This is a fairly well-settled course each year, starting in Leuven, a city of no great importance (unless you like beer), and ending atop the Schavei in Overijse, just southeast of Brussels. The Brabant Arrow is something of an arrow-and back, heading out to Halle before turning back, then getting waylaid in Overijse and making three circuits around the decisive group of five climbs. According to the Wegwijzer and Uurrrooster (god I love Dutch), the only difference this year is the insertion of the Chaussee de Bruxelles (Floor of Brussels??) and Rue de Francois Dubois, both of which I can't be bothered to describe to you because they happen less than halfway through the race, when the peloton won't be doing anything.
Those five finishing-circuit climbs:
- Hagaard: somehow unrelated to Hogwarts or the Thor legend, this is a 300 meter climb averaging 10 percent. Appears to be in the forest.
- Hertstraat: 600 meters, but at only 4%, so it won't exactly put the hert on anyone. But it's lightly cobbled and quite lovely, if this photo is in any way accurate (which I doubt).
- Holstheide: I may have to ask you guys for data, I can't find any. Looks like a longer one. I know it's tarmac and surrounded by farms.
- IJskelderlaan: 400 meters at 7.0%. Might be some cobbles in there, but not the kind anyone actually cares about.
- Schavei: the finish line sits up top. 720 meters at 5.4%, max of 11%. It's power-sprinting time.
Where Will the Race Be Won?
Out on the course. It rarely comes down to any sort of a sprint, except perhaps among a handful of breakaway folks. Last year eleven riders hit the bottom of the Schavei together, with only two (Sagan and Gilbert) still in the picture by the top. The year before, Thomas Voeckler stole away alone with 35km to go. Basically, in the last 75km there's a climb roughly every five km, and no single climb is particularly decisive. Consequently, there is no right or wrong answer as to where to attack, except what your legs and instincts tell you. This race may not get the notoriety of the big Cobbled Classics, but it's very wide-open and prone to exciting racing. Unless they all sit on each other's wheel, or more likely, Sagan's wheel. But wait! Cannondale aren't coming this year. So yeah, it should be exciting.
Whom to Look For
Among the big names are former winner Philippe Gilbert, for whom this is an excellent course; Dan Martin, whose tactical smarts have been on display for a while now; Simon Gerrans, another guy who should love it here, even though he's skipped the last three years; Bjorn Leukemans, whose spot on the podium is an annual event; Jurgen Van Den Broeck, stretching his legs; and Johnny Hoogerland, a complete wild-card (fourth once) with an Italian team behind him. Some additional riders to watch: Sonny Colbrelli, Tony Gallopin, Jan Bakelands, and Simon Geschke.
Pick to Win
Hm... unpredictable... I'll try Colbrelli. Hot hand, young kid, no pressure on him really. I bet he sneaks up on the pack.