Preview Flèche Wallonne
Mario Aerts, sports director at Lotto Soudal, talks about a race he won himself in 2002.
Like last year, Lotto Soudal will end the season on Asian soil with the Hammer Series Hong Kong and the Tour of Guangxi. On Sunday 14 October the third and final part of the Hammer Series 2018 awaits the riders, before they tackle the last stage race of the cycling season from 16 to 21 October.
After the Norwegian city of Stavanger and Limburg in The Netherlands, the Hammer Series head to Hong Kong to crown the overall winner and successor of Team Sky. In one day, the sixteen participating teams will compete in The Sprint and The Chase by delegating five out of seven selected riders for each event. Mitchelton – SCOTT is the provisional leader, but is not yet certain of the overall victory as everything will be decided in the two final events: the first one, The Sprint, will be contested on a circuit of 4.3 kilometres, which will be tackled ten times. At the end of each lap, the first ten riders at the finish line take points, which will be added up at the end to determine the start order of the teams for the second event, The Chase. The team that finishes first after five laps of this chase, will win the Hammer Series Hong Kong.
Mario Aerts, sports director Lotto Soudal: “It will be a tough final race of the Hammer Series. Usually the events are stretched over three days, but now they take place in only one day. The distance of the races is quite short: The Sprint is 40 kilometres and The Chase only 20. These distances will definitely make it an explosive race.”
“It’s important to collect enough points in the Sprint event, so we can start in the first group in the Chase. If you’re in the Runner-up Group, you won’t be competing any longer for the overall victory, which would be unfortunate. Thus, the goal is foremost to guarantee ourselves of a place in that first or so-called Finalist Group. Many scenarios are still possible as all the teams are quite close to one another. The concept is created in a way to keep things interesting till the very last second of the Series. If we collect enough points during The Sprint, we have to be capable of maintaining our good position in The Chase as it’s ‘only’ twenty kilometres. Which five riders we’ll select for this event will depend on how they’ll ride and recover from the first one. It’s a decision we’ll make on the day.”
“A place in the top five is a nice goal, but I will already be satisfied if we conclude the Series with a top eight place. Either way, we’ll give our all to achieve a nice result. It’s a very different way of racing than we’re used to: you have to forget everything you know of racing tactics and adopt another strategy. We will have to ride our own race and not look at any of the other teams. We have a versatile team and have to rely on our own strengths. We count on fast men like Enzo Wouters and Tosh Van der Sande, while Hansen, Naesen, Mertz and Vanhoucke could try to attack. The Series are less suited to Sander Armée, but he’ll have to focus mainly on Guangxi.”
We have a versatile team and have to rely on our own strengths.
Two days after the Hammer Series the seven riders of Lotto Soudal immediately tackle a new, but also the last challenge of the season, with the six-day stage race in China. Last year, Tim Wellens won this stage race and concluded his season nicely. This year, Wellens takes part in Il Lombardia and Lotto Soudal will count on seven other strong riders to end the season on good terms. The Tour of Guangxi starts on 16 October in Beihai and finishes on 21 October in Guilin. The route is relatively flat throughout the race with some categorised climbs in the second part.
Mario Aerts, sports director Lotto Soudal: “The route of this edition is quite the same as last year’s. Only the second stage has a different location, but the course remains similar. Like the previous Tour of Guangxi, it looks like the race will be decided in the stage to Nongla. The uphill finish – after a climb of three kilometres – will determine the general classification. Before this stage, the routes are all flat and the fifth and sixth stage are not tough enough to make a difference. Last year, Tim won the fourth stage, took the leader’s jersey and held on to it until the end. We did see some action in the stage after it, but also that one eventually concluded with a bunch sprint. The climbs are a bit too far from the finish line to be decisive, but of course, you never know what might happen this year.”
“The course is therefore suited for the fast men: Enzo Wouters and Tosh Van der Sande will be our leading men in five of the six stages. And even if the fifth stage does cause some splits, I think Tosh is capable of holding on so he could participate in the sprint of a smaller group. Sander Armée will be our focus for the general classification. Last week, he rode a solid Binche – Chimay – Binche, so I think he recovered well from the Vuelta. It would be nice if he could follow the riders of the GC and conquer a nice place. Hopefully, we will play a role in the last races and conclude the cycling season nicely!”
Line-up Lotto Soudal: Sander Armée, Adam Hansen, Rémy Mertz, Lawrence Naesen, Tosh Van der Sande, Harm Vanhoucke and Enzo Wouters.
Sports director: Mario Aerts.
Hammer Series Hong Kong
The Sprint Sunday 14 October
The Chase Sunday 14 October
Tour of Guangxi
Stage 1 Tuesday 16 October: Beihai – Beihai (107.4 km)
Stage 2 Wednesday 17 October: Beihai – Qinzhou (145.2 km)
Stage 3 Thursday 18 October: Nanning – Nanning (125.4 km)
Stage 4 Friday 19 October: Nanning – Nongla (152.2 km)
Stage 5 Saturday 20 October: Liuzhou – Guilin (212.2 km)
Stage 6 Sunday 21 October: Guilin – Yangshuo – Guilin (169 km)