Il Lombardia Race Preview – 2017

Course:

As Autumn begins to set in across Europe, the race of the falling leaves once again signifies the end of the year’s major races, concluding the season’s monuments campaign with Il Lombardia. Starting in Bergamo and travelling 247km to the finish at Como, the day’s racing is expected to be fierce as ever, with plenty of riders in good form after a late surge in promise off the back of the Vuelta a España and World Championships last month. The route itself is based upon 2015’s course, one which delivered Vincenzo Nibali the win on that day, packing much of the toughest climbing into the final third of the day’s racing. Though a couple of recognised ascents are present during the opening 150km, it is not really until the riders reach the Madonna del Ghisallo where life in the saddle gets really difficult. Lasting for 8.6km and averaging a gradient of 6.2%, the rise includes maximum inclines of 14% and should give an early indication of who is contention for the final win. The biggest challenge of the day soon follows, a chance of seeing some big names crack on the Muro di Sormano and its mind numbing gradients which touch 27%; under 2km of gruelling climbing. A relatively extended period without climbing lasts until 226km has been completed, from which point the final fireworks are anticipated to be ignited. The climb to Civiglio is a likely launchpad for an attack, a 4.2km rise which peaks at 14%, with riders reaching the summit and hurtling down to face their final climb of the day; San Fermo della Battaglia (3.3 km, avg. 7.2%). The final kilometres are not technically demanding, though after such a fatiguing affair, even the slightest inclines are bound to be magnified.

 

Il Lombardia Race Preview 2017Il Lombardia Race Preview 2017

Contenders:

Rigoberto Uran has shown to be in brilliant form late in the year and will find the finale of this year’s race suited to his talents. The Colombian looks to have peaked perfectly for this last monument and will enter the race with great confidence of succeeding in his endeavours. Able to stick the pace of the favourites on the steepest sections and possessing a punchy acceleration which few can match, Uran is a major contender on a day where those lacking in condition will be hit hardest.

Vincenzo Nibali shall have flashed a grin when first seeing the course for 2017’s edition of his native monument, the route mirroring the one which previously delivered him the win at this race a couple of years ago. With the demands meeting that of a queen stage at a grand tour, Nibali is certainly equipped with the tools needed to survive, but it is still uncertain whether he is truly poised to put his rivals to the sword once again here. If still in contention after the ascent of Muro di Sormano, then there is a strong possibility he will seek to breakaway solo in the remaining kilometres and replicate his win of 2015.

Adam Yates was not far behind Rigoberto Uran during the week’s Milano – Torino and will believe that a tweaking of tactics could land him a major victory to add to his growing palmarès. He has had to endure an awkward year of racing, but now looks to be edging closer to the kind of form which makes him a true contender on such a tough day of attritional racing. Yates will need to focus on conserving energy for as long as possible, as with terrain which is not perfect for the British rider, he knows that every ounce of power will be required to make one big attack stick right to the line at Como.

Julian Alaphilippe appeared on course for the World Championship title late in the day at Bergen, but the race failed to follow his plan ideally, though Il Lombardia offers an ideal remedy to that misfortune. Another who is likely to favour a late solo move, the Frenchman will benefit from a more conservatively ridden race, allowing him to exploit the tactics of bigger favourites and commit to his move when others are beginning to flag. His performance at the World Championships off the back of the Vuelta a España was particularly encouraging, with expectations high for a good performance as a result.

Bauke Mollema is certainly capable of springing a surprise upon the big name contenders at this year’s Il Lombardia, with a tougher route providing him with some ideal opportunities to try and escape the bunch. The Dutchman has clearly targeted this race with full intentions of animating the proceedings when possible, aiming to pounce near the end of the day with one of his unmarked moves which has previously secured him major honours in the past.

Outcome:

1st Rigoberto Uran 2nd Vincenzo Nibali 3rd Bauke Mollema

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Liége - Bastogne - Liége Race Preview 2017

Liège–Bastogne–Liège – Race Preview 2017

Course:

The week of classics racing in the Ardennes reaches its crescendo with the year’s fourth monument of the season, Liége – Bastogne – Liége; the penultimate chance to win a monument until the Giro di Lombardia in late September. Known as La Doyenne or ‘The Old Lady’, the race’s 103rd edition since its founding in 1892 totals 258km from Liege and back again to the suburb of Ans. A predominantly tame opening half will do little to worry the bunch, allowing the day’s futile breakaway to obtain their time on TV for the sponsors, before being drawn back in by the peloton during the much harder second half of the race. Once the riders begin to turn back towards the fringes of Liége, where the finish line in Ans awaits them, they shall hit a gruelling sequence of nine climbs intended to send plenty of riders out the back door. The introduction of a short cobbled section towards last year’s finish has been removed, which should mean that the familiar triumvirate of Côte de La Redoute, Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons and Côte de Saint-Nicolas shall be the officially recognised battleground as they bear down upon Ans. However, as we have seen previously, it is the unclassified rising road into the finishing straight which has become a key springboard for remaining riders to make their move for the win. The rise lasts for almost 1.5km and hits a gradient of 10%, a challenge which will feel more like a mountain after more than 250km worth of racing.

There are many critics of The Old Lady, labelling it as a race where nothing much really happens for the most part, but in an era of teams throttling the life out of stage racing and several monuments, La Doyenne remains a contest few would wish to stake their savings on predicting.

Liége - Bastogne - Liége Race Preview 2017

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde has once again entered the week of the Ardennes classics in the type of form which surely leaves some rivals pondering if it is even worth them showing up to contest these races. The Spaniard is in imperious form so far in 2017, the peloton all too aware of this fact when reaching the Mur de Huy during Wednesday’s La Flèche Wallonne, left to simply watch Valverde sail uphill to yet another victory. His Movistar team will seek to control the bulk of the day’s racing once again, confident that their team-leader will be able to follow the most important moves late on solo, finally putting his rivals to the sword with his customary burst of pace.

Dan Martin is still smarting from his crash in the final corner of 2014’s edition, appearing on course to defend his 2013 title and no doubt believes there to be a great deal of unfinished business with Liége – Bastogne – Liége. He was once again unable to beat Valverde at La Flèche Wallonne, though did suffer from undesirable positioning when his longterm classics rival finally attacked for the line. Martin will want to make the final kilometres as hard as possible, hoping to blunt the speed of faster finishing rivals, most likely doing so by attacking on the final rise into Ans as he did in 2014 before crashing. His buildup to 2017 has been one of his most impressive in his career, but unfortunately for the Irishman, Valverde’s has been equally eye catching.

Sergio Henao‘s progress at the Ardennes classics has been hampered over the years by unfortunate injury and all the hassle surrounding his native blood values, but the Colombian rider finally looks en route to success in 2017. The Sky rider worked hard for teammate Michal Kwiatkowski during Amstel Gold and followed it up with a convincing fourth place atop the Mur de Huy at La Flèche Wallonne. He looks strong enough to follow all the right moves and possesses a faster sprint at the end of a race like this than many would expect.

Michal Kwiatkowski is the other option for Team Sky and forms a seriously strong two man attack alongside Henao for the British outfit at Liége – Bastogne – Liége. The former World Champion has one of the fastest sprint finishes for a race like this after Alejandro Valverde, however, it seems that his growing penchant for late attacks is the method which the Polish rider is most likely to utilise in order to secure his second monument victory of 2017.

Greg Van Avermaet will be eager to eke out every last watt of his incredible Spring form, lining up at La Doyenne with serious ambitions of challenging for the win. His consistency during the cobbled classics has been extremely impressive, but this contest is an entirely different affair altogether for the Belgian and it seems unlikely that this year’s Paris – Roubaix winner will also be champion of Liége – Bastogne – Liége. With nothing to lose and no real pressure upon his shoulders, Avermaet is a very dangerous rider in relation to the hopes of day’s bigger favourites and will demand the respect of typical Liége contenders; as the Belgian will punish anyone who gifts him too much freedom.

Michael Albasini has always performed well at one day races, yet at the age of 36, still lacks the palmarés to demonstrate his talents for these gruelling events. The Swiss rider was one of the few to benefit from the introduction of the short cobbled sector of Côte de la Rue Naniot during last year’s race, utilising it effectively to really put his rivals under the hammer and thus making Albasini one of the few riders to truly miss the sector this year. His strength this year should assure him of being in the mix once again, but it often feels a struggle to back Albasini over more successful riders when it matters most in a major race.

Warren Barguil continues to improve at the Ardennes and secured himself sixth place during Wednesday’s edition of La Flèche Wallonne despite a far from ideal run into the Mur de Huy. The combative Frenchman may be more synonymous with grand tour mountain stages, yet he also finished sixth at last year’s running of Liége – Bastogne – Liége, suggesting he does favour these longs days in the saddle with plenty of climbing. He appears to be the best bet for Team Sunweb, as Michael Matthews has not really displayed enough convincing form to suggest he can take the win in Ans.

Romain Bardet spoke recently of his love for this race and its importance to lithe limbed climbing specialists like himself; La Doyenne being their best hope of a monument victory. Bardet is an aggressive rider who appears to relish the intensity of these single day races, finishing second in 2011’s U23 edition of Liége and now possessing four top 15 finishes as a senior rider; two of which being top ten placings. Bardet’s best hopes of victory will come from attacking either on the final uphill section into Ans or going much earlier during the sequence of Côte de La Redoute, Côte de La Roche-aux-Faucons and Côte de Saint-Nicolas. 

Other riders deserving of attention during the year’s fourth monument are Rui Costa, Alex HowesDylan TeunsTosh Van Der SandeSamuel SanchezJakob FuglsangEnrico GasparottoDiego UlissiRigoberto Uran and Tom Jelte-Slagter.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Sergio Henao 3rd Dan Martin

La Flèche Wallonne – Race Preview 2017

Course:

The Ardennes dishes up a midweek classic in the shape of the 81st edition of La Flèche Wallonne, placed neatly between last weekend’s Amstel Gold and the upcoming Liége – Bastogne – Liége on April 23rd. Established as a happy hunting ground for puncheur extraordinaire Alejandro Valverde in recent years, having won in 2014, 2015 & 2016; La Flèche Wallonne prides itself on an explosive finish atop the Mur de Huy to crown the day’s victor. Starting in Binche, the race travels a total of 200.5km en route to the finale in Huy, navigating the narrow roads of the Ardennes which induce stress for all teams as they seek to keep their leaders out of trouble. Several climbs will need to be tackled along the way, including two passes of the Mur de Huy itself, though it is the final attempt which is expected to prove decisive once again. With a gradient reaching 25% at times, this brutal challenge cannot be won as a fluke result, it takes a perfect balance of tactical nous and potent acceleration to attack at the ideal moment in order to win La Flèche Wallonne.

La Flèche Wallonne Race Preview 2017

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde has made this race his own during the previous three seasons, proving unable to be caught once he accelerates hard upon the steepest section of the Mur de Huy. His early season form has been very impressive in 2017, making the prospect of going toe to toe with the Spanish veteran even more intimidating for his anticipated rivals. His Movistar team are now extremely experienced at positioning Valverde ideally at the base of the final climb, but it is his own prowess at timing his attack perfectly which has delivered him three consecutive victories thus far. For many, it seems impossible to see any other man standing atop the podium once again.

Sergio Henao looked extremely impressive while working for teammate Michal Kwiatkowski during Amstel Gold the other day and should be allowed a greater degree of freedom to lead the charge here today. The Colombian has an encouraging record at the Ardennes classics, possessing the skills necessary to attack aggressively on these ludicrously steep slopes and perhaps one of only a handful genuinely able to threaten the indomitable Valverde. Henao looks to be hitting form at the perfect time to challenge for La Flèche Wallonne and has the strength of a well equipped Sky team to slingshot him into the opening section of the Mur de Huy in pursuit of victory.

Dan Martin has become accustomed to watching the silhouette of Alejandro Valverde cross the line ahead of him in recent years at La Flèche Wallonne and has finished in the top four in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Much like Valverde, the Irishman has enjoyed a successful start to the season thus far, hopefully keeping him on par with his familiar foe in 2017. His greatest weakness has been knowing when to finally make his race winning move at this race, often coming up short of the line as a result of attacking too hard too soon, but there can only be so many times he makes this mistake without learning from it. Martin abandoned Amstel Gold, though never circled that as a serious target and it may in fact be a great indication of how assured he is of his form heading into La Flèche Wallonne right now.

Michael Albasini is a rider who seems to muster a strong performance at this race each year, though rarely mounts a serious challenge for the day’s win. His third place finish at Amstel Gold is a strong indication of his form currently, no doubt convincing Orica – Scott more than ever to back the Swiss rider with everything they have in hope of taking victory. Albasini is unlikely to have the sheer pace of riders such as Dan Martin and Alejandro Valverde, but could be the man most likely to benefit from a tactical standoff between the big favourites.

Warren Barguil has been flying under the radar during 2017 thus far, but there may be some concern that this has in fact been due to a lack of form. He was lively during Amstel Gold, appearing as one of the strongest members of the chasing group, now potentially arriving in ideal form to compete well at La Flèche Wallonne. Though he might be a lithe bodied climber, Barguil does have a strong burst of speed on these steep ramps which stretch beyond 20% and could be one most likely to breakaway solo in order to take the win. 

Michael Woods continues to impress since making his transition from running several years ago and finished a creditable twelfth place during last year’s edition. There is no doubt that he has the physical strength to challenge the bigger names, possessing a strong uphill sprint when required, but may find that a lack of good positioning leaves him with too much ground to make up once the fireworks erupt.

Other interesting riders who could all feature in the day’s final top ten are Robert GesinkLilian CalmejaneTom-Jelte Slagter and Diego Ulissi.

Outcome:

1st Sergio Henao 2nd Alejandro Valverde 3rd Dan Martin

Amstel Gold Logo

Amstel Gold – Race Preview 2017

Course:

A hectic week of frantic cycling in and around the Ardennes region begins, as ever, with one of Dutch cycling’s greatest treats; Amstel Gold. Forming part of late spring’s famous triptych, the next eight days will be crammed with some of the season’s most aggressive riding as the peloton tackle Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne and Liège–Bastogne–Liège in almost a single week. Each race favours a slightly different style of rider, though they each demand an individual to be strong, combative and intelligent in pursuit of victory. Today’s task is a 261km journey from Maastricht to Berg en Terblijt, taking in narrow roads on constant undulating terrain, creating a bunch who sees its anxieties grow as they seek to peer around the next corner. Positioning shall be a key factor for those hoping to perform well at Amstel Gold, making the battle for the front an intense contest as soon as the starting flag has been waved. A total of 35 officially recognised hills feature on course, few of which would invoke much trepidation normally, but mole hills become mountains once the race passes 200km of sustained racing. Suffice to say, Amstel Gold often becomes an attritional affair which builds tension ahead of the final attack on the finishing climb, but this course is slight different than normal. Instead, the finish in 2017 should allow a greater number of riders to come into play, favouring the strongest sprinters who are capable of surviving a day like this in good shape. Gone are the days where riders sought to put everything down on the final ascent of the Cauberg in order to win, though the iconic hill does feature throughout the day, 2017 looks set to be a reduced sprint amongst the toughest of riders.
Amstel Gold Race Preview 2017

Contenders:

Michael Matthews is one of several riders expected to challenge once again for the win at Amstel Gold, despite having never managed to convert several good showings at this race into a victory thus far. The Australian has continued to develop his ability to survive hard days in the saddle, able to emerge when it matters most at the end of the stage, easily putting rivals to the sword with his blistering pace. Matthews is not scared of joining a breakaway either, making him a crucial rider to mark for those also seeking victory, as it is unlikely any move capable of staying away could feature anyone faster than himself. Though his previous form here is exciting, the course changes will make it harder for Matthews to gain an advantage over pure sprinters, as the finish is no longer upon or shortly after the Cauberg.

Fabio Felline has been on the rise since last year and will enter today’s race with plenty of confidence that a podium place is well within his capabilities right now, if not more. His efforts during the early part of the season have showcased his durability for arduous contests, able to match some of the best in the world as the pedal revolutions tick higher and higher. The Italian is another who is dangerous due to his ability to win from either a bunch kick or breakaway move, so will not be afforded a great deal of freedom by the bigger favourites. However, his greatest issue is that he is not on par with the elite climbers and sprinters, meaning any move he makes will need to be intelligent enough to compensate for this difference in ability.

Bryan Coquard finished an impressive fourth place at last year’s edition of Amstel Gold, only losing out to Sonny Colbrelli in the sprint for third place on the day. The French rider possesses an immense turn of speed, often emerging late from behind his more powerful rivals, accelerating past them as the finish line rapidly approaches. Coquard looks to have developed a greater degree of strength and determination to stay in contention when things get tough at races such as these; with last year’s result testament to that fact. He may not have enjoyed an eye-catching Spring like others here, but the general feeling amongst those in the sport, is that Coquard has the form necessary right now to win Amstel Gold.

Sonny Colbrelli continues to surprise people with his results during the early part of 2017, appearing here off the back of victory at De Brabantse Pijl last week. Colbrelli has good form at Amstel Gold in recent years and should find that the course alterations play into his hands more than any other major contender present. Also, his team features defending champion and two time winner Enrico Gasparottoable to guide him through the maelstrom with his wealth of experience at Amstel Gold. Colbrelli is one of the best at surviving tough races, demonstrated clearly by his recent showings at Milan – San Remo; one of the hardest races a rider can face each year. With a strong combination of individual and team strength, there is a great chance that the trophy will remain in Italian hands for another year.

Greg Van Avermaet should be another rider who finds the recent route chances favourable for his chances of winning Amstel Gold. Currently enjoying an incredible year of form and successes, the Belgian hero will still emerge motivated as ever to perform well enough to challenge for the day’s honours. Assuming that the main bunch is slowly whittled down throughout the day, it is hard to see Greg Van Avermaet being absent from such a group and from that position he is currently unbeatable in a reduced sprint.

Alejandro Valverde is a rider who shall not be overjoyed by the finish no longer being determined by the testing Cauberg, so will need a new plan if he is to succeed today. The start of the season has proven fruitful for the veteran Spanish rider and many are hinting that he is in some of the best Spring form ever seen from him. As there is no longer the steep springboard on offer to catapult him to the finish line, he is now another rider seeking to be part of a much smaller group which battles it out for the victory. Should the situation arise, then Valverde is one of the hardest men to beat in a flat sprint after such a long and gruelling race.

Philippe Gilbert delivered a miraculous victory at De Ronde Van Vlaanderen a few weeks ago and has been a dominant force during the last couple of months. The Belgian champion will however struggle to replicate his previous dominance at this specific race, as the Cauberg lacking finale makes it much tougher for Gilbert to drop riders who can sprint faster than himself before the line. It is likely that he will need a much more attritional day in order to improve his odds of winning, but it is not impossible to see Gilbert once again becoming champion, especially given his current form.

Outsiders who are worth watching throughout the day are; Enrico Gasparotto, Ben Swift, Michael Albasini, Diego Ulissi, Tim Wellens and Simon Gerrans.

Outcome:

1st Sonny Colbrelli 2nd Michael Matthews 3rd Fabio Felline

Paris - Roubaix 2017 Race Preview

Paris – Roubaix – Race Preview 2017

Course:

The season’s cobbled campaign reaches its crescendo at Paris – Roubaix once again, the preceding weeks of gruelling Spring races in Northern Europe having given us a glimpse of who is mostly likely to survive another ‘Sunday In Hell’. Stretching a total of 257km from the start at Compiègne – Choisy-Au-Bac to the historic finale at the Roubaix velodrome. Tackling 29 official sectors en route to the finish, riders will not only require the strength and determination to succeed, but also the light touch of luck to steer clear of danger throughout the maelstrom. The riders are gifted 100km to prepare themselves for the barrage of challenges, hitting their first cobbled sector after the century marker and finding little in the way of relief until the finish line is crossed or they climb off their bike. As ever, much anxiety will be heaped upon the riders’ passage through the crucial sectors of Care Four de l’Arbre, Mons-en-Pevele and Arenberg forest; the fight for position entering these being some of the most intense riding during the day. Of all the classics which form the monuments in cycling, Paris – Roubaix is perhaps the one which sees the greatest number of star riders lose out through bad luck rather than poor form, meaning an upset is always on the cards at this iconic race. Regardless, whomever is crowned 2017’s champion will have achieved it through no fluke, as every rider who enters the Roubaix velodrome does so gripped by exhaustion. There is no ‘easy’ way to win Paris – Roubaix.

Paris - Roubaix 2017 Race Preview Route

Contenders:

John Degenkolb was unable to defend his title last year due to a training accident which almost cost him a finger and will now be extremely motivated to compensate for his previous absence by performing strongly once again. The German seems built to dominate this race and it is easy to imagine that this 2017 edition may have been poised to complete a hat-trick of wins had he been able to contest the monument last year. His immense strength has seen him as one of the best riders behind the likes of Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet during the early semi-classics this year, but on many of those occasions it was the dreaded hellingen which prevented him from challenging for the win. Today features no such cobbled climbs, making it a levelling factor which plays into his hands. It will take plenty of effort to detach Degenkolb, should the frontrunners fail to achieve this, then nobody will be faster than the German at the end of this race as they enter Roubaix.

Peter Sagan saw his ambitions of defending his title at Ronde van Vlaanderen wiped out by a rogue coat, causing himself Oliver Naesen and Greg Van Avermaet to crash upon the cobblestones. His classics campaign has not been as easy as many expected, Sagan having to cope with negative riding and limited team support compared to teams such as Quick – Step and Trek – Segafredo. Though the results may not immediately demonstrate it, Sagan has been indomitable for much of these semi-classic races and will believe himself strong enough to compensate for a lack of team strength once the race becomes a ‘man vs man’ battle. He is not always the fastest at the end of a tough race such as this, so will need to focus upon conserving energy and allow Quick – Step to take control of affairs for the day.

Oliver Naesen has risen rapidly during the Spring to become one of the few riders capable of matching the likes of Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet. He was in a fantastic position at the Tour of Flanders, but was unfortunate enough to be taken out by a spectator alongside Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet before he could make any moves for victory. Naesen is an aggressive rider who will not wish to simply sit on the wheel and wait to be ridden off, capable of attacking solo from range, he is also talented enough to be a danger in a sprint. However, those most likely to match him are all faster than he is on paper, but nothing is guaranteed once Paris – Roubaix reaches its conclusion. The course suits Naesen’s skills extremely well, and if he rides a cunning enough race, he will be the most likely to cause an upset.

Greg Van Avermaet has become the classics specialists which many had long expected him to become, dominating 2017’s opening classics with apparent ease and the only man able to put Peter Sagan to the sword when given the chance. The Belgian is not as well suited to the rigours of Paris – Roubaix however, as much of Avermaet’s riding is built around his immense acceleration on some of Europe’s toughest cobbled climbs. He is in the form of his life right now, so he cannot be dismissed simply because the terrain is not perfect, instead it is likely that Avermaet will look to follow the wheel of favourites such as John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan, expecting to then dispatch them with ease in a sprint for the line.

Alexander Kristoff is not currently in the same monstrous form as that which delivered him immense success in 2015, yet there are signs to suggest he is once again on the rise to the top. Kristoff does not possess an eye-catching history at Paris – Roubaix, which is surprising when considering his physical attributes, though he certainly has what it takes to succeed if he commits everything to it. His ability to suffer through the hardest of days in the saddle is well documented, but given the encouraging weather forecast for the day, this year’s edition is unlikely to be the attritional affair which would see Kristoff become favourite.

Tom Boonen bids farewell to life as a professional cyclist with one final appearance at Paris – Roubaix, a race which he has conquered on four occasions, confirming himself as one of the greatest Belgians to have ridden this race. Boonen will be inspired to deliver a famous farewell to the sport, aiming to claim victory for a fifth time and become its most successful competitor in history. Quick – Step are once again the strongest team in this one day classic, but their mix of potential victors means Boonen will not be afforded total support. Plenty needs to go in his favour throughout the day to arrive at Roubaix with the leading riders, but should he do so, there is no doubt that he has the gritty determination to lift the cobblestone one last time.

Others who are anticipated to animate the race and challenge for the win are Niki TerpstraZdenek StybarLuke DurbridgeIan StannardLuke Rowe and Florian Sénéchal.

Outcome:

1st Oliver Naesen 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Tom Boonen

Scheldeprijs – Race Preview 2017

Course:

Resting between the epic strong-man contests of Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris – RoubaixScheldeprijs sits as a mid-week tonic to keep people’s attention piqued on the classics season, handing the reins to the sprinters to contest this prestigious race for the fastest riders. The flattest day in the saddle the peloton shall ride during this spring campaign upon the pavé and hellingen of Northern Europe, Scheldeprijs is a 202km crescendo from Mol to Schoten which finally explodes with an electric mass sprint to the line. This year’s start has been moved to Mol from Antwerp in order to honour Tom Boonen, one of Belgian cycling’s greatest icons, who will be riding today as his final race on home soil; Mol being his former hometown. It is a stressful day on the bike each year for those at Scheldeprijs, teams investing every ounce of energy into protecting their lead riders and focusing on delivering them to the finishing straight in best shape possible for the frantic finale.

Scheldeprijs Preview 2017

Contenders:

Marcel Kittel is seeking to win this race for the fifth time in his career, finding this a favourable affair which plays to his strengths nicely. The German sprinter may even believe this to be his easiest edition to challenge for in recent years, as the absence of both Mark Cavendish and Alexander Kristoff are two major hurdles cleared before the bunch have even rolled out from Mol. Kittel is the fastest rider in this race, he looks the man to beat as ever and will be supported by another strong Quick – Step squad which features Tom Boonen, Matteo Trentin, Iljo Keisse and David Martinelli to ensure he is led out at top speed.

André Greipel seems to have never really fitted well with this race, last year’s third place finish being his most impressive performance in a total of four appearances thus far. Though he is growing older, Greipel remains one of the fastest sprinters when it comes down to a head-to-head drag race on flat roads, so cannot be excluded from contention. He rode last weekend’s Tour of Flanders in aggressive style, making it possiblr that he shall arrive with greater fatigue than those who have targeted this exclusively. If the day becomes an attritional battle due to wind or rain however, then the strength of the ‘Gorilla’ will increase his chances as others tire.

Arnaud Démare will still be eager to convert his strong form this season into a prestigious addition to his palmarés before it fades, perhaps focusing more on this sprinters classic than many realise. The French rider enjoys longer races, so shall not be fearful of the distance just scraping over the 200km mark, while the terrain and potential weather conditions could combine for a harder race which diminishes the top speed of his faster rivals. The FDJ squad has developed rapidly in regards to sprint leadouts and could emerge as one of the strongest outfits late in the day.

Nacer Bouhanni did not start 2017 quite as well as many perhaps anticipated, but the Cofidis rider has looked to be returning back to a level we have become to expect from the combative sprinter. He shall be provided with total leadership of the team once again and will be confident of being protected throughout the day’s 202km route. Distance is unlikely to concern the gritty Frenchman, but he shall need another strong performance from his crucial cog in the sprint train Geoffrey Soupe, if he is to better Marcel Kittel.

Edward Theuns is certainly no pure sprinter, yet the Belgian rider has previously finished second at Scheldeprijs, losing out to the indomitable Alexander Kristoff in 2015. Last year he was first to finish behind the potent trio of Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish and André Greipel, the best performance possible given such strong opposition present. This season could allow him to improve once again, but it will take plenty of luck to finally secure victory for a man who does not challenge the thoroughbred sprinters much beyond this race.

Dylan Groenewegen has built upon his encouraging start to the season since the Abu Dhabi Tour, taking a podium place on Stage 5 of Paris – Nice and finishing a surprise fifth at the tough Dwars Door Vlaanderen a couple of weeks ago. Groenewegen is certainly still developing as a rider at the age of 23 years old, but his combination of great pace and steely strength is already a danger to the more experienced sprinters racing today. Victory at Scheldeprijs would be another major breakthrough for the talented Dutchman and he is certainly the one most likely to upstage the bigger names come the finish.

Others likely to feature in the final top ten classification are Timothy Dupont, Dan McLay, Matteo Pelucchi, Niccolo Bonifazio, Elia Viviani and Danny Van Poppel.

Outcome:

1st Marcel Kittel 2nd Dylan Groenewegen 3rd Arnaud Démare

Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour of Flanders 2017 Preview

Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour of Flanders 2017 – Race Preview

Course:

This season’s second monument appears on the horizon this Sunday, an opportunity for a single rider to guarantee their name is forever entwined with the cobbles and hellingen which make this race so special. The race of course is Ronde van Vlaanderen, the calendar’s most famous contest, only perhaps second to that of Paris – Roubaix. Despite much of the day’s riders having spent the last few weeks riding these roads and hills during the likes of E3 Harelbeke and Dwars door Vlaanderen, little can realistically prepare an individual, whether mentally or physically, for the intense battle which starts immediately after the flag is dropped. Covering a total of 260km through much of Belgium’s Flanders region, a total of 18 official hellingen are to be tackled en route from the new starting point of Antwerp to the traditional finish in Oudenaarde. For many fans, the true race of the day is not instigated until the riders hit the Oude Kwaremont for the second time with under 55km remaining, followed immediately by the ruthless Patersberg which reaches over 20% gradient. The Koppenberg then completes this brutal triumvirate of climbs within 10km of one another, likely to shape the final group which goes onwards to decide the outcome. Though more climbs and cobbled sectors remain, it is the afore mentioned trio of hellish obstacles which should have the greatest impact upon the day’s podium. Ronde van Vlaanderen is certainly not a race which a rider can fluke victory at, everyone hoping to feature late on in the day will need to be able to summon up the form of their life to stand a chance of writing their name into history.

Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour of Flanders 2017 Preview

Contenders:

Peter Sagan took the win in dominant fashion last season and is expected by many to repeat this again in similarly comprehensive style. His performances so far this Spring have been incredible, seemingly able to bridge across to any move when required and happy to drop the hammer during some of the hardest parts of a race. Sagan will however be plagued by the tactical headache of the day, no doubt unwilling to carry any passengers into the finish at Oudenaarde, so will surely seek to breakaway solo in order to defend his title this year.

Greg Van Avermaet has enjoyed an incredible start to 2017’s campaign, riding in impressive form greater than that of last year, form which even delivered him Olympic Gold in Rio. He has been comfortable on both cobbles and hellingen so far in the supporting Flandrian races, taking great confidence into the Tour of Flanders, aware that perhaps only Peter Sagan might be able to shake him loose today. Belgium have not had a win since 2012, but will no doubt believe the stars have aligned to remedy that, given the amazing form Avermaet has achieved already.

John Degenkolb is not an obvious choice for today’s race, though has proven to be one of the few riders able to follow both Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet when either have made attempts at race winning moves. The German powerhouse enjoys these arduous affairs and will hope to stay in contention en route to Oudenaarde, as E3 Harelbeke proved that he is still the fastest man left in a bunch after a race like this. If he can lean upon others to cooperate in any chance to close the favourites, conserving some energy in the process, then Degenkolb should be unstoppable in any sprint finish which crowns the winner.

Sep Vanmarcke would normally be one of the first names placed into contention for Ronde van Vlaanderen, but this season has simply failed to click into place for the native rider. A mixture of injury and bad luck at crucial times has seen Vanmarcke fail to really catch the eye during the build up to today’s race, though it would be dangerous to rule him out entirely. Talented at attacking upon the steepest cobbled climbs, Vanmarcke is a major threat to the likes of Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet if allowed to vanish up the road solo.

Zdenek Stybar will race amongst a ferociously intimidating Quick – Step team which appears to have finally begun to shape itself into a coherent race winning unit. Stybar will be given a degree of freedom to animate the race when needed, yet could prove restricted by team orders in favour of Tom Boonen or Niki Terpstra. However, Stybar is a master bike handler and has a brilliant record of converting well timed attacks into victories, marking him out as a man to watch throughout the day.

Philippe Gilbert is enjoying a revival of some of his best form, arriving at the Tour of Flanders as a genuine outside contender for the title. A particularly cunning rider, Gilbert will ensure he exploits any tactical quandaries to maximum benefit, hoping to see off rivals from within a reduced group by putting in another great sprinting display.

Tiesj Benoot secured 5th place on his debut here and has since had to endure the huge hype which gets bestowed upon Belgian riders who show promise in the classics. Still only 23 years old, Benoot is developing as a rider mentally and physically, yet can already prove a thorn in the side of the bigger names today. Despite his build, the Belgian rider suits the course well and will start Ronde van Vlaanderen in very strong form, regardless of his recent results not making that clear. He might struggle to follow all the moves, but can hope to turn in a strong sprint for the line if allowed to.

Oliver Naesen demonstrated his growing reputation for one day races during the last few weeks by finishing in all except one of the supporting Flandrian races. He cannot be far off those in the best form right now and can certainly hope to cash in on the fact that he shall not be one of the most watched jerseys in the peloton. Happy to work amongst a breakaway, Naesen could partner up with some exceedingly strong riders and push on to the finish for victory before the battle amongst the favourites has truly begun.

Outcome:

1st John Degenkolb 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Greg Van Avermaet