Preview Flèche Wallonne
Mario Aerts, sports director at Lotto Soudal, talks about a race he won himself in 2002.
After one year of absence, Lotto Soudal will be once again at the start of Etoile de Bessèges (7-10 February). The French Europe Tour stage race consists of three stages and one final time trial. Bart Leysen, sports director at Lotto Soudal, previews the course and the distribution of the roles within the team.
Bart Leysen: “Theoretically, all of the three stages could result in a bunch sprint, but a lot will depend on the weather conditions and more specifically, the wind direction. I don’t expect that the peloton will split during the first stage but we have to stay alert for possible echelons. I think that the chances of a bunch sprint in Beaucaire are really high. Enzo Wouters is the fastest rider in our line-up, so he will be our man if it comes down to a bunch kick. We will position him in the best possible way but that does not mean that we will control the race.”
“From the second day, things will get tougher as the riders face some open plains where the wind will be able to do its thing. Echelons are likely to form during stage two but for that to happen, everything needs to fall into place. The wind direction is something that you need to evaluate the day itself, it’s really difficult to predict such things beforehand. If there will be echelons, a lot of riders will already be put out of contention for the general classification. During the last stage, a traditional local loop in and around Bessèges is scheduled. The course has been used for many years so most of the riders know it by now.”
“The past few years, the race was decided during the closing time trial and this year is no exception. In the end of the ten kilometres long battle against the clock, the riders will climb a tough little hill. The time trial specialists with good climbing abilities will certainly have the advantage there.”
“It is clear that Tim Wellens will be our spearhead. In the first place, it will mainly be about protecting him but maybe - depending on the race and weather conditions - we can try something ourselves. The perfect scenario would be that Tim starts the time trial with a little advantage. But I expect that there will still be many riders close to each other in the GC on Sunday morning. The French teams always do well in their race on home grounds so we will have to keep an eye on them.”
“Tim is a rider who’s always in good shape early in the season and that’s something his competitors know. The goal is a podium place in the general classification but an even better result is always welcome. We will do everything we can and then we’ll see where that takes us.”
Stage 1 Thursday 7 February: Bellegarde - Beaucaire (145 km)
Stage 2 Friday 8 February: Saint-Geniés-de-Malgoires - La Calmette (154 km)
Stage 3 Saturday 9 February: Bessèges - Bessèges (158 km)
Stage 4 Sunday 10 February: Alès-Alès (ITT – 10.7 km)
Line-up Lotto Soudal: Sander Armée, Rémy Mertz, Maxime Monfort, Lawrence Naesen, Brian van Goethem, Tim Wellens and Enzo Wouters.
Sports directors: Bart Leysen and Kevin De Weert.