Preview: Gaviria, Groenewegen headline sprinters at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne
The second offering on tap during Belgium’s opening weekend, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne follows up the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with another one-day trek over the Belgian pavé. It may be the little brother of Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but “KBK” has been around for 70 years and boasts an impressive list of winners.
Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne tends to favor the fast finishers, but there are a few tough ascents on the menu to add a little more uncertainty to the equation. In fact, the past two winners of the race have been late escapees.
Defending champion Peter Sagan won’t be in town on Sunday to go for the repeat, but many of his classics rivals and several sprinting stars will be in attendance for one of the most well-known 1.HC races on the calendar.
A sprinter-friendly parcours?
Despite the name, 200.1-kilometer event does not actually reach Brussels, turning around shortly after reaching Voorde in East Flanders. Overall, the profile includes 12 climbs, most of them in the second half of the day.
An early trip up the Wolvenberg will provide the only real action for the first hour or so of the day. Things will pick up after the second climb on the profile. From that point on the pack will take on several well-known Flemish hellingen, with the Kruisberg, Oude Kwaremont, and Tiegemberg all on the menu.
The peloton will hit the final climb of the afternoon, the Nokereberg, at around 150 kilometers into the race. It’s not an especially challenging ascent, and from the top, there are still roughly 50 kilometers left to go.
The final quarter of the race does have a few cobbled sectors that could spring attacks, and perhaps a lone escapee will navigate the Kuurne finishing circuit more easily, but it won’t be easy fending off the bunch at the last. Then again, it’s happened two years in a row now. In other words, the parcours may favor their talents, but the sprinters can’t just expect to waltz their way to the finish line in Kuurne.
Gaviria and Groenewegen headline fast-finishing favorites
The favorites conversation should begin with the top speedsters on the start list. Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) probably deserves that title. The former velodrome star has an expressed interest in trying his hand as a classics contender, and Kuurne is a great, low-stress place to flesh out his palmares with a cobbled victory. Gaviria also happens to have the formidable Quick-Step squad to help him out, with the likes of Niki Terpstra and Yves Lampaert among those who can lend a hand or possibly play foil with attacks of their own.
Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) stands out as the other top pre-race favorite. He heads into the opening weekend on blistering form, with three stage wins on his 2018 palmares so far between the Dubai Tour and the Volta ao Algarve. The 24-year-old already has a few lower-tier solid one-day results to his name and will be a tough competitor in classics territory on Sunday.
Arnaud Démare (FDJ) is another speedster worth a mention. He won the bunch sprint behind the five-man winning group in 2017 and has proven talent sprinting after a long day on the bike.
Trek-Segafredo’s Jasper Stuyven nabbed the win in Kuurne back in 2016 and he finished as runner-up last year. He’s especially dangerous in this race because of his great combination of cobbled prowess and finishing speed. That makes him a threat as an attacker or a sprinter, though Trek also has Giacomo Nizzolo for a potential sprint finale.
BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet would prefer a tougher parcours, but he’s always a threat on Flemish cobblestones. The same is true for Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal), Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale), and Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac).
Vanmarcke’s new EF teammate Sacha Modolo, Bahrain-Merida’s Sonny Colbrelli, and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Sam Bennett, are others to watch on Sunday. Also, don’t count out Astana’s in-form duo of Alexey Lutsenko and Magnus Cort Nielsen.