Brugge > De Panne 211.8km
One of those days where you’d much rather be watching on TV rather than being in the race. It’s a race that’s for the sprinters, but it won’t be a big sprint this year.
Lots of wind and a bit of rain too. The wind is coming from the south-west and will mainly be around 30km/h for the whole day, which is more than enough to cause serious splits.
The organisers have seen sense and reversed the direction of the lap circuit, which means a lovely cross/tailwind as the bunch fly through De Moeren. With speeds over 30km/h, the bunch will be blown to pieces as they head north towards the finish. The riders go through De Moeren on three occasions, it’s going to be chaos.
Check the size of that! The bunch head west and make a right-turn onto this tiny road, and straight into crosswind. This section is just before the much longer crosswind area, so the pace will be up, and the narrow road just about guarantees the race will split when the bunch move onto the long section north towards the finish. Please check the name of the street, Joe Englishstraat!
It’s just as well the bunch will be small as the finish is very tricky. The map on the left shows the final 5km, the picture on the right is from 1km to go. It is incredibly narrow, thanks to the tram tracks, and there’s a final turn with 500m to go. Just around the flamme rouge the bunch must cross the tram tracks, stay safe everyone. I don’t think this type of finish should be allowed in a race like this, thankfully the wind will ensure a small group and a safer finish.
Who will survive the echelons in De Moeren? This is going to be a tough day in the saddle, with lots of wind and rain, it’s a day for the tough men of the peloton. All the teams arrive with full sprint teams, and sprinters normally cope well with echelons, but some don’t cope with racing full gas for over 50km.
The weather conditions ensure everyone is in for a tough race, it’s all about who can endure this, having a strong team helps. I don’t want to generalise, but I can’t help it, this is a day that suits the northern Europeans.
Creating tactics in this type of race is very difficult, as everyone wants to be in the same place, at the same time. The narrow road which I’ve shown above is hugely important, being at the front is vital. This is because the narrow road leads onto the long exposed section which goes through De Moeren, and the bunch splits here. Those who have a strong team are at an advantage, you can’t keep doing repeated efforts yourself, it makes a massive difference to have teammates to help with positioning. Three times through here is carnage, I can’t wait to see how the race develops, it could be one of the best of the season.
Team orders – get as many men as possible to the front for the exposed sections, split the race, hope to have multiple riders at the front and take it from there.
Jasper Philipsen – form is good, and he doesn’t mind a tough race. The problem could be his team, this isn’t the strongest Alpecin squad I’ve seen. This is a race where teammates are worth their weight in gold, Philipsen will be hoping his mates can step up.
Fabio Jakobsen – it feels weird to write this, but he could do with a win. Just two wins this year is not what he would have hoped for, he’s not looked at his best in recent weeks. Like most sprinters, Jakobsen doesn’t mind tough conditions, but he can struggle with an extended period of full gas racing, but his motivation will be very high. With Merlier currently riding well, the next few weeks will go a long way to decide which sprinter goes to the Tour de France. The good news for Fabio is that Soudal – Quick Step arrive with a strong team.
Davide Ballerini – gives Soudal – Quick Step a terrific back-up option. Form is good, he was 12th in Sanremo, and the Italian likes a tough race. With the likes of Van Lerberghe, Declercq and Lampaert to help, the Belgians can make this a tough race.
Dylan Groenewegen – good in the wind, doesn’t mind a tough day, Groenewegen will be hoping to take the win. He’ll have been frustrated at not taking a win in Tirreno and Milano-Torino, he’ll hope to put that right here. His team has a couple of echelon experts, but it’s not as strong as I would like.
Olav Kooij – he might be young, but I think he’ll go well in this race. Jumbo-Visma arrive with a team that all grew up in these conditions, that makes a big difference. He coped well when the wind blew in last year’s ZLM Tour, this is obviously a step up, but his recent form has been excellent.
Arnaud Démare – loves a race like this, it normally allows him to get closer to the fastest sprinters. The problem is his current form, he doesn’t look close to his best.
Edward Theuns – he’ll be licking his lips at this; Eddie is brilliant in the wind. Form is currently good, and Trek-Segafredo have several strong riders to support. They’ll be one of the most active teams in the crosswinds.
Sam Welsford – he’s made huge progress this year, but winning a race in these conditions would be incredible for him.
Caleb Ewan – he goes well in windy conditions, but I don’t remember too many times when he won in the rain. The problem is, he could really do with a result, but I don’t think it’s coming here.
Bora – Bennett crashed hard in Sanremo, so the team will have to see how he recovers, but they have an excellent option in Danny van Poppel.
Gerben Thijssen – his win on Friday was the biggest of his career, so far. This year has already been a huge success for him, but he won’t settle for just two wins, he wants more. I’m not sure how he copes with tough conditions, this race will tell me everything I want to know.
If you can get some time off work, I’d take it, this is going to be a brilliant race to watch.
The strongest team will have the best chance, but who are they? Despite not looking great in recent races, I like the look of Soudal – Quick Step for this one. They’ll dominate in the wind and Fabio Jakobsen will take the win.