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

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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

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

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview

Strade Bianche – Preview 2017

Course:

Though a relatively new addition to the early season calendar, Italy’s Strade Bianche has already cemented itself as part of the classics landscape which builds towards the likes of Paris-Roubaix and Ronde van Vlaanderen later in the Spring. The iconic white roads and rolling terrain are contrasting to the challenges of Belgium, Northern France and the Ardennes, attracting a unique blend of competitors seeking to add their name to the list of victors at a race growing in prestige. The course totals 175km from Siena and back, returning once again to familiar roads in the latter stages, utilising gravel tracks and persistent changes in gradient to really make this an attritional affair. Expectation is that a reduced group will contest the final kilometres in the wake of a strong selection process, often making tactical nous as crucial as brute strength as the final climb is tackled.

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview

Contenders:

Peter Sagan once again appears to be riding in indomitable form at the start of the classics season and will be viewed by many as the man to beat as the race returns to Siena for the finale. His victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and second place to Greg Van Avermaet at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad have demonstrated his monstrous ability to simply surge across to anything resembling a race winning move. Sagan has previously finished second place on two occasions at Strade Bianche and will no doubt be looking to call upon his current form to convert his runner-up spots into a belated victory.

Greg Van Avermaet could return again to dampen Sagan’s hopes of victory at a minor classic, the Belgian rider having recovered well from an injury at the end of last year with great success. His history at this race is particularly encouraging, having been unlucky to miss the win here on a few occasions already. A strong support team will certainly improve his chances, hoping to shelter him from any unnecessary efforts, saving himself for what is likely to be a testing finish into town.

Zdenek Stybar really enjoys this race and has made no secret of his ambitions to produce another leading performance here. His experience in cyclo-cross has certainly played a part in his previous successes at Strade Bianche, calling upon his great bike handling abilities to navigate the gravel roads safely. He performs well on these repeated uphill accelerations, possesses great endurance and his usually capable of summoning up a blistering sprint after such a gruelling affair.

Fabio Felline should be considered a danger to the bigger name riders with eyes upon Strade Bianchethe Italian arrives at this race off the back of an encouraging performance at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad which saw him finish fourth. His endurance capabilities have grown year after year, often demonstrating real grit and determination to stay in contact with elite groups, hoping to pounce upon victory with his impressive turn of speed. If there is one rider likely to benefit from the favourites eyeballing one another too long, it could be Felline who steals the show.

Diego Rosa and Michal Kwiatkowski are bound to be the riders which Team Sky look upon as their greatest hopes in a race they are not expected to be targeting with great intent. The former caught the eye with his performance during 2015’s edition while riding for Astana and evidently performs competitively on these gravel roads when offered the chance. Former world champion Kwiatkowski won this race in 2014 and might be tempted to repeat his exploits of three years ago after a good performance at Volta ao Algarve already this season.

Other contenders who could well cause a stir are Jasper StuyvenBen HermansNathan HaasDaniel OssGianluca BrambillaGianni Moscon, Moreno MoserGiovanni Visconti and Tiesj Benoot.

Outcome:

1st Fabio Felline 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Zdenek Stybar

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