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

Advertisements

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

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

Kuurne-Brussels-Buurne

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne 2017 – Race Preview

Course:

Yesterday’s bone rattling 72nd edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was another entertaining affair which mirrored last year’s battle between Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan. With today’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne forming the second half of a weekend few would want to be in the saddle for, it will not only be a case of who looks in good shape here, but also who survived yesterday best too. The course is a snaking 200.7km of familiar Belgian roads and hellingen, continually sapping the legs of the riders, often culminating in a sprint finish to crown the day’s victor. Last year’s winner Jasper Stuyven caused a major upset when attacking solo, fending off a large coordinated chasing group and crossing the finish line uncontested. Given the depth of sprinting talent on offer today, it is anticipated that the day’s finale should once again take the shape of a large bunch kick, especially with Stuyven’s victory still fresh in the mind of many.

 

Kuurne-Brussels-Buurne

Contenders:

Tom Boonen abandoned yesterday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad having realised that his chances of victory had slipped away up the road in the wheel tracks of Sep Vanmarcke, Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan. His team Quick Step had failed to feature amongst the crucial move and will have no doubt been told that the same cannot be allowed to happen here as well. Boonen is eager to sign off his final races with victories on home soil, meaning there is no question as to how focused he will be to securing a good performance today.

Sam Bennett might be afforded the support of World Champion teammate Peter Sagan in an attempt to lead the Irishman out for victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Bennett is a gritty rider at times and can summon up the determination required to survive these attritional races ahead of a bunch kick.

Alexander Kristoff will be a favourite for many as the Norwegian seeks to kickstart his classics campaign with an early victory upon the cobblestones. He has finished second on a couple of occasions at this race in recent years and may find that third time is the charm after an encouraging start to his season so far.

Peter Sagan may well decide that he should be gifted leadership here, attempting to resolve yesterday’s disappointment of finishing second to Greg Van Avermaet yet again at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Though many of the sprinters in the mix for this are much faster than Sagan, this fact becomes less relevant after 200km of riding, after which we can expect Sagan to be one of the fastest left in the race.

Arnaud Démare is still developing a profile amongst the one day classics, though does appear to show a level of natural ability when it comes to these long affairs which are intended to break many riders ahead of the finish. He does not always show the wisest of tactical decisions, but his survival skills and sprinting ability are well documented, making him a contender regardless.

Nacer Bouhanni possesses everything required to win this race, yet may find himself forgotten by some pundits due to his lack of major one day race victories. The last couple of seasons have seen him perform well at classics such as Milan – San Remo, keeping himself safe throughout the race, then bursting to the fore with his signature burst of acceleration.

Outcome:

1st Alexander Kristoff 2nd Nacer Bouhanni 3rd Sam Bennett

 

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

World Road Race Championship 2017 (Qatar)

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS 2016 – MEN’S ROAD RACE PREVIEW

Course:

Though a grand tour title or clutch of classics victories may guarantee a rider’s name in the history books, it is only the World Championships which provide the winner with a set of rainbow bands to be worn throughout the entirety of the following season. It is a rare occasion for a rider’s peak to overlap perfectly with a World Championship course tailored neatly to their strengths, especially given the forever changing choice of venue for the contest. This year’s host is the somewhat controversial Qatari capital of Doha, a nation far from known for its love of professional cycling, while also providing the type of weather which would normally render people disinterested from even sitting in the sun; let alone riding a bike.

Rolling out from the inspirational sounding Aspire Zone, it will take the peloton 257.3km to cross the finish line at The Pearl via an almost featureless route. With this in mind, it appears to be the day’s weather which is most likely to fuel any drama during the race, with teams such as Belgium and The Netherlands eager to take advantage of potentially strong desert winds by splitting the race to pieces through forming echelons. The regions scorching sun has already proven to be an issue during the preceding World Championship events, pushing riders to the brink of heat exhaustion on occasion. Perhaps more than any other edition of the World Championships in recent years, the importance to conserve energy and avoid going into the red will be paramount to those with a chance of winning; riders with a maximum roster of fully committed teammates at their disposal could thus possess a sizeable advantage.

A 15.2km circuit will form the final 120.4km of this year’s race, comprising numerous sweeping bends and roundabouts, but essentially an easy enough course to navigate safely. The trickiest part once the pace reaches its maximum will be a series of tight hairpin turns which can immediately open up gaps amongst the peloton, forcing those at the back to sprint hard in an attempt to stay with the frontrunners. These tight bends feature in the final kilometres, the last of which exits onto the flamme rouge and into the one kilometre long stretch to the finish line. It looks certain to be a reasonably sized bunch kick which crowns 2016’s champion, but given the innate unpredictability of a single day in the saddle, there are no promises to be made in Doha.

World Road Race Championship 2017 (Qatar)

Contenders:

Mark Cavendish had recently been laid low by illness and has not enjoyed an ideal preparation, instead finding himself recovering in bed for several days rather than tapering his form ahead of the big day. Having previously won the World Championships in 2011, the British rider knows what it takes to sustain a serious bid in pursuit of the rainbow bands and has confidently stated that his team for 2016 is superior to that of his previously victorious world’s squad. There is no doubt that he can handle the distance when in ideal form, has proven success in these Middle Eastern races, has assembled an extremely fast looking leadout train and knows how to navigate the maelstrom of the sprint. Surprisingly overlooked by many for this chance of becoming a double World Champion, his awkward preparation may have been a blessing in disguise, masking his form and arriving in Doha slightly out of the spotlight.

André Greipel is able to churn out enormous power to dominate these drag race style sprints to the line and has been focusing upon his build-up to this event with immense precision. There are suggestions that he may not be able to handle the distance, but given his performance at this year’s Ronde van Vlaanderen and victory on the 233km Stage 5 of the Giro d’Italia, he has shown that this is not necessarily the case anymore. His biggest hindrance is likely to be the team at his disposal, a German squad of only five other riders; two of which are the questionably supportive Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, while Tony Martin is no doubt still recovering from his world title winning time trial performance. This truly only leaves Nils Politt and Jasha Sütterlin to protect Greipel throughout the day as he looks to conserve his energy as best as possible. It might be a struggle to get a good position ahead of the finish without the quality leadout he is normally used to, but the wide and straight final kilometre does look perfect for Greipel to bury his rivals en route to becoming the first German World Champion since Rudi Altig in 1966.

Alexander Kristoff secured the points classification at the Tour of Qatar in 2016 and 2015, winning the same three stages in both editions, thus demonstrating his ability to perform in these testing conditions. The Norwegian rider has not enjoyed a vintage year, but he is well versed in rising to the top at such long races despite lacking sparkling form in 2016. A simple sprint over 600m would not place Kristoff in the same league as many of the contenders, yet the same exercise after more than 250km of racing can compensate for this greatly and will be a definite threat to the obvious favourites as a result. He boasts a strong team at his disposal and may even have the chance to call upon compatriot Edvald Boasson Hagen to lead him out; another rider who has found success in these desert races.

Peter Sagan will have won an even greater number of fans during his stewardship of the rainbow jersey, delivering a year long series of victories and incredible performances to secure the prestigious jersey one of its finest ever seasons on the shoulders of a World Champion. The potentially gruelling nature of this year’s race could once again bring Sagan into contention as this 257.3km race reaches its final stages, even more so off the back of some of his finest bunch sprints in recent years during 2016. He is a master of weaving between the wheels, staying out of trouble and only making his presence felt when victory is within touching distance; an anonymous Sagan for much of the day could indicate a similar performance as to Richmond last year which first earned him the rainbow bands.

Fernando Gaviria demonstrated his immense turn of speed at the biggest races in 2016, while also proving that 200km+ routes are already within his capabilities. There is not a brilliant Colombian team for him to call upon, primarily due to those assembled around Gaviria being poorly suited to the extremely flat Doha course. However, if things play out fortuitously for Gaviria, there is no doubt that he can out sprint the bigger names here.

Dylan Groenewegen is another young rider who has already proven to have the speed necessary to better some of cycling’s biggest names in the sprints. The Dutch rider has been provided with a convincingly strong leadout train, one which may prove to have the engine power to drag Groenewegen into an ideal position to sprint from; Tom Dumoulin and Niki Terpstra likely to make life tougher for their rivals. The greatest issue is whether or not the young Dutchman can indeed survive the course in a good enough condition to even contest the likely sprint finish.

Elia Viviani and Giacomo Nizzolo offer a definite headache for the Italian selectors as to who should truly be the protected rider in a bunch kick. In a simple question of speed, Viviani is the proven rider capable of beating top sprinters such as André Greipel and Mark Cavendish; whereas Giacomo Nizzolo is better equipped to handle a 257.3km race which may become incredibly gruelling. The Italian squad is a convincing leadout train, and if the selectors are only interested in the win, then they would be best to invest everything in to working for the faster Viviani, but a tougher race will immediately swing favour to Nizzolo.

Nacer Bouhanni and Arnaud Démare are posing a similar selection headache for France, though their talents contrast far more clearly than that of the Italian sprinters. Bouhanni is one of the few contenders to have part of his trade team’s leadout train present alongside him here, but the work of Geoffrey Soupe and Christophe Laporte has not been consistent in 2016 and may not prove to be as big an advantage as others perceive. His incredible acceleration and tenacity (some would describe it less positively) make him a dangerman amongst a hectic sprint, while his documented ability to survive harder races than this of similar distances means he should be there to battle it out at the end. Arnaud Démare is in great form in the latter stages of the season once again and is a rider who has already tasted success with the rainbow bands at U23 level. He certainly lacks the speed required to beat the majority of favourites, but a race made harder by the likes of The Netherlands or Belgium for example would diminish the field and bring Démare to the fore without a doubt. Victory at Milan-San Remo demonstrates his ability to cope with the demands of 250km of racing, but plenty will state that Bouhanni’s mechanical in the final moments is what truly delivered victory to Démare.

World Championships are not afraid of producing unexpected winners, so riders worth keeping an eye upon include: Marcel KittelMichael MatthewsCaleb EwanRamunas NavardauskasJohn DegenkolbTom BoonenEdvald Boasson Hagen and Matti Breschel.

Outcome:

Though there are teams eager to make life difficult and hope to fracture the race early on, it seems certain that the large amount of nations seeking a relatively simple sprint finish will ensure we are offered the most hotly contested bunch gallop of 2016. There are a few technical aspects late on, with the most focus being placed upon the final turn into the deciding kilometre up to the finish line, a corner in which the race may be lost for several riders. The final kilometre is an almost perfectly straight run into the finish on a wide tarmac road, ideal territory for those able to put out big watts to seize the day and the rainbow jersey. With this in mind, André Greipel and Mark Cavendish soon emerge as the clear contenders to lead the charge to the line, leaning slightly more so towards the German due to Cavendish’s recent illness; the British team is far superior however. Alexander KristoffPeter SaganNacer Bouhanni and Fernando Gaviria all have the speed to be in the mix, no doubt ensuring the final kilometre is more thrilling than the entire preceding 256.3km of racing.

1st André Greipel 2nd Mark Cavendish 3rd Fernando Gaviria