One last Belgian cobbled race to ease us into Ardenne season. A Europe Tour 1.HC race, De Brabantse Pijl falls just after Paris Roubaix and just before the hillier classics kick off at Amstel Gold. Its place on the calender tends to draw an eclectic startlist with some coming off the back a long spring classics campaign and others just about hitting peak form in time for the Ardennes. Rarely does a large group come to the finish and the tough finishing circuit frequently brings exciting and unpredictable racing.
The race is really defined by it’s finishing circuit although this is not to write off the first 120km which includes the Alsemberg, Bruineput and La Hulpe/Terhulpen, all of which feature ramps in excess of 10% and will work to soften up the legs.
The rider cross the finish line for the first time at 135.2km but will have already negotiated part of the 23.3km finishing circuit which they will then have to complete a further 3 times. Each circuit packs in 5 climbs ranging from 300m to 955m in length and with gradients regularly going into double digits. The winning move could go from any of these climbs such is the nature of this race but unless we see someone riding to the finish line unaccompanied we are likely to see the decisive move made on the final climb of Schavei. 700m at an average of 7% it arrow straight meaning it is easy to misjudge your effort. With only 200m to the finish line once this is crested there is little room for error.
Currently forecast to be dry with an 10kph Easterly breeze. Unlikely to affect the race.
De Brabantse Pijl is a race usually defined by a move made on the finishing circuit but on which lap this will go is a lottery.
Last years winner, Sonny Colbrelli has the archetypal profile of a rider suited to this race. Someone able to repeat short, high-power efforts and with a strong finishing kick able to win out of a small group. Look back further and the majority of winners fit this specification with the likes of Gilbert, Hermans and Sagan all recently taking the top step on the podium.
Teams will look to throw riders up the road as the technical up and then down finishing circuit makes any kind of organised chase difficult. Expect to see a number of different groups spread across the road.
Tiesj Benoot is the prime pick having skipped Roubaix in order to focus on the upcoming fortnight. He’s just off the back of a short training camp at altitude in Sierra Nevada so could either be absolutely flying or still be recovering with an eye on Amstel this weekend and LBL the next. He’s a great climber (top 20 finisher at the Tour de France) and is arguably better suited to the hillier classics than those that he’s been riding so far this Spring. Lotto Soudal also bring Tim Wellens which could prove to be a great tactical move. Both have proven their ability to win from a lone move and if one is brought back then the other will be in a great position to counter-attack. Jelle Vanendert and Toshe Van Der Sande also offer good options for Lotto.
I’m very interested to see what Fabio Jakobsen can do. He’s still relatively untested in these kind of races but has shown that he’s more than quick enough in a bunch finish with his wins in Scheldeprijs and Nokre Korse but can also tough it out on short climbs with his 13th place in le Samyn. He’s good value at 15s and one that I will be backing. If the climbing does prove too much then Quickstep can also call upon the horsepower of Bob Jungels. He can sustain huge power for extended periods and has the ability to bridge alone to any dangerous looking moves. He’s listed as number 41 on the startsheet so I’m guessing he’ll be given some freedom by his team but there’s a chance he’s here to keep the race together for Jakobsen to take out the sprint. As long as 34s he represents pretty good value.
Unusually Bahrain-Merida have probably brought the strongest all-round team. Sonny Colbrelli is back again but has no where near the same level of form as he had this time last year. Top 15 in each of MSR, E3, Gent Wevelgem and the Ronde before his win last year the best result he’s had in 2018 was 3rd at Kuurne, a much flatter race than what’s in store on Wednesday. They also bring Enrico Gasparotto, formerly on the podium at this race, Arashiro, Borut Bozic and Ramunas Navadauskus all of whom usually take on team roles but on their day have the capacity to do very well in this kind of race. I would think it’s all in for Colbrelli after his success last year but don’t count out the likes of Gasparotto who may be given more of a free hand if Colbrelli looks to be struggling.
Dylan Teuns leads BMC and remains on stellar form after his breakthrough year in 2017. He was up there with the best climbers in the world at points last week in the Basque country and was very strong in Paris Nice before that. With his 3rd place in La Flèche Wallonne last year he’ll be targeting the Ardennes classics and should just about be peaking. If the racing is tough I would most definitely expect him to be involved in the finish and this has been reflected by the bookies who have him as favourite at 4s but I’ll be staying away as I expect his relatively weak team to be a major disadvantage.
I also cannot count out the likes of Warren Barguil who rides for the first time in this race and comes off the back of a rest period, last racing two weeks ago in Catalunya. He likes the punchy style of climbing required here but is prone to wasting his energy or attacking in the wrong place. This race can be incredibly tactical and more down to the timing of an attack than the strength of a rider. I expect him to do well but doubt he’ll be on the top step of the podium.
While I expect a small group to come to the finish on Wednesday there are a number of fast finishers that will be worth watching out for in the case of a reduced bunch sprint. Vital Concept bring Bryan Coquard who has an okay record at this race and is probably the fastest finisher of anyone on the startline. Despite his small build he really isn’t a great climber and even the short inclines we’ll see on Wednesday may prove to be too much. Eddie Boasson Hagan will lead Dimension Data and always has the potential to go well but is wildly inconsistent. I like the chances of Daryl Impey who comes as part of a strong Mitchelton Scott team. His confidence is likely still high after his big win at the Tour Down Under and he will be in a great position the riders come to the finish in a reduced bunch.
Final mentions also go to Roman Kreuziger and Pieter Weening who have one big races in the past and could slip away here relatively unmarked.
1 pts Tiesj Benoot at 4.5 (Coral)
0.5 pts Tim Wellens at 7.5 (Coral)
0.5 pts Fabio Jakobsen e/w at 34.0 (Unibet)
0.5 pts Bryan Coquard e/w at 17 (Skybet)
1pts on Paul Martens tb Marco Canola at 2.62 (bet365)
2pts on Dries Van Gestel tb Fabien Grellier at 1.4 (bet365)