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

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Gent - Wevelgem Race Preview 2017

Gent – Wevelgem – 2017 Race Preview

Course:

Fans have already seen the biggest names in the early season classics trade blows amongst themselves during Dwars Door Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke, but the anticipated contest at Gent – Wevelgem offers differing prospects once again. The course may have a greater number of flat kilometres than what the riders have tackled already during their Spring campaign, but that is not to say that plenty of murderous hellingen are not waiting to break the spirits of the peloton as the ranks begin to thin. Stretching for a total of 249km from the historic city of Gent to Wevelgem, the race has often been one which leans closer to the talents of the toughest sprinters than the thoroughbred cobblestone crunching specialists, alongside both Scheldeprijs and Kuurne – Brussels – Kuurne. After approximately 130km of racing upon relatively flat roads, the eleven climbs soon begin to be ticked off rapidly, the race retaining a familiar format while building upon the recent addition of another pass of the Kemmelberg. Another new feature of the race is the use of several roads which are unpaved, making the battle for position more intense in order to avoid being caught up behind any potential punctured riders. The majority of the hellingen will prove simple enough, but much of the day’s anxiety shall hang above the second Kemmelberg pass, approaching from the steeper side which reaches a maximum gradient of approximately 23%. An elite group of riders is likely to have formed by this point of the race and should contest the outcome of 2017’s Gent – Wevelgem amongst themselves with the fastest bunch kick possible after such a draining affair.

Gent - Wevelgem Race Preview 2017

Contenders:

Peter Sagan did not really feature during Friday’s E3 Harelebeke and shall be extremely motivated to perform well with the ambition of defending his title from last year. The topography should play into Sagan’s hands favourably, something which is evident given his convincing history of results at this race in the last five seasons. He will need to ride aggressively in order to drop several faster finishing classics specialists, though given his sparkling form right now, it seems a challenge well within the abilities of the day’s favourite.

John Degenkolb is building strongly ahead of his main target of Paris – Roubaix and looked to be one of the only riders of Sagan’s ilk to follow the world champion when dropping the hammer on the Poggio during Milan – San Remo. He possesses a strong team of riders who are skilled enough to keep him safe throughout the day and bring back any threatening looking moves which do not feature the German sprinter if required. Trek – Segafredo will be confident of Degenkolb taking the win in a sprint against anyone after such a tough affair, marking them out as key protagonists throughout the day in order to assure his presence once they reach Wevelgem.

Alexander Kritstoff will be one of the greatest threats to the likes of Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb in a sprint finish for the title, as the Norwegian strongman is notorious for surviving attritional races with his ruthless turn of pace still intact. He may not be in the scintillating form of a couple of years ago, but his recent showing at Milan – San Remo provided a glimpse of the past, taking fourth place ahead of rivals for today Fernando Gaviria and John DegenkolbIt is likely he will keep a low profile for as long as possible, but once Kristoff is forced to break cover, viewers will realise the true race is on.

Fernando Gaviria has an incredible sprinting ability which has already delivered him victories against the world’s fastest sprinters in races much more simple than Gent – Wevelgem. The Colombian is still developing as a classics rider, yet came close to securing a monument on his Milan – San Remo debut last year and took 5th this season there too. As a young rider, the skill of staying in contention without going too deep is not as well honed as a rider like Alexander Kristoff, but his palmarés suggest he is not far off that heading into this battle.

Greg Van Avermaet took the win at E3 Harelbeke on Friday, so will arrive here aware of the form he is currently enjoying in the Spring yet again. The Belgian rider may have seen his impetus to win here reduced somewhat as a result of his recent win, but knowing what he can do in terms of racing could allow him to ride a more patient race in hope of catching the sprinters by surprise with a late move. There is no doubt that somebody will look to make a move on the final pass of the Kemmelberg and many shall expect Avermaet to be right up there in the mix, if not leading the charge.

Other riders who have the potential to win from either a sprint or small breakaway are Tom BoonenDylan Groenewegen, Fabio FellineNiki TerpstraZdenek StybarMatteo TrentinLuke Rowe and Michael Matthews.

Outcome:

1st John Degenkolb 2nd Alexander Kristoff 3rd Peter Sagan

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Race Preview

E3 Harelbeke – Race Preview 2017

Course:

With barely a pause for breath in the wake of a hectic Dwars Door Vlaanderen, the peloton once again charges headlong into another contest of hellingen and cobblestones, poised to tackle the ever entertaining E3 Harelbeke. Considered by many to be the closest thing to a practice run of next month’s Ronde Van Vlaanderen, riders who perform well here are often earmarked as the main protagonists to watch during the second monument of 2017. Comprising a 205km route from Harelbeke and back again, the race organisers have once again completed the task of seemingly featuring every possible hill, pavé section or both combined to truly make this an attritional affair. Despite many being all too familiar with the likes of the Taaienberg, Eikenberg and Paterberg, these hellish obstacles never soften, forever skilled at breaking the toughest riders en route to the finish. Given the gruelling profile of E3 Harelbeke, it is rare for a large group to sprint amongst themselves to decide the victor, so expect to see a series of elite riders trading blows until a handful of the strongest splinter from the chasing pack and set about crowning 2017’s champion.

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Race Preview

Contenders:

Peter Sagan is enjoying monstrous form in 2017 and will be given the title of ‘man to beat’ yet again as the peloton spend another arduous day surfing the cobblestones of Belgium. He always rises to expectations of putting on a show for fans, animating races regardless of how it may impact upon his hopes of winning, but today is the kind of race which looks ideal for Sagan showboating en route to victory. Having defended his rainbow bands for another year, being the most watched man in the peloton is hardly of note to him now, no doubt relishing the attention as he seeks to make life as hard as possible for his rivals.

Greg Van Avermaet has been closest thing to a thorn in the side of Peter Sagan, beginning to acquire a convincing record in head to head sprints and diminishing the air of invincibility surrounding the reigning world champion. He often seeks to follow the rear wheel of Sagan, hoping to get the better of him in a sprint at the end of a tough race like this which often sees the Belgian with a faster turn of pace. It is unlikely that Avermaet will be afforded an inch to attack, so himself and his BMC teammates will do their utmost to position him well and leave him in the best shape possible to contest the win from a lead group.

Tiesj Benoot will once again be feeling the strain to convert his potential on the cobblestones into a victory at last, despite only recently turning 23 years old, the native fans are eager to see a new Belgian hero emerge. His performance during Dwars Door Vlaanderen bordered upon the anonymous, yet he still secured 7th place behind the leading group of four riders which decided the race. Benoot knows these climbs well and is not afraid of riding an aggressive race, looking to chip away at his main rivals in hope of arriving solo in Harelbeke. 

Sep Vanmarcke missed all the major moves during Dwars Door Vlaanderen and was surely unimpressed by his Cannondale – Drapac teammates’ lack of impetus to chase the break down. Regardless, we have since learned that Vanmarcke has been suffering from a mixture of illness and a bruised rib, yet has assured fans that he will be in contention once again at E3 Harelbeke; perhaps the greatest threat to Peter Sagan if fighting fit.

Tom Boonen may be lining up for the Spring classics once again, but the reality is that the Belgian cycling icon is currently riding in the Autumn of his career. As part of another incredibly strong Quick – Step squad, the likelihood is that Boonen will be allowed to remain in the main bunch, hoping for a sprint finish to decide the day’s outcome; from which he will be a favourite. The antics of his teammates may well tire other favourites ahead of the finale, allowing Boonen to take advantage to stir some emotions in the Belgian fans of previous triumphs.

Philippe Gilbert worked well with teammate Yves Lampaert to deliver Quick – Step the win at Dwars Door Vlaanderenperhaps even sacrificing his chances of victory to assure the team did not suffer another tactical embarrassment on home soil. He will be further down the pecking order during E3 Harelbeke, where he could be tasked with forcing the hand of rival riders by animating the race late on. If a tactical race begins to play out in the latter stages, Gilbert is certainly a strong enough rider to make a late move stick right the way to the finish line.

Zdenek Stybar is leading the attack for Quick – Step here as they utilise their entire arsenal of riders to try and put Peter Sagan to the sword. In terms of possessing the power required to bridge over to decisive moves and attack rivals on the day’s hellingen, Stybar is perhaps the closest match to Sagan when in his best form. He will be well protected by his teammates and should be a guaranteed face amongst the lead group which pushes onwards to the finish in Harelbeke at the end of the 205km.

Luke Rowe may be given the task of stepping into the shoes of teammate and fellow Welshman Geraint Thomas, who has previously enjoyed victory here amongst several other good performances. Despite Rowe stating that his recent time at Paris – Nice was one of the toughest ever, he caught the eye with his potent efforts to keep protected riders in the best position possible during crucial moments. Being given the chance to ride this race with much greater freedom than normal could deliver Team Sky an unexpected win; Rowe certainly not scared of attacking the bigger name riders.

John Degenkolb is targeting Paris – Roubaix in a few weeks time, though might be tempted to test his form at E3 Harelbeke, despite the course not being a typical fit for his talents. The German is extremely powerful, being the last man to be dropped by Peter Sagan’s attack during the final moments of Milan – San Remo and is often the fastest man present in races which stretch onwards from 200km. This may not be an obvious target for him, yet he will certainly seize the opportunity should he find himself at the front of affairs as part of a race deciding group.

Outcome:

1st Tiesj Benoot 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Luke Rowe

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2017 – Race Preview

Course:

The peloton dip their toes into the freezing waters of the classics season for the first time in 2017, as the hellingen of Belgium seek to break riders’ spirits before Spring as even arrived. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will not only drop the flag to begin its 198.3km journey out of Gent and back again, but also signal the start of the oncoming wave of cobbled races which traditionalists view as the true beginning to the cycling season. Many riders will be familiar with the roads and climbs used during the days race, as given the size of Belgium, parts of the course also crop up in classics such as Ronde van Vlaanderen and E3 Harelbeke. A total of 13 different hellingen and 10 pavé sections will combine to make this a selective race where much of the final action occurs during the concluding 50km, as the attritional nature of the contest sees the most cunning riders capitalise en route to victory.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Contenders:

Peter Sagan is the day’s favourite for many people, arriving here in the rainbow stripes of the World Champion for the second consecutive year after finishing behind Greg Van Avermaet in 2016. Sagan’s programme so far this year has been light, gradually building him into race condition without having to risk him amongst the season’s early twitchy races. The last couple of years have cemented the belief that Sagan can near enough achieve anything which he desires, and given that the obstacles present today are his favoured hunting grounds, it is difficult to believe Peter Sagan will not win in Gent.

Sep Vanmarcke is yet to find a great deal of glory in races such as these, a surprising factor when seeing him put his rivals to the sword by accelerating over cobbled sectors and hills. The Belgian rider has been plagued continually by bad luck, mechanical issues and poor tactics whenever looking in good contention for a cobbled victory. Regardless, he has always performed well at this time of year and on this type of terrain, Vanmarcke now possesses a stronger team to support him and can hopefully earn a much deserved win at last.

Greg Van Avermaet was last year’s champion, finally getting the better of rival Peter Sagan in a reduced sprint and will be aware that a rematch may well be on the cards in 2017. His ability to always be in the right race move, following the wheels of his major rivals, has always been an impressive skill of his during these often chaotic affairs. Avermaet will no doubt be as astute as ever here, but his preparation has not been ideal due to a broken ankle sustained late last year. This means he could be somewhat behind his expected condition for this time of year, however, if there is one man who can overcome a physical disadvantage through mental strength it is Avermaet.

Tiesj Benoot made all the right moves last year, finishing amongst the elite pack of five riders which decided the race, led home by Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan. He has been much hyped by his home nation of Belgium and is shouldering the burden of being marked as their future saviour for the cobbled classics. His current form is extremely encouraging and there is every reason to believe that he will once again feature as part of the group which crowns the day’s winner.

Luke Rowe was one of the other riders who made it to the finish in the leading pack last year and is in the type of condition which suggests he could be in the mix once again. Despite his diminishing prowess as a sprinter, the Welshman is developing a skill for solo moves, something which he demonstrated earlier in the year at the Herald Sun Tour; a performance which should not be forgotten by his rivals today.

Tom Boonen and Zdenek Stybar pose a headache for their team Quick Step, as each have a proven ability to really shake things up during a gritty contest like this. Between the two of them, there is the ability to either solo away to victory or wait in hope of a sprint finish, but it will be tough to choose which is best to back. The Belgian outfit have a poor reputation for tactical nous after their farcical finale in 2015, making this a very interesting dynamic to watch throughout the day.

Other noteworthy riders who could cause a stir are Alexander KristoffJasper StuyvenNiki TerpstraIan Stannard and Jens Debusschere

Outcome:

1st Peter Sagan 2nd Sep Vanmarcke 3rd Luke Rowe

Paris-Roubaix Preview 2016

Course:

Having put to bed the Tour of Flanders for another year last weekend, the wait for another opportunity to make history has been brief for the riders. Paris-Roubaix now finds itself next on the agenda for much of the peloton, poised to rattle the bones of all and certain to introduce an unlucky few to the cobbles for a ‘closer inspection’. Recent years have seen dusty editions contested on a regular basis, plumes of sunbaked dirt rising skywards thanks to the obscenely large cavalcade of motos and cars churning up a choking smokescreen, within which the riders find themselves racing for most of the day. The fact that 2016’s edition could be wet is certain to cause anxiety for many ahead of the race, as a few millimetres of rain can soon turn the jagged cobbles into a surface as slippery as ice – only a select few would welcome such conditions.

Whatever the weather, the 27 sectors of pavé will be a brutal selection process that can only be softened through an amalgamation of power, endurance, nous and luck. The peloton will at least be afforded almost 100km to prepare for the opening sector, as once the ball starts rolling, there shall hardly be an opportunity to take breath between each vicious stretch of pavé. A total of 52.8km shall be spent surfing from one cobblestone to the next during this 257.5km affair, with great attention focused upon the traditional triumvirate of Trouee d’Arenberg, Mons-en-Pevele and Carrefour de l’Arbre which all feature once again in 2016 and have each proven decisive over the years.

As is tradition, the final moment of Paris-Roubaix will be played out within the historic Roubaix velodrome, where a one and a half lap battle between the surviving men has often been the climax to proceedings. Though someone might just be lucky enough to enter solo and savour this victory lap on their own before crossing the line to lift the cobbled trophy unchallenged in the finale.

Paris-Roubaix

Contenders:

It is strange to consider a peloton without Fabian Cancellara acting as one of its greatest ambassadors, though thankfully his retirement is still some time away and he shall be firing on all cylinders as he attempts to tie with Tom Bonnen and Roger De Vlaeminck for most wins – 4. The Swiss legend obviously hopes to end this year with a major win of some sort, and having come so close at Ronde van Vlaanderen last weekend, Cancellara evidently has the form to achieve such an ambition. Paris-Roubaix victories always owe a small debt to luck, but it is the ability to stay out of danger and anticipate crucial moves which seals the win for most, a talent honed through experience and one which Fabian Cancellara has in spades. His previous three wins here are testament to his innate tactical nous, while pairing this with his current condition, the title of favourite is certain to be bestowed upon him.

Sep Vanmarcke is overdue for a big win such as this and comes to the race off the back of encouraging showings at both Ronde van Vlaanderen and Gent – Wevelgem. Vanmarcke shares attributes with Fabian Cancellara, powerful enough to attack solo or follow the wheels of others for example, and it would come as little surprise to see both feature in the day’s decisive move. In 2013, these two contested the win in the Roubaix velodrome with Cancellara emerging victorious, but this year it could be wiser to back Vanmarcke for the win should a repeat occur.

When given the freedom to attack this season, Luke Rowe has proven to be incredibly strong, coping with attacks from some of the biggest riders. The Welshman has the gritty determination demanded of a winner on the cobbles and might prove even stronger should the rain emerge as a factor on Sunday. He finished 8th here last year, 5th in Ronde van Vlaanderen last weekend and was unlucky to puncture on Stage 1 of Driedaagse De Panne a couple of weeks ago; having looked strong after making the crucial race winning move alongside Alexander Kristoff, Lieuwe Westra and Alexey Lutsenko. There is no doubt that Rowe is a danger to the hopes of others and it would be no shock to see them rue letting him slip off the front unmarked.

A man who usually blossoms when attention turns to this unique set of cobbles is Dutchman Niki Terpstra, winning the race in 2014 and never shying away from making his presence felt. His season thus far has been modest, though he did take the win at La Samyn when dropping Scott Thwaites with a monstrous effort late on, so is bound to feature in one way or another. For him to take victory, expect him to capitalise upon an inch of freedom by calling upon his time trialling talents and vanishing up the road solo.

Zdeněk Štybar and Lars Boom are an interesting couple of riders given that both of last year’s first two riders home (John Degenkolb & Greg Van Avermaet) are unable to contest 2016’s edition due to injury. Štybar was third last year and is thus the highest finishing rider here from 2015, he looks strong this season, but has not quite met the demanding expectations of his team Etixx-QuickStep in these Northern European one day races so far. His cyclocross background will come in handy should conditions get slippery, a skill shared by Lars Boom who also made the move to the road from cyclocross and won 2014’s Tour de France stage which crossed these cobbles under heavy rain. Boom is a bit of a dark horse in this respect, as it may really come down to the weather more than anything else to determine if he shall be a player in the outcome.

Peter Sagan has laid the curse of the rainbow bands to rest in the last couple of weeks; first when taking Gent – Wevelgem and then again when securing one of the biggest wins of his career at Ronde van Vlaanderen. His performances at these classics in 2016 have been extremely consistent, marking him out once again as a favourite, though there are slight doubts as whether this will be enough on this occasion. His reputation goes before him and he often finds others expecting him to do the bulk of the work in a move, draining his energy and ultimately blunting his sprinting capabilities before the finale. He could form an elite group with riders such as Fabian Cancellara and Sep Vanmarcke once again, but he will have to measure his efforts well, as such a powerful break could dissolve into kicking chunks out of one another late on and reduce his chances of winning a sprint as a result.

A wildcard for the day is Cofidis’ Florian Sénéchal, the young French rider having won this as a junior in 2011, now he leads the team and will be one of the home fans’ greatest hopes of a win. He made the jump up convincingly in 2015 when finishing 17th, looks even stronger this year and could benefit greatly from a naive peloton underestimating just how talented he is.

Outcome:

1st Fabian Cancellara 2nd Sep Vanmarcke 3rd Zdeněk Štybar

Tour of Flanders Preview 2016

Course:

The 100th edition of De Ronde is poised to be a dramatic affair as we tick off the second monument of 2016 this Spring. After a week of varied Belgian cycling across the country, this Sunday’s Ronde van Vlaanderen once again sits as the cherry atop the cake of Flemmish cobbled racing. Stretching from the historic town of Brugge to Oudenaarde, the 255.9km course shall once again demand the utmost from any rider with an eye on victory here. With home stars such as Greg Van Avermaet and Tom Boonen searching for glory in this centenary edition alongside the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Peter Sagan and Tiesj Benoot; an epic battle for the title seems certain.

Ronde

Contenders:

There is little doubt that Peter Sagan enters this race with the form and skills required to win it, though his recent sprinting efforts at the end of such arduous contests do raise doubts about his ability to see such a contest out to the end. Should he manage to join a group of five or more riders which reaches the finish first, there is a good chance that he will have limited his efforts on the front and still retain enough energy to take the win with a solid sprint to the line.

Fabian Cancellara will be extremely motivated to take another win at the Tour of Flanders during his final season as a professional cyclist, especially considering his brilliant form as of late. Alongside this comes a supporting cast of Trek riders which offer the level of strength and stamina required to survive such a contest in good position in hope of making all the key moves. The Swiss rider is certain to be a major protagonist once again and will not be afforded an inch of freedom during the day’s racing.

Sep Vanmarcke really should possess a greater number of major cobbled and classic wins by this point of his career, yet the Belgian rider has often been painfully unlucky at decicive moments of races in recent years. He looks to be in good form entering the 2016 classics season and will feel confident of being the fastest man left in the many permutations of favourites which seem likely to contest the finale.

Belgian support will also be out to cheer on youngster Tiesj Benoot, a rider who has already demonstrated a prowess for this race during his senior debut in 2015 when finishing fifth. If he manages to make the selection for the decisive move once again, then he will be a threat in the final as Benoot has demonstrated his great turn of speed at the end of such races already.

Greg Van Avermaet seems to have finally solved his reputation as a nearly man and will be extremely motivated to win this 100th edition of the Tour of Flanders off the back of a Spring which has seen him better World Champion Peter Sagan on more than one occasion already. Avermaet has a very strong team at his disposal and should feature in any move which has the chance of making it all the way to the finale.

The strongest of outsiders likely to feature include Geraint ThomasZdenek StybarMichal KwiatkowskiArnaud Démare and Luke Rowe to name a handful.

Outcome:

1st Peter Sagan 2nd Fabian Cancellara 3rd Tiesj Benoot

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne-Spokenforks-Preview

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne Preview

After much speculation as to who has the legs for this year’s classics campaign, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad served up an interesting mix of answers from the big names. Once again, Patrick Lefevere and his Etixx-QuickStep team found themselves in a position where the win seemed guaranteed to finish in Belgian hands; well it was until Ian Stannard decided otherwise. The defending champion repeatedly closed down gaps and responded immediately with his own, leaving only Niki Terpstra alongside him by the end to challenge the inevitable. With a showing of raw power over tactical nous (or the lack thereof), Britain’s Stannard became the first man since 1998 to defend his title.

Course:

A different sort of offering altogether is next on the agenda in Belgium, a race traditionally favouring the quicker men; Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Like Scheldeprijs, this one day affair is a victory most sprinters will fancy adding to their palmares; the fact KBK requires greater work to guarantee a sprint adds to its desirability. This year’s edition is 195km long and boasts 9 testing hills; including the infamous Oude Kwaremont. Having completed the day’s earlier climbs, it is at the 98km mark where the first big test comes in the shape of  the Kanarieberg; an average gradient of 7% which kicks up to 14% over its kilometre length. Once crested, a punchy run of  the Kruisberg (avg. 4%, max. 9%), the Hotondberg (avg. 3.1%, 7.5%) and the Cote de Trieu (avg. 7%, max. 13%) all appear in under 2okm of racing. Positioning will be crucial over these; as no time will be offered to correct lapses in concentration before the decisive Oude Kwaremont is upon them.

In excess of two kilometres long and teamed with an average 4% gradient which maxes out at 11.6%; the Oude Kwaremont is placed at a pivotal moment. Only 75km shall remain once completed; meaning the formation of a select group of riders is likely to be formed over the course of this climb. Those first to the other side will be seen as the biggest threat to the bunch kick ambitions’ of the sprinters. The two final climbs of the day are completed with 51km remaining; these are the Holstraat (avg. 5.2%, max. 12%) and the Nokereberg (avg. 5.7%, max. 7%). Despite opportunities being offered here to ignite more attacks, the teams working for a sprint finish will see the remaining 51km as plenty of time to reel in any breakaway. Two finishing circuits comprise the last 16km and will see the pace ramp up as escapees are swallowed up and sprint trains assembled for a frantic finish.

Outcome:

With the changeable weather conditions always a factor in Belgium, a contender will need a well organised team to protect them from crosswinds and exhibit enough tactical nous to survive on their own if required. The combination of Etixx-QuickStep and Mark Cavendish certainly appears to fit this mould on first impressions, but it is unlikely he will be given full control of the team with Tom BoonenZdenek Stybar and Matteo Trentin all likely to be there. In a straight up sprint, Cavendish should be the fastest man here, but a day in the wind and rain would make all the difference to his turn of speed.

The one man with bolder indications of being suited to this race is Alexander Kristoff; the Norwegian already demonstrating buckets of determination this year in the Middle East. He will have the entire team at his disposal to ensure he is not found out too greatly on the climbs, but with 51km of flat to the finish; he has time to recoup lost ground. A versatile rider who can take care of himself in the midst of battle, he appears to be in incredible form to rectify the current absence of a cobbled classic in his palmares. He is by no means intimidated by the weather either; casually shrugging off the atrocious crosswinds in Qatar when stating his hometown’s seaside gales were worse.

Team Sky have the chance to take back-to-back wins when arriving here after Ian Stannard’s amazing win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad the previous day. He could choose to ride KBK and would certainly be a huge help to the ambitions of their main sprinter Elia Viviani, a man recently returning from time on the track. He is not an obvious choice for a cobbled classic, but has started this year well and should cope with the range of hills. A reduced sprint would see his odds of winning increases greatly; the same can be said of teammate Luke Rowe. The young Welshman finished an impressive 9th the previous day and appears to be growing into the classics nicely already.

Nacer Bouhanni’s season is gradually spluttering into life, but truly needs a solid victory to really light the fire beneath his ambitions. Though an ill-fitting rider in some respects, he often surprises in tougher conditions and has spoken previously of his interest in the classics. If he happens to be present amongst a reduced group sprint, he should be watched closely; the ability to weave between rivals and accelerate at the right time is a talent of his. A really interesting sprinter to watch for here will be Yauheni Hutarovich, who has finished runner up at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne twice; in ’11 and ’12. He comes to Belgium off the back of a dominant performance at La Tropicale Amissa Bongo; where he took a hat-trick of wins and is clearly in good form with a supportive team.

All of the above is based on the assumption that something resembling a moderate group sprint will determine the outcome of this year’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. However, plenty of names are apparent on the startlist who could instigate the sort of breakaways which can shatter the hopes of the fast men. Greg Van Avermaet is showing good condition for these early classics and would not hesitate to join a strong group of escapees if convinced he would benefit in the finale. Conspirators are likely to be quick to join him with  Sep VanmarckeJean-Pierre DruckerMatthieu LadagnousScott ThwaitesEdvald Boasson HagenMatthew Brammier and Edward Theuns all being men to watch for.

1st Alexander Kristoff 2nd Yauheni Hutarovich 3rd Elia Viviani