Tomorrow... tomorrow... [hold me]
Wait, first, there's a bit of news coming from the otherwise uninteresting stage which kicked off the Belgian-Cycling-is-Awesome phase of the ENECO Tour. While Nacer Bouhanni of FDJ was bagging a sprint win that nobody will remember after tomorrow, Zdenek Stybar was going down heavily in a nasty crash that reportedly included hitting his face on the ground. Stybar, Omega Pharma-Quick Step's leader and the defending champion, is currently listed as having finished but his ENECO Tour is unofficially over. Stybar did not sustain any fractures (initially it was feared that he broke his jaw), but he lost teeth, skin, and consciousness, with a concussion very likely. The team was reportedly very shaken by the incident, and manager Patrick Lefevre said Stybar's season may well be over, and he definitely won't try to continue tomorrow.
Speaking of tomorrow...
By which I really mean
Godverdomme! It's the Mini-Ronde! Yes, I've carried on about this already, but now that it's really here, let's take a closer look.
The race starts in Geraardsbergen, which is a good way to get people excited and an even better way to guarantee a crowd at the finish. Also media. Nothing makes cycling journalists happier than knowing they don't have to drive 200km to handle their duties at the startline and finish. In fact, I can speak from experience that having a race start and finish in the same Flemish town, five hours apart, is as good an opportunity to have a beer at work as you'll ever get. Anyway, the riders warm up with some early climbs across the Wallonian border and over to Ronse:
- Hurdumont, 650 meters, 8%
- Mont, 2km, 4.7%
- Kanarieberg, 1km, 9%
- Kruisberg, 1.4km, 5%
- Edelareberg, 1.6km, 4%
None of these will matter, however, because it's just way too early in the stage. Well, a breakaway group will care but that's it.
- Leberg: 900 meters, 4% with a 13% section in the middle. Lovely twisting climb, but smooth and not terribly painful.
- Berendries: 1km, 7%, also briefly kicking up to 13%. Same-same, though at some point these things add up.
- Valkenberg: 800 meters, 6%. Another lovely climb. Can I do this race please?
- Tenbosse: 400m, 7% wiht a 14% max.
As with the first set, these climbs won't amount to much more than a warmup. There's still close to 70km remaining when the peloton crests the Tenbosse. And they will only have done 90+km, with minimal cobbles, so nobody should be fading yet. But four climbs in 10km will certainly weaken the weakest.
Obviously the race will be won in here somewhere.
- Denderoordberg x 3: 700m, 8%, cobbled. I have no max % stat, but suffice to say this is rough stuff. It's actually where Stybar made the race-winning move last year, on the final lap.
- Muur x 2.5: 1.1km, 8% avg, 16% through the forest leading to the Chapel, heavily cobbled throughout. If you aren't familiar with this already, we offer a variety of support services at PodiumCafeCares.com. Ask for "Sminer," his bedside manner is unparalleled. N.b., they do two proper climbs, with some sort of prize at the top, but on the last lap the stage finish is actually about 600 meters into the climb, in the big square before the forested section.
- Bosberg x 2: 1km, 6%, smooth at first but the uppermost 400 meters is between 8-11% and cobbled. Positioning will lessen the chances of it being used as the springboard to victory, but you never know, and anyway it'll hurt a bit more each time.
- Onkerzelestraat x 2: 1.5km at 3%. Hm, never heard of this one. I believe it's not cobbled, so it's more of a false flat to these guys. Still, anything that saps the energy will matter.
My hunch is that the Bosberg is the least important of the quartet, being 10km from the next passage of the Denderoordberg and 20km from the finish. The last three climbs are all roughly 6km apart, so if you want to pair up, any combination will do. The obvious choice is to hit the last Denderoordberg hard and carry it through to the last half-trip up the Muur, but that's been done, so it might behoove someone (coughGilbertcough) to try another tactic.