Kuurne – Brussels – Kuurne Preview

Often called the “revenge race”, today’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne offers teams a chance to correct mistakes made in yesterday’s Omloop. However if you enjoyed the Omloop then today’s contest is probably not going to match it, it’s more of a sprinter’s classic even if the wind threatens to chop up the race. Here’s a quick preview.

The Route: it’s all a lie, a great deceit. The race starts and finishes in Kuurne but it never gets to Brussels, in fact it stays to the west of Ninove, a town 25km outside of Brussels. It’s also got fewer strategic points. There are nine climbs but they’re not so important. The Oude Kwaremont is hard but there’s still over 70km to go. The last one, the Nokereberg is a w-i-d-e climb on urban cobbles through Nokere, hardly a launchpad to victory but do look to see who looks smooth and who is chopping at the pedals.

The Finish: the race reaches Kuurne and crosses the line for two laps of a finishing circuit. It’s flat and has a long finishing straight to suit the sprinters.

The Scenario: Etixx-Quickstep will want this. They come with some fresh legs including Mark Cavendish, the rider with the most wins already this season. Triumph today would be great although riders and management alike are really focussed on a result in Sanremo, the Ronde or Roubaix. Indeed they might find it difficult because Guillaume Van Keirsbulck quit yesterday ill while no amount of massage will ease the legs of Tom Boonen and Zdeněk Štybar. However if they’re not up to the task other teams will take up the chase, several sprinters appear on the startlist and their teams have vested interest in a bunch gallop.

However it’s not so simple with the course and the weather. Last year saw Belkin and OPQS shred the race in the crosswinds and the probability of a bunch sprint is not as high as a flat stage of a grand tour. If there is a bunch sprint, it’ll be from a reduced group. Today’s weather forecast suggests ample opportunities to split the race up and Lotto-Jumbo might want to give it a go to avenge Sep Vanmarcke’s problems.

Last year’s podium

The Contenders: Mark Cavendish is the prime pick because of his sprinting form and ability to deliver when it matters. He’s won in 2012 too. His contract’s up at the end of the year and he’s made March crucial to negotiations. Sanremo is the big goal but a win today would help relieve Pat Lefevere’s distress. But we have to discount his chances because he’s not got the full team you’d pick on paper, can they control the race? If Cav has a mishap, Matteo Trentin, Yves Lampaert and Iljo Keisse offer sprint or late attack opportunities.

Alexander Kristoff is the next pick for his sprinting skills and he too wants a result. He was 11th yesterday and beaten in the bunch sprint. His form from the Gulf races should carry across, he’s known for being strong in bad weather and has a dedicated team.

Sky will feel confident and Elia Viviani is in good form with wins in Dubai and medals in the velodrome but has the track works stunted the endurance needed for today? Andrew Fenn has been hired as a sprinter too while Chris Sutton won in 2011 but has endured lean years since.

If Viviani can win, Bryan Coquard can too. The cheeky Frenchman is a new world champion on the track although let’s admit it, his pairing with Morgan Kneisky hardly constitutes the fastest duo in the world. But he won by taking part and starts today with ambitions.

Lotto-Soudal are orphaned without André Greipel but Jens Debusschere is a good replacement, 12th yesterday, reigning Belgian champion and gets the team sprint train.

Lotto-Jumbo’s Sep Vanmarcke might want instant revenge but this is a difficult ask and perhaps team management might be better asking him to hold back so that he can unleash more raw power later this month. Moreno Hofland, pipped for second place last year, is out so Tom Van Asbroeck is the sprint option and a decent option for a grey day in Belgium.

Sam Bennett is an outsider tip, the Bora-Argon 18 rider beat the best for the final stage in Oman and copes well with a few climbs too. Nacer Bouhanni and his sprint train has to deliver the goods at some point but for now they’ve resembled a goods train rather than a sleek TGV. Manuel Belletti leads Southeast and won the Trofeo Laigueglia two weeks ago, he’s accompanied by Italo-Pole Jakub Marecko who is very fast but at the start of a learning curve. IAM have Matteo Pelucchi who has proved very good so far this season but his ability on Belgian roads will be tested; Yauhueni Hutarovich tends to get one big win a year.

MTN-Qhubeka get another chance for their multi-pronged approach. Tyler Farrar punctured at the wrong moment yesterday and this season is all about classics success rather than pure sprinting but he’s still in with a chance. Amazingly they have six sprinters on a team of eight. Theo Bos has the raw power and there’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, Gerald Ciolek, Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg and Kristian Sbaragli.

Mark Cavendish, Alexander Kristoff
Elia Viviani, Sam Bennett, Tom Van Asbroeck, Theo Bos
Coquard, Bouhanni, Belletti, Farrar, Pelucchi, Debusschere, Hutarovich

Weather: a 25km/h west-south-westerly breeze will help the race to “Brussels”, Ninove really, before they turn back and face headwinds and crosswinds, one minute encouragement to split the race up, the next making it awkward for escapees. As ever in a Belgian race you rarely travel in a straight line for long so the wind direction will shift. A top temperature of 12°C.

TV: coverage in Belgium starts at 2.30pm local time with Eurosport picking up the baton at 3.00pm. The finish is forecast for 4.40pm.

It’ll be on more channels than the Omloop but if you can’t find it then see cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv.

Game of Stones: how’s that for a race poster? Or is it depicting vandalism and encouraging dangerous conduct on public roads?

29 thoughts on “Kuurne – Brussels – Kuurne Preview”

  1. Top blogging as usual.

    It’ll be hard to match the Omloop, but surely EQS will be smarting. M. Lefevre may have wanted to spare his riders in public, but on the bus there must have been some choice words.

  2. And E-QS will want revenge after yesterday’s debacle. Mind you, am I the only one bemused by Sky’s tactics? Seemingly, in every race they try to lead the peloton – usually pointlessly.
    Yes, that works if you’re leading a grand tour, but it’s an utter waste of energy if you’re 80km out in a one day race – why did Sky think they had to do that yesterday?
    To me, it seems like a combination of arrogance and tactical ineptitude (Sky’s one major weakness).
    Stannard was brilliant yesterday, but E-QS had three and Sky had one becauase Eisel and Wiggins had used themselves up 80k before the finish.

    • Sky led the peloton yesterday to keep Stannard out of trouble and ensure he was in exactly the right place to make the final selection. Seemed to work?

      Sky’s tactics can warrant criticism but yesterday only two teams had riders in a position to win at the end – E-QS & Sky. Granted Sep VM was very unlucky. No doubt all teams would have liked a few more riders up there …

      For me it’s a ‘chapeau’ to Sky for a great team performance which was more than rewarded by the magnificent and wily Stannard.

      As for today – will be watching Sam Bennett with interest.

      • In contrast, apart from contributing 1 rider to chasing down the break, what did Lotto-JumboNL do?
        vanMarcke also made that final selection, despite his team not needing to waste energy on the front. Pity about the punctures – especially their timing. I’m sure Sep is ready to make today equally as hard… if it comes back together Lotto-Jumbo have different options.

    • You would assume Wiggins would be the man to aim to put with Stannard in the finale, but I guess he wasn’t feeling good (or up for it) so just worked earlier instead.

      I thought they used Sutton very well, he made it hard for Boonen to get to the front at the bottom of the Taaienberg, wonder if he regretted his trademark move at about 3k to go?

      • From Servais Knaven’s comments the plan was to use Eisel and Wiggins to keep Stannard at the front and then try and repeat last year’s tactics using Rowe in place of EBH.

    • Sky won the race.
      If they’d lost then by all means call their tactics arrogant and inept but they won.
      Yesterdays conditions were bad, very windy and perhaps that didn’t come across on tv but did you see the black flags blowing from the tractors? Combine that with the constant changes of direction and it’s exhausting, you need a team to keep a rider fresh for the end and Sky did that brilliantly with Stannard. They managed to get him to the point when Boonen put the hammer down, about 50k out, and all he had to do was hang on. When we watch races on tv we think the last 80-60k we watch is the whole race, and maybe in long sprinters stages in GTs it is, but they were racing right from the off yesterday.
      Perhaps E-QS suffered from having two captains. They should have let Terpstra or Stybar create the selection and kept Boonen fresh.
      Of course if Terpstra’s wheel had been a few inches ahead then we’d be having a totally different conversation.

      • I’m a bit late, but my point is that E-QS got a lot of riders to the end of the race (albeit they ballsed it up), whereas Sky only got one (who then did brilliantly). So, up to that point E-QS had the better tactics. Good point above that same is true of Lotto-Jumbo.

  3. Sky will be on high and Viviani is the obvious leader but I wonder if the number two will be Luke Rowe.

    He beat Demare and Kristoff in the reduced bunch sprint yesterday having already attacked before the winning break got away. Obviously he’s in good form and has a smart turn of pace. Maybe not enough to beat Cav etc but maybe a better bet than Fenn and Sutton if Viviani isn’t there at the end.

  4. The question begs, should Stannard be Sky’s designated leader at the Ronde and Roubaix? Or will Sky insist on playing the PR game with Wiggins?

    • They don’t need a designated leader. It’s what gets them into trouble!

      Get as many to the end as you can and ride for whoever feels the best.

      Worked for etixx…. um…. sort of….

  5. There’s a Dutch expression that translates as ‘meeting the man with the hammer’, which is used often in cycling jargon and for all I know even originates from the sport. It describes the moment when you feel you have been pushing too hard and you implode. I think this expression has inspired the poster.
    I missed yesterday’s action because I was out riding, hope today’s final is as thrilling.

    • Nice lucky pick there.

      It’s been said before but if you see riders on the same rating, like Elia Viviani, Sam Bennett, Tom Van Asbroeck, Theo Bos then I put them in preferred order for the race, so Viviani ahead of Bennett etc.

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