After experience a bunch of negative racing at the big boy's Ronde van Vlaanderen, this weekend's Ronde van Vlaanderen U23 Nations Cup will be the complete opposite. The course is an absolute gem and once the race hits the finishing loops around Oudenaarde, any semblance of a peloton should explode.
The course itself is 169.7 kilometers (a bit over if you count the neutralized bit) and winds its way mainly around Oost-Vlaanderen but takes in a small bit of West-Vlaanderen and Hainaut. With the length pretty much making it a Ronde van Oudenaarde, there are not too many extra cobbled sections with just an extra 15 kilometers or so but that will certainly do damage, especially with sections such as the Mariaborrestraat on the run-up to the Steenbeekdries climb.
- Kluisberg (800 meters, 7.8% avg, 14.9% max)
- Knokteberg (1100 meters, 8% avg, 13.5% max)
- Muziekbos (600 meters, 6% avg, 8% max)
- Pottelberg (1600 meters, 6.5% avg, 10% max)
- Tenbosse (500 meters, 6.1% avg, 10.5% max)
- Guilleminlaan (2600 meters, 1.8% avg, 7.9% max)
- Valkenberg (540 meters, 8.1% avg, 13.3% max)
- 't Hostellerie (Langendries) (1400 meters, 4.3% avg, 11% max)
- Molenberg (463 meters, 7.7% avg, 14.5% max) (cobbled)
- Steenbeekdries (700 meters, 5.3% avg, 7% max) (cobbled)
- Taaienberg (530 meters, 6.6% avg, 15.8% max) (cobbled)
- Eikenberg (1200 meters, 5% avg, 10.5 % max) (cobbled)
*Note: Averages and max gradients are based both from organizers and Strava profiles as some numbers are a bit off.
The final two loops will be the most important with the two-kilometer Mariaborrestraat playing a big role in separating the chaff before the Steenbeekdries. With six-man teams, attacks will be flying all over the place so you will not be seeing teams controlling the race over the latter climbs as much as in the big boy's race. The final summit of the Eikenberg comes only 9 kilometers from the finish in Oudenaarde so there is a strong possibility that a rider will be finishing solo.
Here is the startlist...there are multiple mistakes so watch out. I know it is just so much to ask from the organizers but I really would like if they could get a finalized startlist out more than two days in advance. Or at least just a preliminary startlist. This startlist has mistakes as it is and I will point them out as we go along.
The big favorites are the home team, the Belgians. Belgium is bringing a very strong roster that is headlined by Jasper Stuyven (Bontrager CT) and Sean de Bie (Leopard-Trek). Stuyven won the recent Volta ao Alentejo and is on great form while De Bie is coming off a solid Triptyque Monts et Châteaux and will be trying to replicate the 2nd place he got here last year.
It is kind of hard to define the rest of the team as "support" because many of them could just as well go for the win. Dieter Bouvry (Etixx-iHNed) was going well at Alentejo and Boucle des l'Artois while Edward Theuns (VL Techniks) is probably on the form of his life at the moment. With Belgian U23 champ Jorne Carolus (Lotto-Belisol U23) out sick and Boris Vallee (ColorCode-Biowanze) replaced, Niels Wytinck (AnPost-ChainReaction) and Bert van Lerberghe (Ventilair-Steria) will be riding. Both have been in good form with the latter going 10th overall at Triptyque while Wytinck made the front group at last weekend's Volta Limburg Classic.
Looking past the Belgians, I see very strong teams in France, the Netherlands, Denmark and the USA.
- France comes with a stacked team that includes two former junior world champions in Pierre-Henri Lecuisinier (Vendée U) and Olivier Le Gac (Bic 2000). Le Gac won the Boucles de l'Essor earlier this year while Lecuisinier, who finished in the front group last year here in RvV, rode well at the Tour de Normandie and has had multiple high placings on the France's domestic scene. The French also bring powerhouse Florian Sénéchal (Etixx-iHNed), who has been on great form this last month and will be looking forward to a nice result. Jimmy Turgis (CC Nogent sur Oise) rode a solid Tour de Normandie and has experience here as he was a front group finisher last year.
- The Dutch are bringing a mini-Rabobank Development team with the team taking up four of the six spots. The only problem that I see with this team is that they don't have a lot of experience riding one-day races with cobbles. They of course have the star of this year's U23 class, Dylan van Baarle (Rabobank Devo) along with super strong teammates Nick van der Lijke and Jasper Bovenhuis. Elmar Reinders (Metec) got his first selection for a U23 Nations Cup after doing some cracking rides in Ster van Zwolle and the hellish Ronde van Drenthe.
- The Danes will by led by last year's 15th place finisher Asbjørn Kragh Andersen (Tre-For). They also bring Michael Valgren Andersen (CULT Energy), who does well in hillier events but should be in form. They have a solid team and I have an eye on them to bring a surprise result.
- Team USA has not been a favorite in Flanders in recent years but with an in-form Lawson Craddock and Tanner Putt (both Bontrager), they will be one of the dark horses. Craddock solo-ed away on the 2b stage at Triptyque while Putt was top 15 here last year and will be looking to move up the rankings.
There are lots of other strong riders here that could pull a good result...
- Italy brings the highly touted Ignazio Moser (BMC Devo), who has buckled down on his training and has been doing strong work. Another rider that DS Amadori has touted is Alberto Bettiol, so watch to see what he can do.
- The Russians...well I never know what they are up to. Perhaps Kiril Yatsevich could bring them a result.
- Germans bring Rabobank Devo teammates Rick Zabel and Ruben Zepuntke, both of whom have been in form lately.
- Jan Polanc (Radenska) and last year's junior World Champion Matej Mohoric (Sava) headline for Slovenia with Luka Pibernik (Radenska) also in form.
- I have a soft spot for Toms Skujins (Rietumu-Delfin), who is in his final U23 season, and have liked him since he was 2nd here in 2011. I think he could perhaps go top 10 here for Latvia.
- Lukasz Wisniowski (Etixx-iHNed) did well at Boucle de l'Artois so perhaps he could go top 20 here for Poland.
- Look for Conor Dunne (VL Techniks) as Ireland's go-to man as he has had a good season in Belgium so far this year.
- Simon Yates (Great Britain) had two wins in a week in Belgium for his 100%ME squad. He won a track world championship in the points race in Minsk this year.
- New Zealand is not exactly a cobbles power but they could take a top 20 place. Cameron Karwowski was 24th last year and could be here again but he hasn't had much racing time. Josh Atkins (EFC-OPQS) will be a strong presence while I believe, while he isn't on the startlist, Alex Frame (Thüringer Energie) will be present and will be quite a boost for the squad.
- Kazakhstan doesn't have as strong a team as they have had in the past but Daniil Fominykh will be the team's best bet for a result.
That's all I've got...got someone else that I missed? Comment or tweet me @Vlaanderen90 and drop some science on me. This list isn't at all comprehensive and I left out a few of the teams so if you have a hot tip, I will be all ears.
P.S. The UCI wrote about the race briefly but the piece they put out is chock full of mistakes. Larson Craddok? Jasper Stuyvens? Inexcusable for the governing body to churn out such a pile of shit.