The months of August and September are loaded with typical Belgian one-day races that suit a mix of sprinters and classics riders and after Dwars door Het Hageland kicked the series off, things intensifies this week as there will be races on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday. After the hilly GP Jef Scherens and GP Stad Zottegem, the series continues at the famous Druivenkoers Overijse which is a typical Belgian semi-classic that has usually been won by strong attackers on the difficult circuit in Overijse.
While the spring offers a mix of stage and one-day races and the first part of the summer is all about stage racing, the second half of the year is for the one-day riders. After the Tour de France, the Vuelta a Espana is the only big race for the grand tour and stage race specialists while the late summer and the autumn are loaded with lots of one-day races throughout Europe. The highlight is Il Lombardia and Clasica San Sebastian, Vattenfall Cyclassics, GP Plouay and the Canadian races also offer important WorldTour points. The list also includes historic races like Paris-Tours, Giro dell’Emilia, Tre Valli Varesine and Milan-Turin and the calendar offers a wide variety of terrain for sprinters, classics specialists and even climbers.
In addition to the bigger races, there are a number of smaller races. Traditionally, the two key countries for one-day racing, Belgium and Italy, have both had a rich calendar of small semi-classics but nowadays most of the Italian events have disappeared. Things are different in Belgium where the economic crisis hasn’t hit as hard and most of the fascinating list of typical Belgian races is intact.
The series of semi-classics started earlier than usual with the return of the Dwars door Het Hageland in the first week of August but now is the time when the hectic period really starts. During the next eight days, no less than four Belgian one-day races will be held and they are all pretty similar, suiting a mixing of sprinters and classics riders.
After Dimitri Clayes’ win at GP Jef Scheren – Rondom Leuven and Tim Merlier’s victory at GP Stad Zottegem, there will be a chance to get revenge in Wednesday’s Druivenkoers Overijse which is maybe the most famous of this week’s races. The race was first held in 161 and is one of the highlights of the annual druivenfeesten. Similarly, there is a big cyclo-cross race, the Druivencross, which is held in November and so Overijse has established itself as a key cycling city in Belgium.
The list of winners shows how important the race is. Eddy Merckx and Johan Musseuw are double winners, Roger De Vlaeminck has won four times and riders like Joseph Bruyere, Adrie van der Poel, Viacheslav Ekimov, Andrei Tchmil and Erik Breukink have also come out on top. In recent years, the race has got a more international flavor but it may have lost a bit of prestige as the biggest classics riders are usually absent. It has become known as Bjorn Leukemans’ race as the Belgian vetean won the race four times in a row from 2010 and 2013.
GP Stad Zottegemis a typical Belgian semi-classic and attracts the same teams as these races usually do. The Belgian Lotto Soudal will be the only WorldTour team in attendance and they will be joined by a mix of international pro continental teams and continental teams that mainly come from Belgium and the Netherlands. The terrain is also very typical for this kind of race as it is held on a lumpy circuit with typical Belgian hellingen and so it can both come down to a bunch sprint or be won by strong classics riders. Compared to many other similar races, it has a harder circuit and it is testament to the toughness that Leukemans has won consistently here. The race hasn’t been decided in a bunch kick since 2008. Most of the time, a small group has battled it out for the victory, arriving with an advantage of less a minute, and solo wins are also possible.
Last year’s race ended strangely as the Wanty pair of Jerome Baugnies and Marco Marcato arrived at the finish together. The Italian believed that they had agreed for him to cross the line first but it was Baugnies who took the win. Sean De Bie arrived 8 seconds later, 20 seconds ahead of a small group while the main group reached the finish more than 6 minutes too late.
The 2016 edition of the Druivenkoers Overijse will be held on a very traditional 196.4km course with start and finish in Overijse. Like most other Belgian semi-classics, it is a circuit race made up of multiple circuits. First the riders will do three laps of a big 31km circuit that includes the climbs of Terspautlosweg, Groeneweg, Waversesteenweg, Abstraat, and Bergstraat. This is followed by eight laps of a 13 km circuit with the Jean Tombeurstraat and the 700 m Schavei climbing at an average of 6% that is also part of the Brabantse Pijl spring classic. From the top of the climb, there are just over 2 km to go to the finish and they can be split into one kilometre of descending and one kilometre of flat road. Furthermore, it is a pretty technical finale with two sharp and one sweeping bend inside the final kilometre before the riders get to the 500m finishing straight.
It is no coincidence that the race hasn’t finished in a bunch sprint since 2008. The Schavei climb is pretty tough. Many know it from Brabantse Pijl where the finish comes one kilometre after the top and even though that race has a course that is tougher and the climb is closer to the finish, the two races aren’t too different. Björn Leukemans has been on the podium in both races numerous times and it shows that this is a race more for punchy classics riders than the sprinters.
This is reflected in the line-up. Many teams had sprinters in today’s GP Stad Zottegem but most of them will be absent tomorrow. Instead, there will be quite a bit of substitution as more riders have bought in their puncheurs for this race.
Most notably that’s the case for Lotto Soudal. They had a relatively young team for today’s race but on Wednesday, they will field the likes of Tiesj Benoot, Jurgen Roelandts, Jens Debusschere and Jelle Vanendert. That automatically turn them into the strongest team and together with the strong Wanty squard, they have the strength to dictate proceedings.
Wednesday will be a brutally hot day with temperatures of 32 degrees and little wind so the heat will take its toll. However, the calm conditions will make the race less selective. Nonetheless, this won’t be a race for the sprinters. Lotto Soudal have Debusschere but it will be a gamble to go for a bunch sprint. They have to use their strength in numbers to try to blow the race apart and attack on the Schavei. Wanty have similar plans so we expect those two teams to dominate the finale. They all have numerous cards to play and as soon as a group with solid representation from both teams goes, the race is likely to be over for the rest.
Almost every rider in the Lotto Soudal team can win but we will put our money on Tiesj Benoot. The Belgian may be a rider for bad weather but he is still the best climber and puncheur in this race. He was absolutely flying in the Tour de Pologne but then he fell ill in July. He hasn’t raced since San Sebastian but after his illness he should be back on track and if he has the legs he had in Poland, he will be very hard to match on the Schavei. Furthermore, he is fast in a sprint and is backed by an excellent team. Benoot is our favourite to win this race.
Jurgen Roelandts is another good candidate. He is not climbing as well as Benoot but Schavei should be manageable for the strong Belgian. Furthermore, he is very fast in a sprint and is very likely to be the fastest in a sprint from a breakaway. As he could very well have a few riders at his side, Lotto Soudal can set him up for a win if the right group escapes in the finale.
Wanty have lots of cards to play but the best is probably Marco Marcato. Schavei suits him down to the ground as he is very strong on short, steep climbs and he is fast in a sprint too. He will be eager to get his revenge in this race and so he seemed to hold something back in today’s race where he was not part of the many moves. However, he still sprinted to fifth place and so confirmed his good form.
If it comes down to a reduced sprint, Lotto Soudal have Jens Debusschere. The Belgian is not at 100% after his crash in the Tour but he was still up there in EuroEyes Cyclassics. He is a pretty good climber so he should be able to hang on here and grab an opportunity if things come back together in the finale.
Dimitri Claeys is another great candidate for Wanty. The Belgian showed his great form with his solo win in GP Jef Scherens and he was up there today too. He is not as punchy as Marcato but he is still very good in this lumpy terrain and is fast enough to win from a small breakaway.
Bora-Argon 18 have Paul Voss who has been riding excellent since the Tour. He took a solo win at Rad am Ring and was strong in Norway too. Schavei is a climb that he likes and he is fast in a sprint. However, he could very well be outnumbered in the finale.
Pim Ligthart showed good form with his second place at GP Jef Scherens and Lotto Soudal will have confidence if the Dutchman gets into the right group as he climbs well and is fast in a sprint. Sean De Bie is another card but he is probably not climbing at the same level as Benoot, Roelandts and Ligthart.
Baptiste Planckaert has the speed to challenge Debusschere in a sprint but he is also good enough to follow the attacks. He was very active in today’s race and this cost him something in the sprint. There are better climbers than him but with a little luck, he can win the race in a sprint from a breakaway or a reduced bunch sprint.
Timothy Dupont confirmed his great form with second place today. He is faster than Planckaert but he is not climbing as well. This race could be a bit too tough for him but if it comes down to a reduced sprint, he will be there.
Wanty-Groupe Goebert also have defending champion Jerome Baugnies and talented stagiaire Xandro Meurisse. The former is good on this course but he is very inconsistent and no one knows how he is going on the day. The latter is an excellent climber but he is likely to be up against faster riders.
Veranda’s Willems have Dries De Bondt who won Halle-Ingooigem and the Belgian title for riders without contract. He climbs well and is pretty fast as he showed when he beat Keukeleire in Ingooigem. He showed good form in today’s race where he was very active.
Roompot have Michel Kreder who is good on this kind of course as he climbs well and is fast in a sprint. However, he has not really been at his best recently. It is also a great race for Danish talent Mads Pedersen who sprints really well. Unfortunately, the Dane hasn’t been riding very well recently.
**** Jurgen Roelandts, Marco Marcato
*** Jens Debusschere, Dimitri Claeys, Paul Voss, Pim Ligthart, Baptiste Planckaert
** Timothy Dupont, Sean De Bie, Jerome Baugnies, Xandro Meurisse, Dries De Bondt, Michel Kreder, Mads Pedersen
* Sebastien Delfosse, Alex Kirsch, Floris De Tier, Nick van der Lijke, Huub Duijn, Jelle Vanendert, Jan Barta, Phil Bauhaus, Sam Bennett, Lukas Pöstlberger, Frederik Backaert, Björn Thurau, Domenik Nerz
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