Thursday, April 3, 2014
Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux Preview
This is the race that began my slow descent into obsession with the U23 ranks. When I started to geek out on European racing in my late teens, I followed the USA National Team, which at that time included guys like Taylor Phinney, Ben King and Andrew Talansky. In 2010, Phinney was beginning his march through Europe at Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux and was on some blazing form. He was looking to get a 2nd stage win after taking the time trial but on the long drag-race style sprint in Tournai, Edward Theuns surprised him, Jetse Bol and John Degenkolb to take the win. That euphoric look Theuns had, who was then a more-or-less unknown, cemented this idea in me that no matter how strong a rider might look, they are not unbeatable.
This year, Triptyque will be serving as a major test for any rider with GC ambitions as well as those that have an eye on the classics. Just look at the race pedigree if you doubt me. Jungels, Dumoulin, De Gendt, Boom, Devolder...and these were just the riders that I picked because I could have included riders like Rosseler, Kashechkin, Dekker and Boeckmans. Located in the Hainaut region of Wallonie, the race features a lot of tight roads, wind cobbles and short punchy climbs.
Friday's Stage 1 starts at Castle Antoing, which was revamped in the 19th century but includes areas dating back to the 14th century, and winds its way around the country side including three separate loops before hitting the finishing town of Quevaucamps, which is unsurprisingly apart of a finishing loop. The course does feature 5 KOM climbs albeit the last of which is with 90 kilometers to go. In the finale, the last turn is with 2.5 kilometers to go, onto the Chaussée de Brunehaut, and it is an flat arrow straight until the finish line. Unless someone is able to launch a massive attack, it looks to be set up for a bunch gallop. Last year, Jorne Carolus (Lotto-Belisol U23) won the sprint on this same stage ahead of Marco Benfatto and Justin Van Hoecke. Carolus will be back this year but it could be his teammate Dan McLay that takes the victory here.
The 2nd day will include a split stage with a 10 kilometer time trial in the morning and a 96 km afternoon stage. The morning time trial in Bernissart is fairly technical and has a few slight elevations changes that will require the winner to be a explosive rider. The course sheet officially says 13 different corners but if you include some turns that might be taken at higher speeds, that numbers comes up to nearly 20. Riders like Bert Van Lerberghe, Ruben Zepuntke, Eamon Franck and Frederik Frison could triumph.
The afternoon stage on Saturday could be the most decisive road stage of the week. The Belgians love to include circuits on their courses and this stage is no different. Taking off from Château de Bourgogne in Estaimbourg, the stage doesn't kick off officially until about 45 kilometers when it hits two climbs right in a row, the Mont de l'Enclus and Cote de l'Horlitin, that will be done twice more. The finish on the stage will also go up the Mont de l'Enclus climb and the finish line will be right after on a slight uphill. This means that there will be 45 kilometers that will include 7 climbs and there will be some bombs dropped by GC favorites including Tiesj Benoot, Silvio Herklotz, Mike Teunissen and others.
The final stage on Sunday will be a toss-up between a mass sprint, as it was last year, or a chance for a breakaway to make one last impression on the race. The course is peppered with 10 KOM points, with the last one being the Col de la Croix Jubaru at 10 kilometers from the finish, but there are only 2 KOM points in the last 60 kilometers, which could mean that fresh legs prevail. The finish in Tournai is flat and similar to last year, which ended in a sprint won by Florent Mottet over Dan McLay and Asbjørn Kragh.
Based upon the course, the overall winner is either going to be a sprinter that can lay down a pretty good TT or a rider that can put in a strong TT and perhaps breakaway on one of the hillier stages.
As of now, Directvelo are the only ones with a full startlist. I'm fairly certain the race organizers are waiting to publish their list until they have 100% confirmation on the starters. I know Jef Van Meirhaeghe of Lotto-Belisol U23 won't be in the line-up and I'm sure a few others will be swapped in and out. My favorites for the overall include Silvio Herklotz & Ruben Zepuntke (Germany), Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Belisol U23), Jeroen Lepla (VL Technics), Maxat Ayazbayev (Astana Continental), Frederik Ludvigsson (Giant-Shimano), Mike Teunissen (Rabobank Devo) and perhaps Dieter Bouvry (EFC-OPQS). The USA National team is really young with 5 first year U23s, at least according to the startlist that I've seen, but they are stronger than they look. Eamon Franck could win the TT while Miguel Bryon is a strong sprinter (2nd in Ronde van Vlaanderen Juniors last year) and Logan Owen, Geoffrey Curran and Jeff Perrin should be strong.
Here is the link to the organizers website that includes all of the course layouts as well as other technical information. This race does suffer a bit from racing on the same weekend as the granddaddy of them all, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, but hopefully, the Sporza guys will announce the winner of the race during a lull in the action.