Waregem > Waregem 120.1km
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, even though it’s only 50km into the race. 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.
Just like the last few races, Trek – Segafredo will be the dominant team in the race. Their usual enemy, SD Worx, aren’t here, which will make their life much easier. They arrive with a very strong team, but the lack of Balsamo shows that they aren’t too interested in a sprint. They do have Chloe Hosking as a sprint option, but after riding in support of Balsamo, we’ll see Longo Borghini and Van Dijk set free. The Italian can use the climbs to attack, van Dijk can make a move just about anywhere. With the likes of Brand, Hanson and Thomas to support, they’re going to be hard to stop.
Looking to do just that will be Movistar, who have the defending champion at the race. Van Vleuten was brilliant here last year, and she’s started this season in her usual way. Movistar don’t have a team to rival Trek, but they do have van Vleuten, so it’s not all bad news. She’ll have to attack quite early in the finale, looking to drop some of the Trek domestiques. She knows she can’t afford to end up in a group with Longo Borghini and Van Dijk, she needs to ride a hard race. Looking at the other teams, I don’t see anyone strong enough to compete with the big two teams. Most will have to let them fight it out, hoping to make the front group and take advantage when all the domestiques have been dropped.
Ellen van Dijk – in the last couple of races she’s looked like a million dollars, easily the strongest rider in the peloton. Now allowed to chase personal glory, she returns to a race she’s already won twice, it suits her well. Having such a strong team puts her into a great position but given the amount of headwind in key areas of the race, she’ll need to take a group with her.
Elisa Longo Borghini – I still don’t think she’s at her very best. I don’t think she’s too far away, which is just as well with Flanders on Sunday. She needs to use the climbs to her advantage; the Trieu would normally be perfect for her. Expect to see both her and van Dijk in the front group.
Annemiek van Vleuten – can she drop the whole Trek team? Nothing she does surprises me anymore but given the current form of van Dijk it will be unlikely. I think her best bet will be to get away with her Dutch pal and take her chances in a sprint.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig – needs to use the climbs to her advantage, but I don’t think the race is hard enough for her.
Soraya Paladin – current form is good, as is her sprinting speed. The Italian has spent some time working on getting faster in the sprint, her 3rd place in Trofeo Binda showed that the hard work was worthwhile. Due to this, no one will want to take her to the line.
Liane Lippert – the German should be the best option for DSM but winning against the quality already mentioned will be very hard.
Marta Bastianelli – will be praying it somehow comes back together for a sprint. She finished 6th in Gent-Wevelgem, she’d be the big favourite if this race ends in a bunch kick.
Ruby Roseman-Gannon – I’m a big fan of the Aussie. Recent races have been too hard for her, but that was to be expected in her first season in Europe. The easier looking route gives her hope, others will be worried about her sprint, she’s bloody fast.
It’s got to be Ellen van Dijk; she’s been riding like a monster recently.