Blankenberge > Ardooie 182km
The opening stage of the race will be a big sprint. The day ends with five laps of a circuit in Ardooie, a very popular finishing town used many times in recent years. The above graphic doesn’t show the position of the golden kilometre, it comes with 18km to go. Sometimes teams are reluctant to pull the break back before the three sprint points, preferring them to claim all the time and chase them down after. Please note, it’s now called the green kilometre, hopefully it doesn’t have the same consequences as being on the green mile.
A belter of a day.
When the bunch turn right and start heading north and back to the finishing line, things start to get narrow. This comes with just over 4km to go, and from this point there’s not much space to move up the bunch. It’s day to get a good, early position in the first couple of rows. At times, the road does widen as a cycle path appears from nowhere, this will see lots of riders diving up the right-hand side, it makes the finish very chaotic.
Compared to the last couple of times here, the finish is not as far down the road. There’s around 1.2km from the fast double corner until the line, compared with 1.8km the last two times.
In the closing kilometres, this is a day where sprinters need to sit in front of their lead out man. The narrow roads mean sitting at the back of a long train, puts you too far back and likely to get swamped. Sprinters will need to sit higher up their trains, even if it does result in taking a little bit of wind.
This is usually a crazy finish, the fight in the final 5km will get scary. All sprint trains will have the same goal, get to the double corner first. With 1.2km still to go, there is time to make up a few positions after the turns, but as the pace will be very high, you’ll need someone with a huge engine to help.
Jasper Philipsen – won here in 2020, when he raced for UAE, that seems like a lifetime ago. After a brilliant Tour de France, he’s looking to pick up more wins between now and the end of the season. He’ll have Vermeersch and Rickaert ahead of him in the sprint train, two riders that perform very well in their roles. Given what happened in July, he starts as the favourite.
Tim Merlier – he’s got a strong sprint train: Lampaert, Sénéchal and Van Lerberghe. It’s been a good first year for Merlier at Soudal – Quick Step, he’s another who’ll have targeted a strong end to the season. He won here in 2021, riders always like going back to places where they’ve tasted success.
Olav Kooij – his sprint train doesn’t have big names like Van Lerberghe or Rickaert, but it’s still good enough to ensure he’s near the front for the sprint. The key is Affini, I’d have him in position 4, meaning he powers to the front for the double corner. That would leave the rest of the train in an ideal position for the final kilometre. The level here is very high, a win for Kooij would be huge.
Dylan Groenewegen – came close to winning at the Tour, but he couldn’t beat Philipsen. He arrives with a solid enough sprint train, but they aren’t as good as those already mentioned. There’s a big chance he’s too far back when the sprint launches.
Sam Welsford – the Tour didn’t go according to plan; he would have been disappointed with a best finish of 10th. He arrives here with a very strong sprint train, every rider in the team is very fast. If DSM get it right, they have the riders to dominate the closing stages and put Welsford into an ideal position for the sprint.
Arnaud De Lie – I don’t see him winning a flat sprint against the big boys.
Jordi Meeus – took the big win in Paris, an enormous moment in his career. His sprint train in this race isn’t the best, I don’t see him competing for the win.
Arnaud Démare – now racing in the red of Arkéa Samsic, it’s going to take a while to get used to. He’s another who’ll struggle to beat Philipsen, Merlier and Kooij in a flat sprint.
To win this stage you’ll need a good sprint train, a little luck, and great legs.
A win for Tim Merlier.