Denain > Denain 194.8km
The organisers have changed it up this year, but quite a few of the cobbled sectors remain the same. The last couple of years haven’t been as selective as I would have hoped, but this year could well be different.
Lots of wind, and there could be some rain around. The wind will come from the south and will be over 25km/h for most of the day.
This is going to be a tough day in the saddle. Not only do we have 12 cobbled sectors but there’s lots of narrow roads and crosswind, perfect for those who want a battle.
Jumbo-Visma start with the big favourite, Olav Kooij, but they only have six riders and two of them are from the development team. This isn’t enough to control a race like this, given the weather conditions, which opens the door for many other teams and riders.
When I look at the weather, I immediately think the race will be tough and we’re not looking at a sprint finish from a group of 40 or more riders, I think it’s going to be much more selective that that. It’s not the longest race in the world, so those with slightly smaller engines have a chance of winning, it really is a wide-open race.
The cobbles will be used to make selections, it’s all about getting riders into the front group, so you don’t have to waste energy chasing. Looking at the teams in this race, FDJ and UAE look strong to me. FDJ showed today in Nokere Koerse that despite their age, they can challenge for the win. They have lots of attacking options, and sprint options too, I think they’ll have a big say in this race.
UAE also look strong, but without natural cobble riders, that’s my worry with them. Intermarché are the other squad I like the look of, they have several riders who can do damage and I doubt they want a sprint finish.
Conclusion – a tough day in the saddle.
Olav Kooij – the fastest man in the race, there’s no mistaking that. After taking a win in Paris-Nice, confidence will be sky high. If you are a regular reader, you’ll know I’m a big fan of the young sprinter. This race is a different kettle of fish, especially with the team support he has. Jumbo-Visma won’t be able to control it, anyone who sits in the peloton waiting for them to do so, will be left disappointed. Hopefully, this forces Kooij into attacking, I’d like to see that.
Hugo Hofstetter – a good, cobbled rider, this is a race he’ll look forward to. He doesn’t mind some dodgy weather either.
Axel Laurance – now, this is someone I’m excited to see. The young Frenchman excels after a tough day in the saddle, he’ll be hoping Alpecin can make it so. He packs a very fast sprint, so he’ll hope his team can deliver a reduced bunch kick, hopefully without Kooij.
Pascal Ackermann – he was up there today but choose to attack and not fully commit to his sprint. I’m finding Ackermann a very tough rider to work out. He still has a very fast sprint, but we rarely see it these days.
Paul Penhoët – one of FDJ’s group of hungry, young cyclists. He’s a fast finisher and provides the team with an excellent option if the race is to end in some type of sprint.
Milan Menten – his win in Le Samyn means he should be considered for this race; he can handle the cobbles. Lotto rode an aggressive race today, looking at their squad, it should be all in for Milan.
Sjoerd Bax – the first of my group of attackers. Bax joined UAE at the start of the year after an impressive season with Alpecin. Most of this season you’ll have seen him on the front of the bunch riding hard for the likes of Pogačar, but he’s now going to get opportunities for himself. He was 10th in Nokere Koerse, and I think this type of race should suit him well.
Lewis Askey – 5th today, that was an impressive result considering he made a mistake in the finale. This is exactly the type of race he can win, especially if we get a hard day in the saddle. He also showed last year he can cope well with consecutive one-day races, I’m expecting big things of him this year.
Taco van der Hoorn – he seems an obvious selection, a Rolls Royce of a rider. This isn’t a day for him to go for the early break, he needs to wait until the main cobbled sectors before going on the attack.
Laurenz Rex – when I saw him in Andalucía, I thought, who the fuck is this big guy? Apologies for my French. He’s a big unit but was up there in one of the hilly stages, respect to the big man! He’s fresh from winning Dorpenomloop Rucphen on Sunday, a Dutch 1.2 race. Given his bulk, he’s surely good on the cobbles.
Dries Van Gestel – excellent option for this type of race.
Strong today, I’m going for a Lewis Askey win.
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