The cycling season “begins” for many this weekend with the cobbled classics and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad returning this Saturday. Last year’s edition of the race saw quite a tactical battle in the closing 30 kms of the day with a pretty strong head wind. Despite a strong group getting away and looking as if they were going to fight out for the win, the co-operation within the move completely fell apart within the last 3 kms of the day. Valgren timed his attack perfectly and with team-mates in the group behind to quickly halt any chase, the Dane managed to ride away and take the win.
Wisniowski and Vanmarcke also escaped the group, just holding off the charging peloton to round off the day.
Will we see something similar happening this year? First, let’s take a look at what is in store for the riders.
A tad over 200 kms of twisty Belgian roads: sounds fun!
Although there are several cobbled sections in the opening half of the race, it won’t be until the Wolvenberg at around 60 kms to go that the riders will start to consider their options for the day. However, as we’ve seen in previous years at various cobbled classics, it is feasible for the race winning attack/move to be made from any point onwards.
Comparing the route to last year, it seems as if the organisers have wanted to make it a little more intense from roughly 40 km out with a quick succession of climbs and cobbled sections. This is one of the key sections of road throughout the whole day.
Although none of the rises are incredibly long, it is the constant up and down nature of that section, combined with the always twisting and turning roads that will see the peloton fully stretched out. The strongest riders can really put those suffering into difficulty here.
Next on the agenda is roughly 8 kms of mostly flat (there’s no such thing as an actual flat road around here) through the towns of Sint-Martens-Lierde and Deftinge before they reach the famous Geraardsbergen.
Two steep and tough climbs that need to introduction or explanation, the Muur and Bosberg offer a final chance for a selection to be made. With a shade over 12 km from the crest of the Bosberg to the finish line, will those ahead be able to stay away, or will we see some kind of regrouping?
As is often the case for cobbled classic races, one of the important factors which can help to determine the outcome of the day is the wind.
As I mentioned earlier, a strong headwind in 2018 caused some more “negative” racing because no one really wanted to commit too early in fear of blowing up. That led to the tactical and exciting finale we had so it wasn’t all too bad I suppose!
However, tomorrow we’re due to have pretty consistent winds coming mostly from the West throughout the day. This of course means that some of the course will be into a headwind, due to the nature of the parcours, but most importantly those final 40 km won’t be.
As you can see, most of it will either be tail or cross wind, dependent on their location throughout the final hour of racing. This should make for some fast and exciting action!
How will the race pan out?
I expect it to be full gas from just after the Wolvenburg (60 km left) but the first major moves to be made at 40 km to go marker and the aforementioned quartet of cobbles/climbs. Given the mostly tailwind run to the line, teams and big favourites won’t be as afraid to attack from far tomorrow. Those with numerous options to play such as Deceuninck Quick Step and Jumbo Visma will most likely adopt the approach of attacking rather than pacing the front of the peloton in the final hour.
There are two big danger men in the race that I think will make sure the day won’t come down to a sprint of 10+ riders: Trentin and Matthews.
Trentin has had a superb start to the year, already taking three wins to his name. He comes here as Mitchelton’s number one card with Durbridge playing second fiddle. The Italian has been climbing like a dream in this opening month of racing so he’ll cope perfectly well with the rises that we have here. Everyone will be well aware of just how well he is going and as one of the fastest riders on the start list, it would simply be stupid to bring him to the line. I’m not even sure the likes of Van Avermaet would be happy arriving for a small group sprint against him.
Conversely, this is Matthews first race of the season but that shouldn’t be a negative for the Sunweb rider as he always begins his year in great form anyway. Not many have talked about his chances in the press but in Lotto Soudal’s preview Wellens was quick to point out the Aussie as a real threat. I was going to say he had a poor 2018 but he ended up with 4 wins and all of them at World Tour level so it wasn’t exactly a disaster! It’s almost a case of “what could have been” given that he had to withdraw from several races due to illness or injury. He’s a rider that I rate very highly and I expect him to be in the mix tomorrow. Like Trentin, it would be unwise for anyone to bring him to the line.
Contenders – A trio to watch
I could list about 15 riders here if I desperately wanted to but that’s not my style, so I’m just going with three. No apologies.
If you’ve followed the blog for a while then you’ll know I’m a massive Yves fan and it’s been good to see him make steady progress in the past few years. Last season he managed to retain his Dwars door Vlaanderen title before going on to claim the Belgian championships later in the season. So far in 2019 he’s put in some pretty solid training at races both in Provence and Algarve with a focus of building that form for the cobbles. Once touted as a Boonen/Museeuw hybrid, it is understandable that he has not lived up to that lofty billing but now coming into the strongest years of his career, I certainly think he will start to pick up some more individual results. Stybar and Gilbert are probably the two main leaders for DQS but Lampaert will no doubt be given a free role as he looks to step up and replace the Terpstra shaped hole that is left in their classics team, with Senechal replacing 2017/18 Lampaert. As I mentioned earlier, having numbers near the head of the race will be important and DQS should have exactly that. I think we’ll see Lamapert as one of the early attackers for them and if he can get away in the right group with the right teams represented, that could be it for the day. Packing a pretty decent sprint from a very small group he is certainly one to watch.
A rider who always starts his year in barnstorming form, 2019 seems to be no different for Wellens. With consistent results in the opening Trofeo’s, including a win, the Lotto Soudal man went on to pick up two stage wins in Andalucia before a 9th placed finish on GC. Not a bad result for someone who had to skip Besseges due to illness. An all round brute of a rider, it amazed me that Wellens hadn’t dabbled with the cobbled one-day races before Omloop last year because the parcours definitely suits him in my opinion – I could see him go very well in Flanders for example. Last year at this race he burnt too many matches early on, hoping to split the race up but with the headwind conditions it proved too difficult. Tomorrow’s race should reward attacking riding more and I’m looking forward to seeing what he and Benoot do as a duo. As a former winner of the BinckBank (formerly Eneco) Tour, Wellens is no stranger to cobbles so it is not like he lacks experience. One of the form riders in this early season, he is one that I wouldn’t give a few bike lengths to as you might not get them back.
Taco van der Hoorn.
Talk about teams with options, Jumbo Visma have a squad of riders who could feasibly challenge for a good result here – are they Quick Step in disguise? A lot of the attention from the cycling world will be on van Aert but with van Poppel, Teunissen, Roosen and van der Hoorn it would be unwise to just focus on one of them. Since his win in Schaal Seis back in 2017, I’ve been intrigued to see what Taco can do. His season last year started very late due to him suffering from lingering effects of concussion. In fact, he only raced from August onwards but managed to pick up 2 wins and 5 other top 10s in 19 days on the road – not bad! He spent a lot of his time in Algarve on the front of the bunch, pacing the peloton for Groenewegen and getting some good miles in the legs. He’s possibly a bit further down the pecking order in the Jumbo Visma team than I would think he should be, he’s not even mentioned in their race preview, but I certainly wouldn’t discount him. If anything van der Hoorn is the stereotypical rider that I like to go for on here: a complete wildcard that not many people know of but he’ll probably turn good in a year or two!
Plenty of form riders are here and I’m looking forward to some aggressive racing. I’ll go with Tim Wellens to power away from everyone over the Muur and stay away to the end of the day.
Quick shout out to my affiliates over at Zweeler who are starting up their Fantasy Spring CyClassics Game which offers a prize pool of 8000 Euro with first place guaranteed 1400 Euro and the top 160 people guaranteed to at least make their entry fee back.
Pick 20 riders from a budget of 230 million to score you points over the coming weeks with the game active from Omloop through to Liege. Choose wisely though as there is are no transfers available!
Sign up for each team is 10 Euro.
Think you’ve got what it takes to take home first place? Sign up here to find out.
If you do it helps me out a little and I’ll be forever grateful!
Tweeted out my picks for Omloop yesterday…
Thanks as always for reading, who do you think will win tomorrow? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.