Tournai > La Louvière 176km
New name and new route! What was known as Tour de l’Eurométropole is now Circuit Franco-Belge, and they’ve switched the race too. It used to be La Louvière to Tournai, but that’s been reversed, and the new route is certainly an interesting one. With the fight for world tour points now reaching fever pitch, the race takes on even more significance. The new route involves a road down into La Louvière and then four full laps of a challenging little circuit, it promises to be a day full of attacking racing.
Sunny and hot, with some wind to get some excited. There’s a long section where the bunch head south-east, towards the finish town, and the wind is coming from the north-east, which means crosswind. The wind will be around 20km/h, so it could be strong enough to create echelons, but I doubt we’ll see major splits.
Just over 20km in length, I like the look of this circuit. Despite only having one categorised climb, the roads are never flat and there are several punchy little kickers. The official climb is Bois de Breucq, which is a cobbled climb of 300m at 8%, but it does feature gradients up to 20%. As it’s only short, we’ll have to see what impact it has on the racing.
If we do get a sprint, the finish is 1.4km at 3.2%, it’s a grind up to the line. The pure sprinters will still hope to fight for the win, but it does give the puncheurs a chance.
Lotto Soudal won on Sunday, and they arrive with confidence. A lot of teams won’t see this as a big race, but the Belgians need world tour points to haul themselves up the league table. QuickStep aren’t as strong as usual, they have Jakobsen in their squad, but I expect he’s here to open his legs up before the Euros at the weekend.
I think we’ll see Lotto Soudal, AG2R, Israel-Premier Tech and Intermarché-Wanty be the teams making the race. Just like in Leuven, Lotto Soudal will be very active. They can use the likes of Campenaerts as an attacking option, and they have De Lie and Ewan as sprint options.
AG2R have lots of attackers, they’ll be looking to use the climbs in the lap circuit to put the sprint teams under pressure. Van Avermaet, Naesen and Dewulf form a very strong partnership and the team will expect to challenge for the win.
Israel-Premier Tech are the team who are most in need of securing points, they arrive with Vanmarcke and Biermans as attacking options, and Nizzolo if it comes back for a sprint.
Then we have Intermarché-Wanty who have enjoyed a brilliant season. They arrive with Kristoff, Vliegen and Girmay, three of the strongest riders in the whole race.
Despite the race only having 2128m of climbing, I think the circuit is hard enough for the attackers to cause some serious damage. The little cobbled climb is nasty, and the last time up it crests with just 8.5km to go. Climbs like this do suit sprinters, they have the power required to deal with the length of effort needed. I hope we see some of the quick men risking it and not simply hoping we get a bunch sprint, especially someone like Girmay. I think we’ll see an attacking race, and a relatively small group going to the line together.
Biniam Girmay – for me, he’s the favourite to win this race. He had to abandon the Tour de Wallonie, after crashing in the final stage, but as no bones were broken, so he should be fine by now. Girmay has enjoyed a truly exceptional season, far beyond anyone’s expectations. He is only young, so there is a chance he doesn’t hit the same levels in this latter part of the year, but I hope he does. He’ll be supported by a strong team, and he can win from a small group or a larger peloton.
Victor Campenaerts – took a brilliant win in Leuven, he approaches this race with confidence. This is a very important part of the season for Lotto Soudal, their survival at the top level is linked to the next group of one day races. Having an in-form Campy will be a massive boost for them. As the team has sprint options, he’ll be free to ride an attacking race and see if he can win back-to-back races.
Greg Van Avermaet – this year hasn’t been one of his best, but as he’s now 37, it’s only natural that his levels are starting to drop a little. Someone with his quality cannot be written off, and his non-selection for the Tour de France will still be motivating him for the rest of the season. I’m hoping to see him remind everyone just how good he is.
Dries De Bondt – the former Belgian champion has enjoyed a strong year, with a string of top 10 results in the spring and a stunning stage win in the Giro. Races like this are good for him, he climbs well and has a fast sprint from a reduced group.
Sep Vanmarcke – the pressure is on him to get some results in the next couple of weeks. He looked good in Tour de Wallonie, but 15th place in Leuven wasn’t the type of result I expected. The cobbled climb in this race is good for him, this is where he needs to make the difference.
Alexander Kristoff – he won the bunch sprint in Leuven, and as he’s here with Girmay and Vliegen, he should be able to chill in the peloton and hope for a sprint. The grind up to the line is perfect for him.
Arnaud De Lie – seven wins this year has been an amazing return for the young sprinter, he’s the main reason Lotto Soudal are where they are in the league table. He rode for his team in Leuven, potentially with one eye on this race. His climbing ability is something that’s impressed me this year, De Lie isn’t just a flat track bully, he goes well on lumpy days too. If it ends in a sprint, he’ll be the favourite.
Edward Theuns – it’s been pleasing to see Eddie’s from start to build. He was hitting the breaks in Wallonie and Poland, before getting the chance to sprint in the final couple of stages in Poland. If he can continue the momentum he’s built up, I think he’ll win a race before the end of the season. The uphill grind to the line is good for him.
Fabio Jakobsen – he doesn’t have his usual teammates to help throughout the race, and as I’ve already said, I get the sense he’s here for a good training ride before the Euros at the weekend.
Caleb Ewan – I’m not sure what to expect from Caleb in his first race since the Tour de France. He recently had an operation to remove a metal plate from his shoulder, which meant he was unable to ride the Commonwealth Games on Sunday. I think Lotto will wait and see how he responds in the race before making any decisions about the sprint.
I’ll take a win from a small group for Biniam Girmay.