De Brabantse Pijl is cool race. It’s a date to look out for on the calendar and an event I’d one day like to watch live. Starting in Leuven, Brabant, the race is another under the Flanders umbrella. However, it doesn’t feel much like its cobbled siblings – taking place a full 10 days after Ronde – and instead seeks companionship from the upcoming Ardennes week. Brabtanse Pijl is often called a transitional race which allows fans to wave goodbye to the cobbled season and get ready to embrace the hills of Liege.
It’s strange for a race to exist with a reputation of this sort but such is the difference between Flanders and Wallonia in terms of both cycling history and their relative merits. Brabantse Pijl does such a good job at igniting our excitement ahead of the Ardennes that I’ve began to wonder if there could be other transitional one day races sandwiched into the pro cycling calendar.
In the week between Flanders and Roubaix, let’s have a team time trial from Kwaremont to the Arenberg Forest. We’d call it the ‘Arenberg Challenge’ and a team of all-stars could take on the Quick-Step wolfpack. Oleg Tinkov could sponsor the whole thing. Or Velon.
What about in the early season? We could have a nice transitional race to mark the end of the Australian racing season. Stage 1A would see riders tackle rolling terrain from South to Western Australia. The first 100 riders to finish would then catch a plane to Oman for Stage 1B; five loops of the Ministry of Tourism. We’d call it The Cadel Evans Great Big Plane Trip.
These are – of course – terrible ideas with more flaws than a Sep Vanmarcke race strategy.
As far as transitional races go, Brabantse Pijl knows just how to act. There are 27 listed climbs – one more than last year – but nothing long enough to attract the pure climbers (Alejandro Valverde has never chosen to ride the race). Instead, Brabantse receives a nice hangover from Ronde with names such as Peter Sagan, Johan Museeuw and Michele Bartoli all on the roll of honour. Although known primarily for a lumpy finishing circuit, Brabantse isn’t scared to visit a cobble.
The closing circuit of the race is where things start to get lively. Five climbs packed into less than 25km entice plenty of attackers and anybody with an interest in winning will need to have some power in the legs to join the winning move.
Only the Ijshelderlaam climb is longer than a kilometre but the circuit allows no time to relax. The final climb, Schavei, crests just before the finish and the race will have been decided by the top. It’s around 700m long and averages just over 5%. This means we’ll see sprinters vs. climbers vs. everything in between.
Sonny Colbrelli won the race last year and (whisper this) the closing kilometres were more exciting than those of Amstel, La Fleche and Liege. He returns to the race after a strong start to the season which included a brilliant win on the Hatta Dam. All signs point towards another surge on the Schavei but he’ll face plenty of tough opposition.
BMC bring Dylan Teuns who should love the race. The same can be said of last year’s third place finisher Tiesj Benoot. The Lotto Soudal rider was superb in Strade Bianche but may lack the kick to win from a big group.
If Benoot needs a partner to attack with he can look towards Quick-Step’s captain Bob Jungels. I can see the two causing havoc if they make an early move. With Brabantse unlikely to be Jungels’ main aim, Quick-Step may turn to one of their other riders. I’m keeping my eyes out for the underrated Peter Serry; although he may wish the race was harder.
Interestingly, there’s no Team Sunweb which means no Michael Matthews. In fact, plenty of World Tour teams have opted to skip this race. This is great news for plenty of Pro Continental teams.
Nippo bring Marco Canola and JJ Lobato and I think the pair will love this finish. Israel Cycling Academy bring an out-of-form Kristian Sbargali, whilst CCC Sprandi Polkowice can boast Volta Limburg winner Jan Tratnik. It’s also the time of the season to take Wanty-Groupe Gobert seriously. I’m hoping to see Andrea Pasqualon bounce back to his best.
You’ll also see Tour de France polka dot holder Warren Barguil on the startlist. Long-time no see…
I think we’ll see Colbrelli vs Teuns on the final climb. Teuns has been building form and I’ll be backing him for the win. I’ll also be hoping to catch Jumbo’s Enrico Battaglin at a decent price.