Saturday, 25 February 2017

Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne is the first UCI rated race of the season for juniors, first official race for many riders and first important test for all the big names that will test their legs before the rest of the classics part of the season. This year's editions is the seventeenth one. Last year, Ethan Hayter from Great Britain surprised the other favourites with his solo attack in final kilometres. He won with notable margin over classic specialists: Frenchman Clement Betouigt-Suire (currently racing for Sunweb Development Team) and Belgian Jasper Philipsen (BMC Development Team).

Despite it's just the first race of the season and the fact that on the startlist we can find teams mostly from Belgium and the Netherlands the race is a big one. The list of previous winners include guys like Moreno Hofland, Barry Markus and Geraint Thomas. In recent editions, most of the strongest juniors looking for glory in classics start the season here. Last year, the favourites and the strongest classics riders in U19 ranks were already in shape here fighting for the victory. Actually, the first six from last year have won a uci race later on including big ones like E3 Harelbeke (Philipsen), Paris Roubaix (Mobach) or GP Gènèral Patton (Kron).

2016 podium

The route is exactly the same as last year. The race is 120 km long and starts in Kuurne before heading to Oudenaarde for the most important part of the race with all the heiligens. Edelare is the first one (1,5km long, avg. 4,2%, max 7%) after 30km of racing. The next 55 kilometres is the crucial part with all the bergs that will surely split the field. Riders will tackle one after another: Stokstraat (38km, 1.1km, avg. 5%, max 8%), Kanarieberg (47km, 1km, avg. 7.7% , max 14%), Hotond  (53km, 2.7km, avg. 3% , max 7,5%), Oude Kwaremont (63km, 2.2km, avg. 4% , max 11,6%), Tiegemberg (74km, 0,75km, avg. 5.6% , max 9%) Holstraat (78km, 1km, avg. 5.2% , max 12%) and finally Nokereberg (85km, 0,35km, avg. 5.7% , max 7%) which ends 35 km from the finish line. After that, riders will head back to Kuurne on flat roads with one 15 kilometres lap at the end in Kuurne.

Last year winner, Ethan Hayter believes that Kanarieberg and Oude Kwaremont are the crucial bergs:

The most important parts are the Kanarieberg where it's possible to split over the top, although probably too early, and the Kwaremont where the race was decided last year. I think it's a really good route, hard enough for the race to split but not super hard for the first race of the year for most people.

I have also asked Ethan how the race unfold and how he picked up the right moment for his final move:

I looked after myself early on, and then made sure I was in a good position when I needed to be. I was able to follow when Jasper Philipsen attacked on the Kwaremont, and we worked over the top and a few more riders got across. There were six of us left on the finishing circuit, and I knew I would have had a good sprint but I was still feeling good so had considered going solo. I saw an opportunity with about 6k to go at the end of the headwind section about 200m before the bridge across the river with Philipsen (who had looked the strongest) boxed in, I got a jump on them and made it stick! I was a little bit worried when I saw the 5k to go sign as I thought I was closer! I held back a little then went harder and harder until I finally realized there was no way I was getting caught and I was going to win! 

Also Ethan shared his advice for the riders looking for a win on Sunday:

I would say to make sure you are eating and drinking, don't make silly efforts, keeping yourself in a good position when it matters, and to not be afraid.

The favourites

As always, it's very hard to name favourites for the first race of the season. Last year, riders born in 1998, second year juniors, dominated the junior ranks much more then usual and not many first year riders were strong enough to call them a favourites for first big races few months later so I believe we have to wait few weeks to see who is doing well. It's a general thought, not only regarding Kuurne or cobbled classics.

Unusually for Belgium classic I will start with GB riders as the favourites. Great Britain will have a total of fifteen riders here in three teams: the national squad, HMT JLT Condor and South-East Cycling Team, each of them including a rider who can take a win on Sunday.

South-East Team defends the title after last year win by Ethan Hayter. This time Jacob Vaughan, national champion could surprise many. He has already proved being in a good shape taking 2nd place in Perfs Pedal racing against the elite riders. HMT JLT Condor brings strong team in general with Ben Turner coming straight from great CX campaign finished with 3rd place in World Championships in Bieles while the national team might be the strongest from the three with Fred Wright and Joe Nally being my personal favourites.

Traditionally Acrog Balen Bc team should be considered as one of the strongest ones. Wesley Vercamst was eighth last year and had a very good and consistent spring campaign and we can expect him to improve this time. Tristan Five is another one to watch and will try to improve his 21st place from last year.

Arne Marit won Nokere Koerse U19 last year and should be another strong contender. CT Spider king - EFC which is Trek Segafredo satellite team brings two guys who already scored a win this year in smaller races: Greg Luysen and Adne Koster. Especially take a look at Koster, he's one of the names to watch this year coming from u17 ranks.

Nathan Vandepitte is another possible French wunderkid. He won Trophee Madiot last year and started his first junior with a win in Spain. I'm curious what he can do in Belgium, keep an eye on him.

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