The Belgian opening weekend closes tomorrow with the 68th edition of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Hereâ€™s my list of riders to watch:
Last yearâ€™s runner-up to Mark Cavendish (whose Dimension Data isnâ€™t racing tomorrow), Katushaâ€™s Alexander Kristoff is the top favorite for tomorrowâ€™s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Like last year, Kristoff was nowhere to be seen during todayâ€™s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. I suspect the Norwegian spent much of todayâ€™s race adjusting to the weather, reacclimating to the style of the racing, and basically just easing himself into his Classics campaign. But Kuurneâ€™s a different kind of race. While itâ€™s just as long as the Omloop, itâ€™s much easier to control and almost always ends up producing a field sprint (unless the weather is terrible). His team will have to show more willingness to work than it did today, but they should have little trouble controlling things–and will get plenty of help from other teams in doing so. Kristoffâ€™s been the fastest man in the world so far this season, and I suspect heâ€™ll add to his tally tomorrow.
Team Skyâ€™s Elia Viviani finished right behind Kristoff last year, and the Italian has the legs to do it again. His build-up to Kuurne has been nearly identical to last yearâ€™s, and heâ€™s adept at freelancing field sprints. He abandoned todayâ€™s Omloop, but that was more of a precaution than anything else–heâ€™ll be up there tomorrow.
Last year was Nacer Bouhanniâ€™s first start in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and he finished 18th. This year he hopes to do much better, fresh off his Stage 2 victory at the Ruta del Sol. Bouhanniâ€™s focused, in-form, and should also benefit from the experience of Cofidisâ€™ new-addition, Borut Bozic.
Orica-GreenEDGEâ€™s Caleb Ewan makes his 2016 European debut tomorrow after winning a combined three stages at the Tour Down Under and Herald Sun Tour. Riding his first Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, a win tomorrow might be a tall order. But Ewanâ€™s confident, talented, and not to be underestimated.
After his second-place finish in the Omloop, I donâ€™t expect to see Tinkoffâ€™s Peter Sagan going too deep to try and win tomorrow. Instead, I expect to see him working on behalf of Daniele Bennati, winner of Stage 1 of the Ruta del Sol and someone not to be overlooked in a race of this sort.
And last but not least, thereâ€™s Tom Boonen. The three-time winner of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne was clearly riding more for training than anything else in the Omloop (leg-warmers and all), but heâ€™s worth keeping an eye on tomorrow. Etixx–Quick-Step often redeems poor Omloop showings in Kuurne, and Boonenâ€™s the type of rider who can sit-in the bunch all day and still fare well in the field sprint. Â
As for the rest of the bunch, keep an eye on Wanty-Groupe Gobertâ€™s Roy Jans, Fortuneo-Vital Conceptâ€™s Yauheni Hutarovich (a 2-time runner-up), Trek-Segafredoâ€™s Giacomo Nizzolo and Jasper Stuyven, and Lotto Soudalâ€™s Jens Debusschere (who along with Stuyven might be the best bet to score back-to-back top-10 finishes this weekend).
My prediction: 1. Kristoff 2. Viviani 3. Boonen.
Whoâ€™s your pick to take home the stuffed donkey? Share your comments below.