Yesterday I successfully predicted a grand day out for Fabio Aru and Dan Martin, so the pressure is on today!
Check out my triumphant Facebook post following the end of the stage…..definitely not bragging! 😉
Here’s today’s prediction….
Stage 3 begins on the Belgian coast at Blankenberge, hugging the shore until Ostend before heading inland to Ardooie. Unless a breakaway can gain a big enough lead before reaching the Belgian town, the stage seems destined for a sprint finish. The circuit of Ardooie is actually pretty technical, with some tight corners to navigate before a straight 1km run in.
The technical aspects of the final urban circuit may make organisation difficult, however these are the types of finish which Sagan will relish with his exquisite bike handling skills ready to come to the fore.
Freewheeling Prediction – Sagan looks to be the likely beneficiary of the technical corners in the final circuit. After backing the Cofidis boys for an outside chance with Nacer Bouhanni on Stage 1, don’t bet against them on this stage either. Bouhanni was close on the first day, and he has won here before in 2014.
Monday sees the start of the Eneco Tour, the only WorldTour stage race assigned dual nationality – shared between Belgium and the Netherlands.
Appearing later in the race calendar to accommodate the Olympic Games, the race is packed with star riders using the event as the perfect preparation for the World Championships in October. Fresh from his win at the European Championships, Sagan will be on the start line of the Eneco Tour for the first time, as Freewheeling favourite Geraint Thomas leads Team Sky supported by previous World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski and Brits Luke Rowe, Andrew Fenn and Ben Swift.
Although the route favours the Classics experts, the race contains something for everyone with flat stages, hilly stages, a team time trial and an individual TT. Last year Belgian Tom Wellens of Lotto-Soudal took the overall classification, with Olympic road race champion Greg Van Avermaet of BMC in second. This year offers a favourable parcours for sprinters, with Andre Greipel, Peter Sagan, Nacer Bouhanni, Caleb Ewan, Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb all in the hunt for stage wins and sprint points, with the orange points jersey their ultimate prize.
Stage 1, a 184km circuit from Bolsward in the Netherlands, could see a bunch sprint on the finish line, although with part of the route hugging the coast, there is potential for echelons to form and split the peloton. The weather forecast however looks good, so it seems likely that the bunch will finish together. The streets are fairly narrow in the final run-in, so teams will need to be organised to avoid a messy finish and potential pile ups.
With the individual time trial on day two, the GC contenders will be on the hunt for time bonuses to secure a good TT starting position, so team tactics will come into play early in the race.
Freewheeling Prediction – A bunch sprint with the potential for one of the big names to secure the stage victory. Greipel, Kittel and Sagan will hope to be up there, but don’t underestimate the strength of Team Cofidis, who’ll be working to deliver Nacer Bouhanni to the line, and Orica-BikeExchange have a sense of purpose with Caleb Ewan, fresh from his Tour of Britain stage win in London.
At lunchtime today, 18 teams will set off on the Grand Prix de Wallonie, a one-day race through the Wallonia region of Belgium. The race, categorised as part of the UCI Europe Tour, was first run at professional level in 1935, and has seen a total of 36 Belgian wins from 56 editions, the most recent winner being Jens Debusschere of Lotto-Soudal. So who has the wheels to race for the 2016 win?
Fresh from claiming victory in the 2015 edition of the GP, Lotto-Soudal return to Wallonia with a team brimming with Belgian talent. Of the 8 riders participating for last years’ winning team, 6 are Belgian racers, with New Zealand’s Greg Hendersen and France’s Tony Gallopin adding some international flair. Lotto-Soudal are one of five WorldTour teams in the race, the others being Etixx-Quickstep, FDJ, Ag2r La Mondiale and IAM Cycling.
The parcours is undulating throughout, beginning at Beaufays near Liège, and ending at Namur and the famed climb up to the Citadelle. The gradient on the final climb averages 6% and tops 8% over some sections, and is sure to separate the men from the boys coming after 200k of hard racing, and featuring some technical cobbles.
Julien Vermote, wearing number 22 for Etixx-Quickstep, will be looking to capitalise on his success at last weeks’ Tour of Britain, where he wore the leader’s jersey for 4 days. The team fielded by Etixx-Quickstep is a young one, including Vermote and the talented Petr Vakoc, who performed well in Canada recently before unfortunately crashing in the finishing straight of the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal. This young squad is our pick for the 57th Wallonian GP, coming off the back of a successful season for these stars of the future.
Look out for the Freewheeling race round-up later on!