Well, after spending five or six days nagging on twitter and the phones to get a market for the weekend’s cycling, the white smoke went up from Bet365 last night, with prices subsequently added at Ladbrokes and William Hill, and we have markets for both Omloop-Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Good times!
For those of you who can see the odds online, they are at oddschecker (and other bookies’ markets will appear here as they go live, which is probably going to be five minutes after I post this). For those of you who can’t, I’ll put the top favourites up below. As ever, odds are in decimal, with the fractional in brackets.
At some point soon Eventually I will get a spreadsheet going to track the picks of Chris, Conor and me. For now, the update is that they’re both doing well, and I’m losing. We’ve each got our $100 fake dollars to spend over the weekend – hopefully they’ll add their bets in the comments below.
I won’t do a full preview of the races, but I’ll precis a few of the things that I think about when placing a bet.
The course: It is here, and as close to unchanged from last year as you’ll ever see. It is Flanders racing in purest form– some bergs, some cobbles, some flattish bits. Specifically, the last of the hills are Leberg and Molenberg, the latter summited some 30km from the finish, with Paddestraat the toughest of the three cobbled sections that will shake up the leaders after the last climb (I think – but I’ll bow the expertise of the many on here who’ve ridden these roads). Oh, and it is as near to 200km as makes no difference – not Flanders-long, but long enough.
The weather: Disappointingly nice, if you’re as much of a cycling sadist as me. Particularly given that I’ll be watching it with Storm Doris outside – why couldn’t we send that to Belgium (seriously, compare Edinburgh with what you'll be watching this weekend). Again, updates from locals would be appreciated. Still, it might be nasty enough to make life harder for some riders.
The riders: The guys you’d expect are turning up – some of the Flanders favourites are keeping their powder dry, and form is, as ever, something of an unknown, but the big teams are bringing their big riders, for the most part.
1st Van Avermaet
Sagan 4.5 (7/2)
Van Avermaet 6.5 (11/2)
Benoot 13 (12/1)
Boonen 13 (12/1)
Terpstra 15 (14/1)
Vanmarcke 15 (14/1)
Kristoff 17 (16/1)
Stuyven 19 (18/1)
Rowe 21 (20/1)
23 (22/1) or higher the rest
In the absence of horrendous weather, this will still be a tough test. Recent history suggests it is won by cobbled specialists and not surprise winners, but it is not a race that the biggest stars are peaking for. Often it is a race taken by someone a year or two from competing at the highest level, or someone a rung below true world class.
Before I saw the odds, I liked Benoot and Rowe as possibles to place, but neither are attractively priced. There’s a temptation to pick Boom (51, or 50/1), particularly in the context of my theories on his improved form.
Instead, I’ve gone with two relative outsiders. First is 15 fake dollars each-way ($30 in total) on Edward Theuns at 51 (50/1). He’s on decent form this year and has gone well in this race the last two years (better than Stuyven, his shorter-priced teammate) and should enjoy the absence of Degs. Second is Ramon Sinkeldam, who is one of a few at Sunweb with some decent form on cobbles and no obvious leader. He’s got some decent early season form. He's also a hint for new gamblers - I don't yet have a price because he's not on any market, but I've requested a price from Ladbrokes and Bet365. It is generally fairly straightforward to have riders added to markets and it is rare to get offered an unfair price. I'm hopeful that he'll be at least 100/1, and possibly higher. To be fair, I'll use whatever price I'm eventually offered, 10 fake dollars each-way, and will update in the comments!
The course: Well, it doesn’t go to Brussels, but they’re hardly alone in that name-crime. The course is basically the same as in previous years, again – there are some bumps and some cobbles, but this typically finishes with a larger bunch at the end than most Belgian races, and there’s long enough after the Nokereberg for the field to come together.
The weather: Again, nicer than we’d want – this race can be phenomenally tough granted the right (wrong?) conditions. Should be okay. Hard to predict wind speeds from my place in the world, so any thoughts on echelons from the experts and locals would be welcomed.
The riders: A slightly sprintier startlist than Saturday’s, with a few big names from Omloop (GVA, Benoot, Vanmarcke, etc) taking a break on Sunday. Other than a few who’re in Abu Dhabi, this is basically the list of guys you’d expect.
Sagan 6.5 (11/2)
Kristoff 6.5 (11/2)
Bouhanni 7 (6/1)
Groenwegen 9 (8/1)
Coquard 13 (12/1)
Booneen 13 (12/1)
Demare 16 (15/1)
Stuyven 19 (18/1)
A race that the hardmen-sprinters can expect to boss, this one. I’m tempted to find an outsider but this isn’t a race that has gone against the grain very often. I don’t want to overthink things, and I see Kristoff in superb form, on a course that suits and with a race that is missing from his palmares (he missed 2013, but has been 2nd, 2nd, 11th and 9th on his last four attempts). He’s my pick, 50 fake dollars at 6.5 (11/2).
Finally, it wouldn’t be an opening weekend column without a little something on the fantasy world.
On Saturday, Fabio and the Rudy Boys are bringing Daniel McLay, Florian Senechal, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Lars Boom, Ramon Sinkeldam and Tiesj Benoot, whilst my draft team is somehow bigger - Adam Blythe, Alexander Kristoff, Daniel McLay, Florian Senechal, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Lukasz Wisniowski, Ramon Sinkeldam, Yves Lampaert and Zdenek Stybar.
Come Sunday, my main group is Daniel McLay, Florian Senechal, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Lars Boom and Rudy Barbier, whilst my draft team brings the elite eight of Alexander Kristoff, Daniel McLay, Florian Senechal, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Lukasz Wisniowski, Rudy Barbier, Yves Lampaert, and Zdenek Stybar.
Who’ve you got in fantasy, and who d’you like in the betting markets? Do use bvl's magnificent find your riders tool, if you're not already up to speed from Pablo's earlier who've you got thread....