Here we are then, spring has truly sprung and it's time for some really, really gritty and horrible racing in Belgium.
The Welshman goes in as a lot of people's favourites, which pretty much means he is certain not to win. The classics are like horse racing in that the favourite virtually never wins. Think about it, Luca Paolini won Gent-Wevelgem this year for chrissakes! I expect Geraint's chances to be scuppered somewhere around the 50km to go mark. If I were to go out on a limb I'll say he'll be blown into a ditch. Again.
A lot of bookies have Vanmarcke at the same odds as Thomas and given his knack for floating over the cobbles you'd be hard pushed to argue against him. Just look at his results this season:
- 4th Strade Bianche
- 5th Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
- 5th E3 Harelbeke
- 6th Gent–Wevelgem
If he does win it'll be by getting into an elite selection with around 40km to go. A sprint won't suit him and I reckon he needs that little bit of time to tactically outfox stronger riders. Main worry for the Belgian's chances is a lack of support from team-mates, something that can't be said for Thomas who has the backing of hardmen Luke Rowe, Eisel and Stannard.
If the race goes to a bunch sprint on Sunday afternoon then Kristoff will win. The guy is so strong right now he only gave Bradley Wiggins 18 seconds in the time trial at Three Days in De Panne this week. In fact, the time trial was the only stage Kristoff didn't win at the Belgian warm-up event.
Niki Terpstra / Zdenek Stybar
Since the team lost Tom Boonen there's no clear leader for Belgian side Etixx-Quickstep, hence these two are pretty much interchangeable and get a shared title. Both obviously have different skillsets and Terpstra has shown he can win on cobbles with a cracking victory at Paris-Roubaix last near. Nevertheless, Etixx have ballsed up two great opportunities so far this season with a frankly bewildering 3-on-1 defeat at the hands of Ian Stannard at Omloop the standout moment of their season.
Hahahahaha. Nope. Sorry, I backed 'cheeky Pete' at M-SR and Gent, but I won't be fooled again. As Sean Kelly put it on his blog, Sagan "looks like his legs are staying a little too long under the dinner table at present." Prediction: the most memorable thing the erratic Slovakian will do in Flanders is punch a photographer and recreate this memorable image.
Someone named Stijn
Honestly, who cares which one? The bookies say the Stijns Devolder and Vandenbergh are both in with a shout but Devolder doesn't look strong enough for me, especially after going slower than Kristoff in the TT at De Panne. Vandenbergh could do something with the backing of a strong team like Etixx but will more than likely be pressed into service for one of the other boys mentioned above – I can't see him having much left in the tank once things get serious.
I invite you to rip apart my predictions in the comments.