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 a short break following the Brussels Cycling Classic, things intensify this week as there will be races on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. After the puncheurs and climbers battled it out for victory in Wednesday’s GP de Wallonie and the sprinters took their chance in Kampioenschap Vlaanderen, the relatively new Primus Classic Impanis-Van Petegem will bring the week to a close with a typical Belgian semi-classic that suits a mix of cobbled classics specialists and strong sprinters.
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 and intensified with four races in a week in the second half of August. It culminated in early September at the Brussels Cycling Classic, the biggest event in the series, and after a small break, it continues with a busy week with three races in just four days. First up was Wednesday’s GP de Wallonie, on Friday the sprinters will get their chance in the Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen and it all ends on Saturday at the Primus Classic Impanis-Van Petegem.
The block comes at a perfect time for riders that are preparing for the World Championships. Traditionally they are held less than two weeks before the World Championships road race and for riders that come from Canada or the Tour of Britain, they are a perfect chance to fine-tune the condition. This year things are of course a bit different due to the new dates for the World Championships and so they play a different role. In 2016, they will be a chance for riders to prove their form for their national coaches who still considering what kind of line-up to select for the races in Qatar.
The final race in the series is the Primus Classic Impanis-Van Petegem. Unlike the two previous races which both have a long and glorious history, the race is a relatively new event. Nonetheless, it carries more prestige in the UCI hierarchy as ambitious organizers have made it grow rapidly and it is now the final 1.HC of the Belgian season. This also means that it attracts a stronger field than the first races and has more WorldTour teams in attendance.
Primus Classic was first held in 1982 as a tribute to Raymond Impanis and was held close to his birthplace Berg. After a first year in Haacht, it was moved to a course between Kampenhout and Sint-Niklaas and later the finish was moved to Belsele. Unfortunately, it disappeared from the calendar after 1994 but in 2005, an ambitious organization revived the race, first as a junior event and one year later as a race for elite riders without contract. In 2011, it became a pro race again and was now also associated with another Flemish champion, Peter Van Petegem, with the organizers again changing the name. In the first year, it was a 1.2 race but in 2012 it moved up to 1.1 status and now it is a 1.HC race. It now starts in Brakel, Van Petegem’s birthplace, and ends in Haak. In 2013, it got its current name when Primus stepped in as a sponsor.
In the early years, the race had famous winners like Jelle Nijdam, Allan Peiper, Eric Vanderarden and Phil Anderson and after it returned to the pro calendar in 2011, it has quickly grown in prestige. Already in 2012, André Greipel won the race and later it has been won by Sep Vanmarcke, Greg Van Avermaet and Sean De Bie which clearly underlines its status as one of the biggest autumn races in Belgium.
The winners list clearly reflects that Primus Classic is a true Flemish classic. It includes cobbles and hellingen which can make the race selective and allow classics riders like Vanmarcke and Van Avermaet to make a difference. However, the finale is flat and so strong sprinters also have a chance as Greipel’s 2012 victory shows.
Last year it seemed that we were heading for a bunch sprint when De Bie made a late attack together with Dimitri Claeys and Floris Gerts. He dropped his rivals to claim a solo win while his two former companions held off the peloton and Danny Van Poppel by the smallest margin to complete the podium.
The 19th edition of Primus Classic Impanis-Van Petegem will be held on a 200.4km course between Braken and Haacht. It’s a typical Flemish classic with 15 hellingen spread throughout the course as the peloton traverses the Flemish Ardennes. The first challenge is the Tenbosse already after 2.7km of racing and the Zonneblemstraat follows just 10.2km later. Rue St. Marcoult (30.9km), Charly des Bois (62.3km), Rue de Nivelles (89.7km) and Rue de la Montagne (97.3km) are the other climbs in the first half of the race.
After a relatively flat section, the will starts with 74.4km to go when the riders hit the Rue du Reservoir which is followed immediately by Rue de l’Arbre de la Justice. Rue de Corbals comes with 66.3km and then it’s time for the cobbled Chemin du Relai just 8.1km later and the Rue des Quatre Carres with 55.1km to go. Chaussee D’Ottebourg comes with 48km to go and the it’s time for the final three climbs, Holsteheide with 38.2km to go, Smeysberg with 34.4 km to go and Everbergsesteenweg just 22.4km from the line. From there it is a flat run to the finish where there are two sharp turns in the final 3km. The final left-hand turn comes around 800m from the line.
Compared to last year, there are a few modifications in the early part of the race but otherwise the course is unchanged.
History shows that Primus Classic is a very hard race to predict as it can suit both sprinters and classics riders. Those who watched today’s Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen will know what we can expect. Thar race was a true festival of attacks in what was like and old-school race and it will be more of the same in Saturday’s race. The only difference is the fact that the harder course will make it much more likely that the sprinters will be denied.
A requirement for a tough race is usually bad weather but those who hope for a hard race will be left disappointed. Saturday is forecasted to be cloudy with a maximum temperature of 24 degrees but there is virtually no risk of rain. There will only be a light wind, first from a southerly direction and later from a westerly direction. This means that the riders will have a crosswind in the finale but it won’t be enough to create any kind of separation.
The other key aspect is how many teams want to sprint. Etixx-QuickStep have numerous cards to play but their best option is Fernando Gaviria so they will have their eyes on a sprint finish if the break Iis unfavourable. Orica-BikeExchange want a sprint and LottoNL-Jumbo probably want the same. There is no doubt that Direct Energie will be working to get a sprint too as will the Veranda’s Willems team. Overall there’s plenty of firepower to control things.
BMC play a special role in the race as they have Greg Van Avermaet but no sprinter. They will do their utmost to blow the race to pieces but we doubt that it will be possible on this course. Van Avermaet may be the strongest rider in the race but the course and the weather is probably not tough enough to make for a selective race.
Hence, we expect a sprint finish and we will put our money on Fernando Gaviria. On paper, the Colombian is the fastest rider in the race and today he proved that he is in great form after his track campaign in Rio. In Friday’s race he was part of almost every breakaway and he still had enough left in the tank to do the sprint. He was beaten by Dupont but that was mainly due to the hard work during the race as he only learnt that he would do the sprint on the penultimate lap when Kittel abandoned.
Gaviria is not only the fastest rider, he also has the best lead-out. The team already dominated the finale today’s race and tomorrow they will be even stronger as Maximilano Richeze will be on hand. Etixx-QuickStep should again dominate the finale and if that’s the case, it will be hard to beat an in-form Gaviria who – unlike today – will be fully focused on the sprint.
His biggest rival will probably be Bryan Coquard. The Frenchman is not in his best form but he is showing signs of improvement. He failed to do well in Limousin and he was far from his best in the sprints in Poitou-Charentes and Bretagne Classic. However, he sprinted to third in the hard GP de Fourmies and even though his form was not good enough to perform in the hard Canadian classics, he is clearly much better than he was a few weeks ago. Coquard is a better climber than most and so should be fresh at the finish. Furthermore, the Direct Energie train has been working well this year and with Adrien Petit and Angelo Tulik he has his two key riders at his side. He would have preferred an uphill sprint but he should still be one of the fastest here.
Magnus Cort goes into the ace on the back of a breakthrough performance in the Vuelta. The Dane’s confidence will be enormous and the entire Orica-BikeExchange will be supporting him. His form is excellent and he should benefit from the relatively tough course. He doesn’t have the best lead-out but he has proved that he is good when it comes to positioning. However, the level of sprinters is higher than it was at the Vuelta so he still needs to prove that he can competitive at this level too.
LottoNL-Jumbo messed up the sprint in today’s race so they will be keen to make amends. They have both Moreno Hofland who is usually the fastest and Tom Van Asbroeck who has the best form and has just won his first race for the team. Today Hofland rode aggressively while Van Asbroeck did the sprint and it may be the same tomorrow. The one who gets the nod will benefit from a good lead-out. However, their best chance to win the race will be to work for Hofland as he has been sprinting very well this year.
Today Timothy Dupont again confirmed that he has developed into a top level sprinter and he will be keen to make it two in a row. The Belgian is still in outstanding form and has proved that he can beat the sprinters at this level. The harder race should suit him even better than today’s flat course and today Aidis Kruopis showed that he is an excellent lead-out man. The problem is the fact that the field is stronger so the fight for position will be more fierce and it will be harder for him to find the right wheel like he did today.
Katusha have Alexander Porsev for a sprint. The Russian returned to his best in the Giro where he was one of the most consistent sprinters and in this race he has a very good lead-out. He showed good form in Tour des Fjords where he worked for Kristoff and he will be keen to grab a rare chance to ride for himself.
Dan McLay has had a bit of a breakthrough. His impressive win at the GP Denain became a bit of YouTube hit and underlined just how fast he is. However, his positioning is pretty bad and so he is very inconsistent in the sprints. That was also evident in today’s race where he could only manage 12th. However, his second place in the hard stage 4 of the Tour of Britain shows that his form is excellent so he should benefit from a harder race. There is little doubt that he has the form and speed to win. The question is whether he can get into a solid position.
Of course Greg Van Avermaet will be a strong contender and he will be the favourite if a small group makes it. The problem is the good weather and that he will be a very marked man. Everybody will have their eyes on the Olympic champion and no one wants to go to the finish with him. We doubt that the course will be hard enough for the BMC captain to win but of course you can never rule him out.
Kenny Dehaes has returned to his best in 2016 but in the second half of the season he has not had hs best form. Today he showed signs of improvement as he did a very good sprint to take fourth even though he started from far back. He has Danilo Napolitano for the lead-out and if he is on form, he likes a hard race like this. He has proved that he can win the sprints at this level.
Lotto Soudal have Tosh van der Sande or Kris Boeckmans for the sprint. Today the latter sprinted to fifth place which again showed that he is still not at his best level. The best card is probably van der Sande who had a very bad Vuelta. However, he showed improved sprinting skills when he won a stage at the Tour de l’Ain and if he has recovered well from the Vuelta, he should be strong here. However, his best chance is probably to ride aggressively as he did when he finished second in last year’s Paris-Tours.
Maximilano Richeze will be a lead-out man for Gaviria but Etixx-QuickStep will probably try to follow the attacks too. Richeze has been climbing excellently this year and he showed good form in the Tour of Britain. If he can make it into the right group in the final, he should easily win the sprint.
Other good candidate for late attacks are in-form riders like Sylvain Chavanel, Jerome Baugnies, Jelle Wallays, Sean De Bie, Pim Ligthart, Julien Vermote, Christian Mager, Abjørn Kragh and Michael Schär while fast finishers like Marco Haller and Alexey Tsatevich could also give it a go in the finale.
***** Fernando Gaviria
**** Bryan Coquard, Magnus Cort
*** Moreno Hofland, Timothy Dupont, Tom Van Asbroeck, Alexander Porsev, Dan McLay
** Greg Van Avermaet, Kenny Dehaes, Tosh van der Sande, Maximilano Richeze, Kris Boeckmans
* Sylvain Chavanel, Jerome Baugnies, Danilo Napolitano, Jelle Wallays, Sean De Bie, Pim Ligthart, Julien Vermote, Brent Bookwalter, Michael Schär, Marco Haller, Alexey Tsatevich, Mike Teunissen, Christian Mager, Asbjørb Kragh Andersen, Kevin Ista, Aidis Kruopis
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