Boonen is gone... but the beat(ing) goes on.
The biggest question by far is how does anyone stop the Quick Step team from dominating the race they care about more than any other? That they inderstand better than the rest of us? That they are built to win?
It’s more than a small problem for anyone, even the one or two riders (Sagan and Van Avermaet) who are best poised to foil the Belgian powerhouse’s plans. Sagan and Van Avermaet can be forgiven for thinking that they need only hang on to the lead group and take their chances in a sprint. Against no more than one Stepper, they may be right. Which is why they probably won’t get the chance.
DS’s Wilf Peeters, Tom Steels and whomever else calls the shots Sunday know all too well that the only bad strategy is to rely on ... the strategy most teams will have to accept, having a lone rider up front when the deal goes down. They build their roster with riders who can pound the cobbles all day and hold their position in the field. They prime a few of them for long-range attacks. The outcome is a finale where they have multiple riders and cards to play. Gilbert (and previously Boonen) fill the sprinter’s role as a last option. They are forever in control.
So can anyone stop them? I think it comes down to two possibilities: having a front group with only one QS rider, or finding a way to get more than one of your own guys up there.
The first scenario is ideal, but so difficult. It will require a team to have the split-second timing to force a split at the most opportune moment. QS are the home team, “attack in the crosswinds” is something they have already thought of and are likely to do to you before you can do it to them. If you want to surprise them, the options are going early and/or on a nondescript flat road somewhere.
if you want to wait until they run out of energy (from being on the front all day) to cover you with multiple riders, well, the bad weather suggests a heavy race, so maybe that can happen. If you are lucky, the race doesn’t break apart too much (among the heavy hitters) and your carefully calculated attack is such that only one blue jersey steps out. That’s called getting lucky.
The second scenario accepts that QS will be there in numbers and relies on a team taking them on in a fair fight. Again, it’s only fair if you aren’t out-numbered; if you get two guys up the road but they get three? [Insert sarcastic clapping.]
BMC could get Kung there with GVA. Sep could have Modolo or Breschel for help. Astana always seem to have multiple guys together somewhere. Maybe Nibali stays with Colbrelli (though Colbrelli hasn’t been fit). Degs up there with Stuyven would be potentially terrifying to Team Blue. Oss or Burghardt with Sagan would be as well. Debusschere and Benoot is a Belgian B-team dream.
I don’t know how these could be pulled off, but am pretty sure it involves aggression. Getting your #2 or 3 option away early without QS forces them to chase. Attacks form quickly and with luck you wind up with a draw QS doesn’t like. It is sooooo much easier said than done. But passively waiting for the race to land in your lap is an invitation for them to work you over. It might succeed but only with incredible luck. And their current squadron of smart, tough, quality veterans is highly unlikely to screw it all to hell.
What do you guys think is the best way to take the race off their greedy hands?