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Is Belgium's World Championships line-up the strongest in the race?

Joe Robinson
5 Sep 2017

Belgium set to take a strong team to the World Championships in Bergen, Norway

With the World Championships just under three-weeks away, each nation has been slowly releasing their selections for the elite men's road race in Bergen, Norway. 

The World Championships give each country the chance to bring together their best riders in a shot for the rainbow bands. This often leads to some incredibly strong teams however, this year's Belgian elite road race team could be the strongest for a long time. 

Allocated the full compliment of nine riders, Belgium have named a team that contains eight riders with a genuine chance of taking the title this month.

Leadership duties have been officially given to Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing). Both riders have been standing riders this season, sharing honours at some of the biggest spring classics.

Gilbert experienced a resurgence of form this season winning the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold Race. Before this, the 35-year-old also managed second at both the E3-Harelbeke and Dwars Door Vlaanderen.

So far, Van Avermaet has enjoyed a career-defining season. The Belgian broke his monument duck taking Paris-Roubaix in April. This capped off quadruple success on the cobbles with victories at Gent-Wevelgem, E3 Harelbeke and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad also. 

These two riders will enter the race in Bergen amongst the favourites considering the final kilometres of the race. Whilst the run in to the finish is flat, the peloton will tackle a 1.4km climb close the finish, which suits the attributes of both Van Avermaet and Gilbert. 

If neither of these riders manage to perform, Belgium will not have to look far for a plan b. The sheer strength in depth is personified when you notice the inclusion of the like of Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing), Tiesj Benoot and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal). 

Teuns was yet to win a a professional bike race until July of this year. However, a trio of overall victories at the Tour de Wallonie, Tour of Poland and Arctic Race of Norway have propelled Teuns into our thoughts making him one of the most in-form riders in the world. 

With Teuns, will also be Lotto-Soudal duo Benoot and Wellens. Both riders are highly rated young riders who have shown steady progression and aggressive riding in their first few seasons in the WorldTour. Benoot managed to finish  within the top 20 of his first Tour de France

Belgium will also be taking Belgian national champion Oliver Naesen (AG2R La Mondiale), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-Scott), Julian Vermote (Quick-Step Floors) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) with these riders being far from place fillers.

The fast finishing Stuyven and Keukeleire will provide an option for a bunch finish whilst Vermote is regarded as one of the strongest and most coveted domestiques in the world.

Another indication of the sheer strength of this Belgian side is apparent in the riders who will be missing out. Despite countless kilometres in breakaways at the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) was only good another to be in reserve. 

Vuelta stage winner Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) was only good enough to make the time trial team whilst Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) failed to make the cut entirely. 

Last year's World Championships in Doha, Qatar threatened to disappoint with its uninspiring course and flat terrain. However, thanks to crosswinds and aggressive racing from the Belgian team, it ended up being one of the most exciting Worlds for many years. 

Although the team failed to take Tom Boonen to his second rainbow jersey, they certainly made the race what it was. 

It is more than likely that this year's contingent will continue with the aggressive racing philosophy that follows the Belgian team at most races they ride.

Although they will find tough competition in the likes of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb), it is more than likely that we will see one, if not more Belgians slotting into the final top 10. 

Men's elite team 

Tiesj Benoot 
Philippe Gilbert
Jens Keukeleire
Oliver Naesen 
Jasper Stuyven
Dylan Teuns 
Greg Van Avermaet
Julien Vermote
Tim Wellens