UCI World Road Championship Bergen 2017 Men's Road Race Preview

Road World Championships Bergen 2017 – Men’s Road Race Preview

Course:

The end of the 2017 road season is hurtling to its conclusion, with Sunday’s Men’s Road Race marking the finale of a brilliant World Championships in the Norwegian city of Bergen. Having watched the preceding races from the elite women and youngsters, today’s title challenge is anticipated to be a difficult to control affair, one which sees nations panic at the prospect of missing any decisive moves. As ever, the course to crown the next World Champion is intended to be a wearing task, chipping away at the riders upon each rotation of the circuit having completed the initial 39.5km of racing. Once the 19.1km circuits begin, the attritional nature of the course will become apparent, the day’s total mileage of 267.5km intended to see only the finest rise to the top.

The eleven laps of the circuit begin with a small rise shortly after first entering, plateauing briefly, before then dropping down once again 5km in. From this point starts much of the climbing on these laps, the road tilting upwards and eventually placing the riders at the day’s sole recognised ascent. Salmon Hill is a 1.5km hill, averaging a very consistent 6.4% on average and should be a challenge which many choose to tackle in the big ring. The drop from the summit is a simple enough descent, allowing riders to push on at great speed, though might not offer quite enough to escape a well organised peloton. The final 4km of the circuit are not particularly technical once heading back into Bergen, though two turns in the final 300m might be enough for a solo move to just cling on after the flamme rouge. With no convincing gradient present, the likelihood of a sprint deciding the day’s winner is high from a reduced bunch, though solo success as been prominent during the supporting races here in Norway.

UCI World Road Championship Bergen 2017 Men's Road Race Preview

Contenders:

Peter Sagan arrives in Norway with the very plausible chance of becoming the first man to win three consecutive World Championship Road Race titles. The course plays to his strengths convincingly enough and provides him with the belief he shall be the fastest men present in a sprint for the win after 267.5km of arduous racing. Two key issues are prominent however for Sagan, and the first is the fact he is Peter Sagan, a rider few others will be interested in working with as part of any moves. Having already won this twice in his career, he certainly does not need to prove himself today and could ride defensively in hope of being towed right the way to the finale. Though Salmon Hill is a key feature on the course, it is there to tire the bunch and is unlikely to prove the launchpad for another swashbuckling Sagan solo move. The second greatest issue for him is his recent illness, Peter Sagan has been sick for almost a week now and has not ridden for three days as a result. He may not be incapacitated by it, but it is certainly enough to take the edge off his form, on a day where only 100% is likely to win the rainbow stripes.

Alexander Kristoff as had an interesting season of results and performances, perhaps reaching this World Championship on home soil as a forgotten favourite, a man who has previously dominated gruelling one day races like this in recent seasons. There is no denying that the course has been built with his talents in mind, aiming to blunt his rivals throughout the day and place him in a position to deliver a home victory in Bergen. The year has not been rich in rewards for Kristoff, though victories at the European Road Race Championship and Ride London have demonstrated his innate talent for riding the perfect one day race. He is also one of the few names who is likely to benefit from miserable weather; native spectators happily cheering on a downpour with hope of improving Kristoff’s odds of winning. Surprisingly fast during a flat sprint, and with Peter Sagan potentially suffering from sickness, Kristoff may emerge as the man to beat.

Fernando Gaviria looks to be the fastest man present at the race this year and can certainly cope with the rigours of this course in convincing fashion to still challenge when it matters most. The Colombian team is a somewhat awkward fit for Gaviria however, supported by many pure climbers who are unlikely to be used to protecting a sprinter all afternoon, let alone trying to lead him out late in the day. He has often proven able to survive the cut on difficult courses like today, though admittedly sees his top end speed suffer as result, potentially leaving him short in the final metres. He is a man which many will want to see dropped, meaning his team and himself will have to be alert to all dangers in hope of keeping him in contention.

Michael Matthews chased home a victorious Peter Sagan in Richmond a couple of years ago and will feel he has only improved further since that point. The Australian team have confirmed that Matthews is the sole leader for the day, intending to keep all their riders in reserve to work for him and making it unlikely we will see any riding from them in speculative breakaway moves. Matthews is known for his indomitable sprinting skill when it comes to short uphill finales, making the Bergen course ill-fitting on paper, though things are never that simple after such a long day of racing. With a powerful and committed squad at his disposal, he should arrive as one of the freshest riders in contention if a bunch kick proves the crowning moment of 2017’s World Championship Road Race. His current form has been convincing in recent weeks and there is no doubt he will be fired up to take the rainbow stripes in the green and gold of Australia.

Elia Viviani arrives as one of the most in form riders at the race, enjoying a raft of victories in recent months and shall be another sprinter many will want to distance. Potentially the fastest man at the race for a flat sprint finish, the Italian knows he has a brilliant chance of winning, as long as he can stay in contention during the hectic concluding laps. As always seems to be the case at the World Championships for Italy, their greatest issue is the assurance of teamwork, as at least three riders shall feel they have a chance of taking the stripes in Bergen. If Viviani cannot get his compatriots united behind him, then life will only be made harder as a consequence, as any unnecessary chasing shall only serve to increase the likelihood of him cracking before the finish line is in sight. However, if he does make the cut and has managed to avoid working too hard earlier in the day, it will be surprising if anyone faster than Elia Viviani is present

Philippe Gilbert could be the joker in the pack, poised to secure an unexpected second rainbow jersey in Bergen, benefiting from a Belgium squad which boasts an incredible degree of cycling talent. As a nation lacking a convincing pure sprinter, they shall be committed to making the repetitions of Salmon Hill as hard as possible, doing their utmost to avoid a large bunch kick finishing the day off. Tiesj Benoot, Oliver Naesen and Tim Wellens are just three examples of Belgian riders which other nations shall not be able to allow any freedom to within the final 50km of racing. This should allow Gilbert to sit behind the favourites and hope to stay as fresh as possible, allowing his teammates to fracture the race repeatedly throughout the city centre circuits. Gilbert’s killer instinct will inform him of which is the key move to follow late in the day, from which his odds of winning look most likely and shall believe he has what it takes to sign off from Norway with a rainbow stripes delivering sprint.

Greg Van Avermaet shall be the equally dangerous game plan for Belgium, a man who has repeatedly shown to be a clinical finisher, specifically when small groups find themselves deciding the outcome of major races. His confidence is greater than ever these days, as recent battles against Peter Sagan have often favoured the Belgian more than the reigning World Champion. Much like teammate Philippe Gilbert, Avermaet will hope that he only needs to make two crucial efforts during the day; one to make the cut and another to win the day. If Belgium can make this course far harder than it appears on first sight, then he will be one of those who shall come to the fore and benefit from a more arduous contest.

Michal Kwiatkowski should be another rider capable of securing his second stint in the rainbow bands on today’s course, though shall not be given the freedom which previously handed him the jersey in 2014. There are no question regarding his ability to survive a day in the saddle as tough as this is likely to prove, especially after taking the win at Milan – San Remo earlier this Spring. His best hope shall be to join a strong breakaway group, as a solo attack shall be difficult on such a simple climb, from where he can choose to sprint for the win or fracture the move further in the final kilometres with a fierce attack.

Matteo Trentin looked to be enjoying great form in the recent Vuelta a España and any confirmation of him having carried his condition through to the World Championships will make him a danger to everyone’s ambitions today. Capable of winning from either a small move or larger bunch sprint, the Italian will fancy his chances on a course which is unlikely to see him dropped from the group of favourites. However, it is unclear what his team orders have been heading into this race and whether he shall agree with any request to ride entirely for his faster compatriot Elia Viviani. If not hamstrung by team orders, then Trentin will aim to vanish up the road and emerge as the fastest man present from a small group of riders.

Others to consider:

Michael Albasini is a namer few will have on their list of contenders, but the veteran Swiss rider deserves a mention off the back of recent performances at Coppa Agostoni – Giro delle Brianze and Coppa Bernocchi; winning the former and finishing fourth in the latter. Both around 200km in distance, he evidently has the condition to bother the favourites today and his sprinting has been the best since earlier this season at his home tour. It will take plenty to occur in order to place Albasini in a race winning position, though recent showings suggest he does have what is required to finish it off.

Edvald Boasson Hagen is another pick for the Norwegian’s to rally behind, especially after a great Tour de France and recent Tour of Britain, both seeing him ride aggressively throughout. It is unclear what the leadership situation is within the home nation’s team, though it would be wasteful to expect Boasson Hagen to protect Alexander Kristoff all day. If a well equipped move of contenders gets free late in the day, expect Boasson Hagen to be quick to join, aiming to bury his fellow escapees with a potent sprint to the line.

Julian Alaphilippe has seen the selectors pick a French team with the intention of supporting him as best as possible, hoping he can repeat some of his familiar early season form which has delivered him great results in the Ardennes Classics. No doubt preferring a tougher course, he might actually benefit from the plan of the Belgian team today, perhaps going as far as to unite with them to break the race apart. He looked to be rediscovering his best in the Vuelta a España a few weeks ago and is worth watching if appearing cool in the pack with less than 50km of racing left.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Alexander Kristoff 3rd Philippe Gilbert

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Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 4 Preview

Course:

Another day exceeding the 200km mark, Stage 4’s passage from Mondorf-Les-Bains to Vittel is similarly rolling to yesterday’s terrain, though should provide a more suiting finish for the thoroughbred sprinters. Starting in Luxembourg and crossing into France around the halfway point, there is little of note during much of the 207.5km route, though there is an ascent of the Category 4 Col des Trois Fontaines on offer later in the day. The finish itself is a slight drag up to the line, perhaps looking favourably upon those who have the strength, but not quite the top speed to better the likes of Marcel Kittel on a normally level playing field.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 4 Preview

Contenders:

Marcel Kittel performed well on the opening road stage, securing a convincing victory despite a rather below average leadout from his Quick – Step teammates. However, none of the sprinters’ leadout trains got it right on Stage 2 and today will be the first opportunity to remedy this factor for all the big names. Having clearly arrived at Le Tour de France in fantastic condition, it is easy to consider that Marcel Kittel could walk away with around five stage victories if everything goes to plan. Nobody looked particularly close to challenging him the other day, but the subtle increase in gradient to the line might be enough for some rivals to close the gap.

Arnaud Démare recorded an impressive second place behind Marcel Kittel on Stage 2 and will only be more of a threat to the German on a finale which rises slightly to the line. Enjoying the form of his life currently, the Frenchman has not only sustained great condition heading into his home grand tour, but is also backed by a competent leadout train to guide him into position. Assuming FDJ can execute an almost perfect final kilometre for their captain, then there is a strong possibility of seeing the first French win of 2017’s Le Tour de France.

André Greipel is confident of picking up at least one stage win at the race and has looked strong enough to achieve that ambition based on what we have seen thus far. His team were one of the few to produce a more organised leadout on Stage 2, but the ‘Gorilla’ was left a little short of being able to better his compatriot Marcel Kittel when it mattered most. Another rider who often performs well on moderate inclines, this is a convincing opportunity for Greipel to collect a stage win before the first week is even over.

Peter Sagan managed to unclip his foot in the decisive moments of yesterday’s finale and still succeeded in fending off a surging Michael Matthews by a considerable margin. Consistency has delivered him a green jersey at every Tour de France he has attended, making it certain he will be present in the kick for the line, but wether it suits him enough to win is a different question entirely.  The World Champion rises to the top when contests get attritional, so today’s short and simple run into the finish line is unlikely to truly favour him, though nothing is simple after more than 200km of racing.

Dylan Groenewegen is another who could seize the day, using the final increase to launch himself to victory and take his first career grand tour stage win. The biggest deciding factor for the Dutchman is wether his teammates can navigating him a successful pathway to the front of the action, allowing him to focus everything on producing his best effort possible.

Those capable of challenging for the win and top 10 placings include Nacer BouhanniMark CavendishJohn Degenkolb, Ben Swift and Sonny Colbrelli.

Outcome:

1st Arnaud Démare 2nd Marcel Kittel 3rd André Greipel

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 3 Preview

Course:

Though this is earmarked as another day for a bunch sprint to decide the outcome, Stage 3’s 212.5km journey from Verviers to Longwy offers a far greater number of rolling roads than yesterday and finishes with an uphill battle to the line at Côte des Religieuses. Rather than simply seeing the fastest riders in the race lay claim to stage honours, we can expect the puncheurs and those fond of classics style finales to also show their faces during the final moments. There shall be a heated battled for position as the peloton turns onto the final climb of Côte des Religieuses, opening with an incline of 8.2%, meaning there is a chance of getting stuck behind fatigued riders sliding out the back. At 1.6km in length, it manages to reach a maximum gradient of 11%, though the last 500m are considerably easier at 3% – 4%.

Le Tour de France 2017 Stage 3 Preview

Contenders:

Michael Matthews has established himself as a consistent performer upon these difficult uphill stage finishes in recent years and even won a similar challenge earlier this season at Tour de Suisse. He climbs far better than a typical sprinter and has the ability to still produce a blistering acceleration after having hauled himself up a late climb such as today’s. Support from teammate Nikias Arndt could prove decisive, as the opportunity to conserve any ounce of energy for the deciding sprint will be a great advantage for the Australian.

Peter Sagan could open his account early at this year’s race with a stage win in Longwy and will be considered the man to beat by fans and riders alike. Though he has always been quick in a kick to the line, it is these attritional conclusions which he has improved upon immensely and now finds himself a true specialist at winning upon. Sagan is brilliant at positioning himself without the guidance of others, though may finally have support in the closing moments of a stage in the shape of Jay McCarthy. Regardless, the reigning world champion will not worry if isolated and shall be confident of finding the gap required to surge forth in order to take the win.

Greg Van Avermaet is the thorn in the side of Peter Sagan on days like these, as the Belgian has risen to become one of the few riders who can consistently put the Slovakian to the sword in a head to head contest. His form might not be sparkling right now, and he does have eyes on stages later in the race as well, but his talent for uphill sprints makes him a real contender despite this. If the weather makes it a more attritional day, then Avermaet’s chances will improve further still; as the closer Stage 3 gets to becoming a Belgian classic, the more likely it is that he will take the stage.

John Degenkolb surprisingly missed out on a top ten placing on yesterday’s stage, but could be saving his efforts specifically to challenge for the win atop Côte des Religieuses. He recently finished behind Michael Matthews and Peter Sagan at the Tour de Suisse on a similar finale, suggesting that his form could be better than expected at Le Tour de France. Degenkolb can produce huge amounts of power to get over these inclines, though could come unstuck if the sprint is ignited from further out than expected, leaving him with nothing else to call upon once the inclines soften towards the line.

Phillipe Gilbert is capable of producing a potent display of aggressive riding on Stage 3’s final climb, arriving at Le Tour off the back of one of his most successful Spring campaigns for sometime. The former world champion will be able to utilise his dominance upon Amstel Gold’s Cauberg to help gauge his efforts today and can lean upon an extremely talented group of teammates to set him up for grand tour glory.

Sonny Colbrelli seems one of the most difficult riders to gauge form of, often producing eye catching results out of thin air at major races, then seemingly unable to reproduce it on days tailored to his abilities. The Italian rider should be interested in this finish, though much like John Degenkolb, could discover that it leaves him short of the pace required in the last 500m to secure victory.

Other names who have the potential to steal the show are Diego Ulissi, Michael AlbasiniZdeněk ŠtybarEdvald Boasson Hagen and Arthur Vichot.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Greg Van Avermaet

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 2 Preview

Course:

Native fans were left applauding the exploits of a Welshman in Düsseldorf on the opening day, as Geraint Thomas secured the first maillot jaune of his career and of 2017’s race. Though Thomas has always possessed a knack for prologues since joining the road alongside his track exploits, these talents had been in hibernation for sometime. Seeing them reappear and topple the giant that is Tony Martin on course meant for the world champion was extraordinary. The second stage of Le Tour de France is a 203.5km jaunt from Düsseldorf to the iconic cycling town of Liège, crossing the border into Belgium along the way. Other than a few rolling roads late in the day, the expectation is that we shall witness the first bunch sprint of this year’s race, though vicious crosswinds could cause issues amongst a nervous peloton.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 2 Preview

Contenders:

Marcel Kittel will be the best hope for German fans to recoup their losses after yesterday’s disappointment, the sprinting ace poised to dominant this long and wide finishing straight in Liège. Quick-Step look to have improved greatly in regards to leading Kittel out in sprints this season and shall be confident of executing a perfect finale in order to take a win on home-soil for the Belgian outfit. With so few technical qualms to worry about, Marcel Kittel will be able to focus on laying down the watts and burying the opposition.

André Greipel could make this a clash between two German powerhouses on Stage 2, given that the finale itself looks tailor-made for his high power drag race style of sprinting. Though he is no longer able to realistically challenge for the sprinters jersey at a grand tour or gather himself a haul of wins, Greipel rarely leaves a race empty handed and will be fully aware of how great a gift this stage could prove.

Mark Cavendish seldom enters Le Tour de France as a wild card contender, but given his recent and ongoing illness, there is a great question mark hanging over his form at the moment. He is unlikely to have wished to force a fitter rider out of the team to simply be present at the race, suggesting that Cavendish does believe he can compete in the sprints here. His greatest ally on Stage 2 could prove to be the wind, as a headwind into the finishing line would allow him to utilise his aerodynamic style to pounce upon the larger figures of André Greipel and Marcel Kittel a whisker from the line

Dylan Groenewegen is now a familiar face amongst the big name sprinters and will be one to watch on this fast finishing run into Liège. Team LottoNL-Jumbo are well prepared to support their talented sprinter at the year’s biggest race, arriving here with a leadout train capable of challenging the likes of Quick-Step if performing at their best. The young Dutchman is extremely powerful, with a high top speed, making him a firm favourite to secure stage honours.

Other riders who should finish in the top ten are Peter SaganNacer BouhanniDan McLay and Arnaud Démare.

Outcome:

1st Marcel Kittel 2nd Dylan Groenewegen 3rd André Greipel

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

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

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