ride in an aggressive manner, this will continue tomorrow. The Dane will like the look of the climbs, he is very strong on hills like this.
Mads Pedersen – apart from E3, he’s been on point so far in 2022. This has been his strongest start to a season, it’s great to see him going so well. In this race, he has a decision to make. Will he take the risk of waiting for a sprint or get involved in the attacks?
Jasper Philipsen – with van der Poel likely to be up the road, Philipsen just needs to sit in the bunch and see if it comes back for a sprint.
Fabio Jakobsen – he disappointed on Sunday, but this is a totally different kettle of fish. All the headwind will help those who want a sprint, but with all the attacking firepower at the race, it’s still unlikely to end in a bunch sprint.
I’m not sure how he’ll do it, but I’ll take a win for Tadej Pogačar.