Harelbeke > Harelbeke 202.1km
After the fun of Milano-Sanremo, we head to Belgium for a race that never disappoints. Just 200km in length, but full of cobbles, hills, cobbled hills, narrow roads, and crosswinds. Not only that, but we get the second round of van der Poel v Van Aert v Pogačar v Pedersen v Alaphilippe v everyone else. I can’t wait!
The wind will be around 30km/h for the whole day, which will obviously make the race very hard. You can see there’s lots of crosswinds, but there’s also a substantial amount of headwind, especially as the bunch head towards the Paterberg, which could have a big impact on the race. After the Kwaremont, the run for home is mainly crosswind. Aside from the wind, there’s going to be sun and it shouldn’t feel too cold.
With 81km to go, the fun should begin. The graphic starts just after the Kortekeer, with the downhill run to the Taaienberg, this is where Jumbo-Visma blew the peloton apart last year. After that the bunch must tackle Berg ten Stene, Boigneberg, Eikenberg, Stationsberg, Kapelleberg, Paterberg and Kwaremont. It’s 45km of full gas racing.
Forget about Sanremo, that race has no impact on this one. Jumbo-Visma have become the masters in this part of the world, all the other teams need to put themselves in their shoes, try to work out what they’ll do, and get ahead of them.
They arrive with Van Aert, Laporte, Benoot, van Baarle, Affini, Van Der Sande and Van Hooydonck. Last year, it was a lead out into the Taaienberg, blow the race apart, and take it from there. What will they try this year? With a headwind from Geraardsbergen to Ronse, I don’t see anyone trying anything early in the day, but I hope we’ll get action earlier than usual.
Once the bunch hit the Knokteberg (km 107) the wind direction is crosswind or tailwind for 25km. Instead of waiting for the Taaienberg, some brave souls could try an early attack to get ahead of the race. I think this would be too risky for Jumbo-Visma to try, I see them waiting until the Taaienberg. Pulling the same move as last year might be boring, but it’s the obvious thing to do. Over the top of the Taaienberg it’s a crosswind, but once the riders turn left, it’s mainly headwind until the Paterberg.
The key for the Taaienberg move to succeed is ensuring the peloton is blown to pieces, possibly by lifting the pace on the Knokteberg. As I’ve already said, this is risky, but not without reward. With the addition of van Baarle, the team now have more leaders than workers, going early would take advantage of this. In terms of strength in depth, the other teams don’t get close to them, it would be wise for Jumbo-Visma to make the race hard, expose team leaders, then get some of their men up the road.
To try and counteract this, the other teams need to be clever. First, try to get in the morning break, don’t simply let it roll up the road. Secondly, try to attack once we hit the Knokteberg. The problem with trying to beat Jumbo-Visma at their own game is it requires riders of the same strength, and the other teams don’t have them.
Let’s be honest, Jumbo-Visma will likely get the race they want. They could try and repeat what they did last year, or they could wait a little longer and try to get multiple riders in the front group after the Paterberg. The issue with waiting is this is when the team leaders come out to play, and it’s hard for Jumbo-Visma’s second, third and fourth options to follow the attacks of van der Poel and Pogačar.
Okay, I feel like I’m rambling. If teams are going to upset the tactical plan of Jumbo-Visma, they need to be willing to sacrifice riders like Kragh, Asgreen and Stuyven. If not, we could be in for a repeat of what happened last year.
One more thing, the other way to combat the strength of Jumbo-Visma is to attack early and make it a race between the team leaders. Will someone like Pogačar be willing to risk it all by going on the Taaienberg?
Conclusion – to nullify the depth of Jumbo-Visma, team leaders need to attack early and forget about the headwind.
Jumbo-Visma – Van Aert is their main option, with van Baarle, Laporte and Benoot as back-up. They’ll try and use their numbers to dominate the race and outnumber everyone else in the finale. Will they save Van Aert until deep into the race, risking the chance of him getting blocked in the peloton? Either that, or free him up for a risky attack from distance. They have the numbers, they have the quality, but it’s never easy to win a race like this against the best in the world.
Soudal – Quick Step – Alaphilippe is still searching for his best form, the same can be said about Asgreen. I don’t see them challenging for the win.
Mathieu van der Poel – he arrives buoyed by his win in Sanremo. He knows that Jumbo-Visma will try to put him under pressure, he needs Hermans and Kragh to have a good day. I can’t wait to see how he approaches this one, probably by going long, it’s what he does best. He’s a big advocate of attack is the best form of defence.
Tadej Pogačar – the way he flew over the Kwaremont last year, I can’t wait to see him on it again. If the front group is together at this point, he’ll go full and try to drop everyone else. He did everything he could in Sanremo, you just know he’s going to go down swinging. His team is okay, they need Wellens and Trentin to last as long as they possibly can. As the race is only 200km, I don’t think he’ll want a sprint against Van Aert and van der Poel.
Mads Pedersen – hang tough, hope it ends in some type of sprint. For this to happen, he’ll need a great ride by Jasper Stuyven. If the two of them have good legs, they are capable of surprising those already mentioned.
Filippo Ganna – brilliant in Sanremo, but this is a different kettle of fish. Positioning could be a problem, especially going up against riders who grew up in this area. I don’t think he’ll challenge for the win, but I hope to be proven wrong.
Fred Wright – exactly the type of rider who should consider going early and getting ahead of the race. If he waits too long, the big names will blow him away, but an early move is also risky.
Stefan Küng – brilliant in the classics last year, I hope for something similar this year. Winning against those already mentioned is difficult, but when all the big names turn up for a race that isn’t a monument, they can look at each other and let someone else get up the road.
Chaos from the Taaienberg until the finish, I love it.
Beating a team like Jumbo-Visma will be very hard, so I’ll take a win for Wout Van Aert.
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