Roeselare > Roeselare 231km
231km is a long day in the saddle, but this is a race that should end in a sprint. Okay, they climb the Kemmelberg three times, but there’s 142km still to go from the top of the last ascent, and it’s the “easier” side of the Kemmel. Most teams arrive here with a sprinter, I can’t see anything stopping this from being a bunch sprint, apart from a late attack by Remco.
A boiling day in Belgium with temperatures going over 30 degrees. There’s a bit of wind around, but nothing that should cause any problems.
Go on then, who’s going to smash it up the Kemmel? For the move to stay away for the next 140km would require a miracle. If that group contains Wout, surely those from Alpecin and Soudal – Quick Step refuse to work. The climbs add a little spice, but I don’t think they’ll have a big say in the outcome of the race. A group will get away on them, but they’ll be brought back in plenty time for a sprint finish.
There’s a couple of corners that the teams will rush for, but the main issue is the width of the roads. Most of the final 5km takes place on relatively narrow roads, a good early position is advised.
Jasper Philipsen – he’s yet to win his national championship, he’ll be super motivated to put that straight and head to the Tour with a lovely new jersey. This year he’s been brilliant, rarely out of the top 2 in sprint finishes, but beating Merlier won’t be easy. As former teammates, they’ll know each other inside out, it will be interesting to see which team wins the sprint train battle. Philipsen didn’t quite have enough to come round Jakobsen in his last outing, but he did look fast throughout the Belgium Tour.
Tim Merlier – with Remco pulled into lead out duties, Merlier will be confident of starting the sprint from the front. After completing Tour de Suisse, I have a little concern that he might have some fatigue in the legs, but I’m sure his team know what they’re doing. With Remco, Lampaert and Van Lerberghe for the final 2km, Merlier will be a hard man to beat.
Wout Van Aert – I don’t think he’ll be daft enough to attack on the Kemmel, but he might get a teammate to try and lift the pace and see what happens. As we’re just one week away from the Tour, Wout should be sprinting well, just remember how close he was to winning the opening stage last year. He doesn’t have a long sprint train, but Benoot, Van Der Sande and Van Hooydonck could surprise a few and get Wout into a good spot for the sprint. It would be best for him to be on the wheel of Merlier or Philipsen, letting them launch first and Wout can see if he can come round them.
Gerben Thijssen – he’s enjoyed a brilliant season; three wins is more than he probably dreamed about. He comes here with confidence, if everything clicks in the final kilometres, he’s got a shot at the title. He might not be as big a name as those already mentioned, but we all love an underdog.
Jordi Meeus – going to the Tour instead of Bennett, let’s see what he can do against three of the fastest riders in the world.
This sprint is going to be close.
With Remco on lead out duties, I’ll take a win for Tim Merlier.