“Legends are born here” says the race poster even if Kuurne has seen riders like Chris Sutton, Bobby Traksel and Kevin Van Impe win through in recent years as well as more famous legends like Mark Cavendish, Tom Boonen and Johan Museeuw.
Seen as revenge race to correct any mistakes in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is becoming a sprinters classic, perhaps the most sprint-friendly race after the Scheldeprijs these days although it’s got a series of cobbled climbs and the wind is forecast to get up too.
The Route: another race with a mendacious moniker because the race doesn’t go near Brussels, in fact it stays west of Ninove meaning it never gets closer than 30km from the Belgian capital. It’s no bad thing as it allows the race to twist and turn among the hills of Flanders. The 200km course has a series of 11 tough climbs and cobbled sectors but they come relatively early. The last climb is the Nokereberg, wide and stable it’s 350m at 5.7%, big ring time and still 50km to go. It all makes for a hard course but it is not fiercely selective, the race can regroup on the run in to Kuurne and a bunch sprint is the most likely outcome with sprinters dropped earlier trying to get back to the front group.
The Finish: there are two laps of a finishing circuit with the race rattling back and forth between Kuurne and Kortrijk. It’s flat with a few pinch points to scare the bunch before a long finishing straight that’s lined by deep crowds but exposed to the wind.
The Scenario: a sprint finish seems the most likely option with many teams heavily invested in this outcome. It’ll be interesting to see what Lotto-Soudal and Etixx-Quickstep do mid race because they have a real interest in trying to rip up the race in order to eliminate as many sprinters as possible but who will get a free ride on their coat tails?
Alexander Kristoff is the prime pick. It all went wrong for him yesterday which is good for him today. He shut it down late in the race and saved energy plus comes with an air of revenge. Second last year to Mark Cavendish – who doesn’t start – Kristoff is the form pick too given his string of wins and we know a few bergs along the way won’t worry him.
With Luke Rowe up the road the rest of Team Sky had a relatively easy day and can put themselves into service for Elia Viviani who didn’t finish the Omloop, presumably all the better for today. The Italian has good positioning skills and the ability to surge late in a sprint, all what you’d expect from a track specialist and Sky have a good record in this race with Chris Sutton winning and Viviani on the podium last year.
Peter Sagan will be in action again but will he give it everything after a hard race yesterday? It’s not clear and Daniele Bennati and Adam Blythe bring more sprint options but this is a packed and stacked field so their triumph would be a real surprise.
What about Etixx-Quickstep? Tom Boonen says he’s not got the legs right now so it’s a difficult scenario, if they want him to win it needs to be from a reduced group but if they try to rip up the race over the mid-race cobbles they risk putting Boonen into oxygen debt where he can’t meet the interest payments over the climbs or the lump sum due in Kuurne. Etixx-Quickstep won last year, a much needed triumph with Mark Cavendish rescuing them from the Flemish media’s scorn but now they return sans sprinter, there’s no Marcel Kittel nor Fernando Gaviria.
Lotto-Soudal are orphaned without André Greipel who is resting a broken rib. But Jens Debusschere won the bunch sprint yesterday and if the race is made hard enough he can deliver the goods again. Another team missing their top German sprinter is Giant-Alpecin and impressive neo-pro Soren Kragh Andersen is still learning and an unlikely winner so maybe Nikias Arndt is their sprint option.
With Nacer Bouhanni it’s often ça passe ou ça casse, make or break as the punchy and determined sprinter seems to have success and sorrow in equal measures. He didn’t ride the Omloop to come fresh here but Cofidis have not won a classic since 2008 and Sylvain Chavanel despite a heavy focus on these northern races. Still the Frenchman is in form and has a team dedicated to him. 11am Update: he’s just lost lead out rider Christophe Laporte to a gastro so he loses a chainring.
Once a team mate and now a rival for Bouhanni Arnaud Démare had quiet day yesterday, presumably coasting as much as he could after the move up the Taaienberg went while others on the team worked more, notably Matthieu Ladagnous. But he’s been sick in recent days, nothing big say the team but enough to discount his chances further.
Trek Factory Racing have a strong squad and this time Giacomo Nizzolo has a better chance for the sprint. Niccolò Bonifazio packs a good finish and has started well for the team in Australian races already. Edward Theuns tried a few moves yesterday but will be relatively rested.
Caleb Ewan is the novelty pick. With him it’s not whether he duke it out in the sprint because his skills and speed are now well known. Instead can he make it to the finish with the best? This is a learning experience for the 21 year old but he comes with a strong team to help with Jens Keukeleire as a possible back-up if he’s ok after yesterday’s mishaps.
Lotto-Jumbo bring Dylan Groenewegen who is one of those dragstrip sprinters that often struggles over the hills and sometimes canal bridges, a Dutch Yauheni Hutarovich if you like but the Minsk Missile has been on the podium here before and Groenewagen could surprise. “Huta” is back and team mate Dan McClay is also fast in the sprints.
Bora-Argon 18’s Sam Bennett has fresh legs having sat out the Omloop and has a good shot at victory. His team know they can’t win often but with Bennett they’re bound to win from time to time. He’s had a series of top-5 places already this year but no win. Then again Greg Van Avermaet had done the same until yesterday.
|Nacer Bouhanni, Caleb Ewan, Sam Bennett|
|Dylan Groenewegen, Peter Sagan, Jens Debusschere, Giacomo Nizzolo, Arnaud Démare|
|Theuns, Boonen, Petit, Jans, Arndt, Hutarovich, McLay, Kreder|
Weather: cold and sunny with a 27km/h breeze from the north-east which means a lot of crosswinds on the exposed terrain.
TV: enjoyed the Omloop? Chances are you need to channel hop to find this race as it seems to done deals with different channels. The finish is forecast for 4.40pm Euro time. Cyclingfans.com, cyclinghub.tv and steephill.tv serve up the pirate feeds.
There’s a dilemma because if it’s “just” a sprint finish then you may just want to watch the closing stages but with luck the race is being ripped up early. Sporza start coverage at 2.30pm and Eurosport begin at 3.00pm local time.
Ambroos: There are some original prizes in the sport and none more so that the donkey awarded to to the winner. They make good pets but fortunately the winner only gets a stuffed toy. But why? Well it’s a self-deprecating label adopted by inhabitants of Kuurne. Belgium’s a fun place that embraces eccentricity, think Magritte or the Maneken Pis. So a town that calls its inhabitants is nothing unusual and a large cartoon-like statue called Ambroos stands with pride in front of the town hall. There are two legends, take your pick:
- inhabitants of Kortrijk would be awoken by traders coming to market from Kuurne by the sound of donkeys and carriages rattling over cobbles, “it’s those asses from Kuurne” and the label stuck
- a local priest got tongue-tied one day and could not remember a blessing for his followers. He was berated by a colleague who said “you were born an ass and will die an ass” but the priest mistakenly took his colleague’s insult for a cue and started blessing the Kuurne residents with the saying “you were born an ass and will die an ass”