No other country cherishes bike racing as much as Belgium and the men’s road race is the final event in a week of festivities and sport. Only there’s one thing missing so far and that’s a home win, can Wout van Aert deliver? Here’s a quick preview…
The Route: 268km and featuring two different circuits:
- the “Flandrien” lap is outside Overijse and and dips into the countryside at times includes the Moskestraat – the cobbled climb used in the Brabantse Pijl and Druivenkoers of late – and the Smeysberg, a 16% wall section of tarmac and the Taymansstraat, 16% again but with cobbles
- the “Leuven” circuit laps the city and features plenty of corners, and short rises and dips, the kind of place where being 20 places behind means having to make more effort just to stay on the wheels. It’s got a lot of pinch points and has seen many crashes so far in the other categories. The finishing straight is slightly uphill.
Today it’s 1.5x Leuven circuit, 1x Flandrien circuit, 4x Leuven circuits, 1x Flandrien circuit and finishing with 2.5x Leuven circuits which makes for 42 climbs. Crucially this makes it more like the Tour of Flanders with different circuits prompting different phases in the race, rather than the usual Worlds format with repeat laps where the pace ratchets up lap by lap like music where the drum beat gets ever faster.
The Contenders: Wout van Aert (Belgium) is the obvious pick given his win rate and versatility, he could win the sprint from a group, a breakaway or go solo. But he’s also the wheel to follow all day, including in the finishing straight. The Olympics showed how others just won’t want him near them in the finish but the TT shows he’s in great form too and so will be hard to beat. Remco Evenepoel is a strong second card, able to go solo from a long way out but often beatable if others are along for the ride. Collectively the Belgians will have a hard time trying to contain the race, van Aert plus home status means a lot is on them. Stuyven is a local while on paper Benoot, Teuns and Lampaert could all be in the mix too but if they’re backing van Aert then they’re likely to get used up.
Salt and pepper, frites en mayo. There are some inalienable combinations and citing van Aert means we ought to evoke Mathieu van der Poel. He’s had a season many riders would yearn for, yet come up short in the big goals, winning in Tirreno-Adriatico rather than a spring classic and that crash in the Olympics. A late entrant because of rehab, the form seems back but can he hold it together for 260km? The Dutch have a strong team, Bauke Mollema could always do his thing but this probably isn’t hilly enough while Danny van Poppel is strong.
Everyone’s tipping the Danes and you can see why. Mads Pedersen? Well he’s won the Worlds already and packs a sprint. Magnus Cort? He’s a crafty finisseur and in form. Kasper Asgreen? He can go solo from afar and rival teams will need to deploy several riders to haul him back. Michael Valgren is suited to long distance races and crucially he’s back in form. But how to win for as good as these riders are, those named above them are surely better? They promise Quickstep-style tactics, firing riders up the road while the others sit back.
Sonny Colbrelli (Italy) gone from someone who’d pop up to win on a cold day to a more consistent winner of late and is suited to this course. He’s a hardman sprinter but increasingly confident, happy to attack on the hills rather than wait. Interestingly the Italian squad is loaded with more sprinters than workers, with the likes of Matteo Trentin, Giacomo Nizzolo and Davide Ballerini. Gianni Moscon is good for a threatening late attack.
Julian Alaphilippe (France) can win again but last year’s course suited his searing attacks. He’s got a tendency to waste energy at times, like a dog chasing its tail, but not when he’s got a clear goal and the Worlds have been in his sights for months now. Team mate Florian Sénéchal can sprint well and is probably a protected rider, ditto Benoît Cosnefroy who will be expected to launch a late uphill attack. Arnaud Démare is curious pick for the team, he’s had a rotten season but often because he’s lost his team in a hectic finish but after 250km if he’s still there he packs a potent punch.
Peter Sagan (Slovakia) can bide his team, watch others and hope things end in a sprint, there’s nothing to lose here and the form is there, he’s just won his home Tour of Slovakia.
Britain bring young names like Tom Pidcock and Ethan Hayter. Pidcock’s banked the Vuelta as training while Hayter may not be making the headlines but he was as good as van Aert and Alaphilippe in the Tour of Britain, the question is whether he can deliver after 260km. Ben Swift is often discreet but pops up for a surprise from time to time.
Among some other names João Almeida (Portugal) is versatile. Marc Hirschi (Switzerland) is beginning to look sharp again but would prefer a hillier course. Alexander Kristoff (Norway) can lurk all day, the same for Fernando Gaviria (Colombia). Tadej Pogačar is the star attraction for the Slovenian team and Primož Roglič rides too but surely Matej Mohorič is their ace card, he has the knack of drifting away just at the right moment. Australia have two cards in Caleb Ewan and Michael Matthews and the old 1-2 tactic with Matthews able to cover moves knowing Ewan’s the sprint card.
|Wout van Aert|
|Sonny Colbrelli, Julian Alaphilippe|
|Remco Evenepoel, Mathieu van der Poel, Magnus Cort|
|P Sagan, Asgreen, Hirschi, Trentin, Pidcock, Mohorič, Pedersen|
|Almeida, Kwiatkowski, Valgren, Sénéchal, Ewan, Gaviria, Cosnefroy, Matthews, Hayter, Hirschi, Démare|
Weather: cloudy with some weak sunshine and up to 22°C.
TV: the local channel is Sporza and Eurosport/GCN are covering it internationally. It’s live from start to finish, the race begins at 10.25 CEST and should finish around 5.00pm.