Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne Preview

KBK poster

“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.

Alexander Kristoff
Elia Viviani
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


46 thoughts on “Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne Preview”

  1. Legends probably refers to the stories of the race, not necessarily to the people. For example: The year Bobby Traksel got his win saw one of the most legendary races of all of pro-racing in the century.

  2. Lotto see Groenewegen as a future classics specialist, including some of the ones over the next two months, so I am interested where your characterisation of him as a guy who can’t even climb a canal bridge comes from.

    • In the past he’s been a bigger, heavier rider and among his three pro wins – all on very flat finishes – is one win ahead of Hutarovich. If this is changing then Lotto have more options with him, as long as he doesn’t lose the raw power.

  3. Excellent post as always.

    Probably a silly question but why did Dimension Data not ride yesterday and will not be riding today? Thought they had to as a World Tour team!!

    • A special edition but arguably it was the weather that made the legend that day. For those that haven’t seen it Traksel won a bitterly cold and wet edition with strong winds and put part of his win down to being overweight which offered him more insulation. He beat a Rick Flens of Rabobank and a young Ian Stannard of Sky in a slow motion sprint where Flens and Stannard seemed not to have the energy or just the arms to stand on the pedals for the sprint.

    • Agree there.
      I wasn’t going to watch this one but the combination of this excellent write up and the promise of some the blustery stuff has changed my mind.
      I’m going for Edward Theuns to podium.

      • My girlfriend says I’m a sadist because I’m always hoping that they have to ride in inclement weather – she may have a point: I wouldn’t dream of doing it myself. A properly wet Paris-Roubaix is what I’d really like.

        • I thought that Inner Ring went easy on Etixx in the Omloop Review.
          It seemed that they, and indeed 95% of the field, went steady after the decisive break was made.
          It was a token effort to bring it back I felt.
          Even Stuyven was able to ride away from the peloton and try to bridge over, until he slid out.
          If revenge is a dish best served cold, let it be cold and blustery and this afternoon!

          • I think maybe they realised that they didn’t have a rider in particularly great condition: their chase always looked a bit half-hearted. Plus they were virtually the only ones chasing – and then the crash knocked out Martin and Terpstra. Were they not the biggest Belgian team, they might well have sacked it for the day there and then – save themselves for today.
            But you would have thought they would have had someone in the right position to go with the break when it happened.

    • Sagan looks fantastic – unfortunately as usual he looks pretty isolated from any other Tinkovs when ever the real action starts… what would he give for a VDB or Stybar or Terpstra-like teammate or two who might actually appear and lend a hand at the business end when others are reluctant to work with him ( altho that didn’t appear to be such a problem on Saturday…).
      It’s all very well taking the biggest chq on offer, but in the long run……

  4. Stuyvens . . . who would’ve guessed!?

    That’s why this sport is so great!

    To quote LarryT: “Thank Goodness the real racing has begun!”

    The Spirit of Spartacus Lives On! 🙂

    • Not me, for one!
      Belgian Groundhog Day indeed.
      Perhaps if Stuyvens hadn’t slid out on Saturday, he might have wasted energy on what looked a long-odds chase and thereby ran out of gas yesterday?
      And apparently he was on the race radio at the time he crashed..not quite the impact we may have thought radios would have but still..
      And gracious thanks to Inner Ring for some top write ups this last week.
      A thoroughly enjoyable and exciting weekend of Belgian racing at its best.

    • A fine weekend’s racing & great performance by Stuyvens to take the win on Sunday.

      I really do hope work is being done to limit the motos’ damage to both the riders & the potential outcomes of races. Moto incidents are becoming a bit to common at the moment.

  5. Have to admit, I spent quite a chunk of both races decrying Stuyven’s tactics, complaining about the number of times he refused to work with promising breakaways and then pinged away on his own, pointlessly… ahem.
    Still think it won’t be the best tactic in every race, but what promise. With him and Benoot, perhaps Belgium doesn’t have to worry so much about Boonen’s departure.
    I can see why Sagan is complaining about the lack of cooperation – some riders seem too scared to even try to win – but I suspect that the more he complains, the more it’ll happen. He also brings it on himself: in both races, he put in big attacks – reminding everyone of how strong he is when he didn’t have to: Lange Munte and Oude Kwaremont. Seems to ride with his ego too much. And he needs a better team: if he had some support, he’d be less reliant on riders from other teams.
    As for motorbikes, seems like there could be far fewer of them: maybe just have 2 or 3 official photographers who share the photos with all.

    • Fair points, although I do think that Sagan is determined to wear the rainbow jersey with honour.
      But, as Noel points out above, at what point does Tinkoff (if he sticks around) make Sagan the core of his team and build around him?
      If not, is Sagan’s contract unmatchable – could Etixx or Sky, for instance, afford to take him on?
      Because he could clean up if they did.

      • Tinkoff is gone after 2016. He’s had his fun, his wealth has dropped a lot, and he doesn’t seem the type to court big sponsors.

        With his popularity, Sagan should be able to match his salary in endorsements. I would think that choosing the team that will best support him in winning races should be more important that choosing the team that will pay the most.

        • Maybe Tinkov sees what is happening with Wanda and Velon, and decides to stay? Hope not.

          Sagan could make plenty of money and win more races with another team, but people so rarely take the ‘less money’ option.

    • I don’t agree with Sagan not getting cooperation. He ended up with best fellows on Saturday.
      Sagan is inexperienced in these races and doesn’t have team back-up for that. He took initiative in KBK at wrong moments really. The generic race situation might have called for it, but these races have their own logic. Thorough understanding of what comes and on how the wind will be on every patch is crucial.
      Stuyven seemed too eager at moments, he wouldn’t have won without Demol calling Go/Pause.

      • I meant more on Sunday than on Saturday – and it does happen fairly frequently.
        Good points: maybe what he needs is a good road captain and/or a better DS.
        If he wants to win rather than make cash, he should join EQS (or even Lotto-Soudal), but they couldn’t even afford to keep Cavendish (according to Boonen) and might well prefer a Belgian team leader.

      • So true, I don’t think that being one helluva rider is enough to win big monuments or to pile up on classics. The belgian teams understand that quite well. You also need a Strong team (because those are hard races) and a very good strategie in advance ( because in a One day Race if you get it wrong it’s over).
        Tinkoff need to understand that before openning his big yapp and from what I see Condador will be facing the same difficulties at the tour, because no matter what they say, it looks like Sky Movistar Astana have stonger teams. One mighty Contador alone can not win the Tour.

    • I also wondered what Stuyven and van Poppel were doing once that front group was established. They seemed to have very good legs but instead of hiding a little bit and only doing regular turns at the front, both, but especially van Poppel were waisting energy by doing mini-attacks, gapping the group a few times only to then sit up and getting caught again. In hindsight though I think that was their (or their directeur’s) plan. Soften up the competition and testing their reactions to those somewhat silly accelerations. Because right in the moment when Stuyven finally attacked van Poppel sat up immediately as if he knew that their plan was finally executed. And it seemed as if Stuyven did not attack full gas but only hammered it when he realized that the plan had worked out and nobody chased him.

    • Stuyven won’t be able to use that tactic again. People know how strong he is now so the game is up. He’ll have to win by working earlier on.

      Motorbikes is a tough issue – in theory they’re very important, but the ramifications of their mistakes are massive. What was the medical moto doing trying to pass the bunch?

      • Dunno…Spartacus has made that move work a time or two? The vehicle thing’s getting to be a joke except that people are getting hurt. These drivers should know they’re DONE forever after breaking Rule #1 – NEVER hit the riders! There is NO excuse for hitting riders as you’re in control of a machine that has superior brakes and power. If you can’t pass safely there’s no reason you can’t wait until it’s safe. Even there was a doctor on the back of that moto rushing to save someone’s life at the finish line, the driver should wait to pass until it’s safe. What’s it gonna take to make that clear to the people driving these things – does someone have to be killed?

  6. Lefevere’s budget isnt big enough to pay for Sagan. EQS’s budget is very modest compared to Sky, BMC and Astana’s.

    And Brailsford wont bring him in at that salary. Sky will pay 4m pa to keep Froome for another 2 years – but that’s as much about keeping him away from other teams as anything.

      • Cheers.
        All the Brits should crowd fund to get him at One Pro Cycling!
        Who, by the way, should be mentioned in despatches for this weekend, good show by them.

          • Any particular reason(s) for that? (‘cos I think Prior’s a bit of a twat’)
            He could be regarded as a breath of fresh air but he is not solely the team – he is surely just a figurehead and significant source of funds.

          • Some people thought Prior was part of a destructive clique-y set-up in the England cricket dressing room. Others would disagree. I don’t really have view on that side of things (ie I have no idea, wasn’t in the dressing room and therefore choose not to speculate).

            But I did have a lot of time for him as a player – wasn’t the most naturally gifted, but worked hard and was arguably best in the world in his niche for a short time. And I thought his on-field performances were often selfless – would happily risk damaging his personal statistics by doing what was best for the team at the time (sound like a good trait in a pro-cyclist?)

    • I think Sky are keeping Froome because they want to win the Tour de France, rather than just to keep him from other teams.
      Who would they have rather than him?

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