Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Preview

Friday, 26 February 2016

No suncream. No sand. No sheikhs. No skyscrapers. No seafront esplanades. Welcome to Belgium with its knowledgeable crowds, cold weather, cobbled tracks, betonwegs and muddy landscapes. The Omloop was one of the best races of 2015 and the hard but not harsh course makes an ideal start to the spring classics season.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad profile

Starting and finishing in the city of Ghent the race occupies a triangular sector to the south of the city, criss-crossing roads to use as much of the terrain as possible. As the profile suggests, the first 100km are without too many obstacles. They tackle the infamous Muur van Geraardsbergen early, it helps to sap the legs before more and more climbs appear.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Hellingen Climbs and Cobbles

Things get serious with 80km to go and the Kaperij climb, anyone badly positioned from now on is going to waste energy and pay for it sooner or later. A succession of short climbs, cobbles and cobbled climbs ensures the process of attrition. Watch for Tom Boonen on the Taaienberg and then a series of attacks, moves, splits and crashes will hone down the field. The final climb of the Boemebeke is new this year thanks to roadworks on the Molenberg and the novelty is nothing special, it’s asphalted and not steep and in a land criss-crossed by thousands of racers and every day it’s yet to have its own Strava Segment. The final cobbled sector is the Lange Munte, a long straight section that’s tiring but with a regular surface but very exposed to the wind.

The Finish
There’s a new route in town. The old finish with its narrowing streets and slight uphill drag is gone. Sunday’s race uses bigger approach roads and a wider finish, the Emile Claaslaan, but still with a slight uphill drag to the line.

Omloop?
Omloop is the local word for a loop, a circuit. The race began in 1945 as the Omloop Van Vlaanderen but the name was too similar to the Ronde Van Vlaaneren so it became the Omloop Het Volk, taking its name from the newspaper that organised it. For years the Het Volk and Het Nieuwsblad newspapers were fierce rivals, so much so that Het Nieuwsblad could not bring itself to call the race the Omloop Het Volk, using Gent-Gent instead. The enmity ended when the papers merged and the race is now called the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Alexander Kristoff

Alexander Kristoff is the prime pick, the top favoriet. He delivers a powerful sprint and is at ease in the hardest of classics. He’s in great shape with six wins this year and comes with a strong team dedicated to his service. Rather than look for weakness perhaps the question is whether he bothers to hard here. He may well prefer to sit tight and play the odds on a sprint rather than going on the rampage and tracking every move. So he’s the reductive pick too, the most likely to win if others fail.

Tom Boonen is the popular pick, the people’s choice. His looming retirement is going to be a perpetual theme this spring. The Omloop is the missing trophy in his collection of spring classics and a chance to correct last year’s fluffed finish. A crash in Abu Dhabi damaged the hearing in his left ear and a triumph here would probably result in deafening roars from the crowds. But his form is uncertain, plus he’s on the mend from a recent crash in the Algarve. Still this would be a good way to establish himself as the cornerstone of the Etixx-Quickstep team because there’s a lot of competition. First of the internal rivals – and let’s not play up the politics and drama but just acknowledge this is a team with options galore – is Nikki Terpstra. The Dutchman has exploited his team’s strength before to solo away as other riders dither knowing if they give chase then they’ll be countered by a Quickstepper and says he wants revenge for last year’s loss but his form doesn’t look so impressive or at least there’s less to go on given the team have avoided the usual Gulf sandbox testing. Iljo Keisse is the local pick and packs a sprint which Stijn Vandenbergh doesn’t but the tall Belgian is in a great form. Oh and Tony Martin is riding too which brings yet more options but also bolsters his team with his tractor-beam ability to reel in any threatening breakaway.

Peter Sagan rainbow jersey

If Peter Sagan wins we can write the story backwards. “It was inevitable” we’ll say, adding he’s got a fast sprint, he’s world champion, he’s more mature and his Tinkoff team finally look capable of offering him the support he needs in the finale of a hard race. A likely story yet he has not raced since San Luis so we’ve nothing to gauge his form. If he cracks then Daniele Bennati and Oscar Gatto are in winning form while Adam Blythe is fast and Maciej Bodnar is handy in a hard race too. Sagan has only raced here once before when he was a neo-pro in 2010. Experience helps but he knows his way around Flanders.

Greg Van Avermaet has been knocking on the door for so long his knuckles must hurt. Famous for being the nearly man he’s picked up in 2016 where he left off with a series of high placings but no win yet so far this season. It’s the same story over the years in the Omloop, since 2012 his worst result has been sixth but no win. BMC Racing bring Philippe Gilbert, a previous winner of this race back in his FDJ days and an uneasy team mate of GVA, they don’t exactly holiday together. Gilbert is in great form having won the Vuelta a Murcia. For all his success in the Ardennes he’s a hard man to beat in tough race like this as he’s willing to attack solo and can take the sprint in a small group. Expect Daniel Oss to feature and Jempy Drucker collects a lot of top-1o placings. One time medical student Floris Gerts won the U23 race here in 2015 and now starts the Elite race.

Tiesj Benoot

Tiesj Benoot is Lotto-Soudal’s kopman but how can he win? He’s a promising rider who probably needs a harder and more selective route as he’s handy in the hills as we’ve seen in Mallorca this season and even the Dauphiné last June. His Lotto-Soudal team comes with many capable riders with Jurgen Roelandts, Jens Debusschere as lieutenants plus new Topsport graduate Jelle Wallays. All of them would make a worthy winner but how they make this happen is the question that will preoccupy team management.

Moreno Hofland is almost a stealth pick. The Lotto-Jumbo rider is a sprinter but able in the classics too and in the absence of Sep Vanmarcke he’s the best pick for the Dutch squad. Hofland is often the-rider-who-gets-beaten but if the field is shrunk and a group comes in he’s a candidate for the sprint. Tom Vanesbroek is also quick from a group and jonge Mike Teunissen, pictured, one to watch.

Trek Factory Racing are another team resting their best rider. In the absence of Fabian Cancellara is Jasper Stuyven who has had some solid results so far this year despite opening his chocolate shop but needs a big win soon to go from hope to hero. Giacomo Nizzolo is a podium pick in case of any sprint finish but his chances should be discounted by his poor record in cobbled classics. In contrast new signing Edward Theuns had an excellent last season with Topsport Vlaanderen, can he graduate to something bigger now? A lot of ex-Topsport riders don’t progress too far once they join the World Tour but once upon a time one of their riders moved to an American World Tour race and duly won the Omloop, that was Vanmarcke in 2012 for Garmin.

Luke Rowe

Team Sky leave out Ian Stannard for bigger days ahead so they’ll let Luke Rowe continue his progress. The Welshman got Boonen’s wheel up the Taaienberg last year and beat Kristoff to win the bunch sprint for ninth place, little details that count for a young rider. Elia Viviani is the sprint option but given his focus on the track will he be there in the finale? Neo-pro Gianni Moscon did an impressive time trial in the Ruta Del Sol but can he repeat this on these cold roads? Rowe is the best bet with the rest looking more suited to Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

FDJ are off to a decent start and Arnaud Démare is back to winning ways after a drought. But his win in the Le Tour Med was against modest opposition so he’s more likely to be finding his bearings that rivalling the best here. He sprints well but sees himself as more of a classics specialist. Fans of the team will cheer the move to Continental tires after beaucoup punctures last year. The teams come with more options like Eneco Tour stage winner Johan Le Bon, Mathieu Ladagnous and Yoann Offredo.

Among the rest there’s not much to go on so a few pedigree picks. Jens Keukeleire leads Orica-Greenedge but after a long training camp in South Africa is the frost going to be a shock? Cofidis have decent riders to enliven the race but winning seems improbable and they’re probably waiting for Kuurne when Nacer Bouhanni shows up. Topsport Vlaanderen will surely make the early breakaway and it’ll be interesting to see which of their riders emerges as a new star. Sylvain Chavanel is in great shape and a genuine outsider with his Poweo jersey, the Belgian brand of Direct Energie. IAM’s Leigh Howard is going well and Martin Elmiger is a tough rider suited to these conditions while Dries Devenyns is in form and Oliver Naesen a local plus they have cold weather expert Heinrich Haussler. Fortuneo-Vital Concept’s Dan McClay is a handy sprinter. Ag2r La Mondiale’s Alexis Gougeard seems unable to sit tight. Gerald Ciolek is Team Stölting’s captain and can place in a sprint. Filippo Pozzato rides on reputation but his best result so far this year has been 19th place and that was in a team time trial.

Alexander Kristoff, Greg Van Avermaet
Philippe Gilbert, Tiesj Benoot, Peter Sagan
Tom Boonen, Jurgen Roelandts, Niki Terpstra, Edward Theuns, Luke Rowe, Moreno Hofland
Démare, Vandenbergh, Stuyven, Chavanel, Debusschere, Keukeleire, Martin

The Curse! Everyone would like to win this race but the winner has often sunk without trace for the rest of the spring classics. Nobody has ever won this race and the Tour of Flanders in the same year. Cycling being a superstitious sport this is seen as a “curse” but there are surely more rational explanations:

  • it’s still February. Peak now and you’ll be stale by April
  • win and you think you’re on top form and slack off, maybe enjoy a beer or a pudding
  • win and you’ll be heavily marked from now to April
  • the inverse of the law of large numbers, winning here is by definition above average so the probability of repeat wins drops, especially when we factor in the points above

This explains why several riders hoping for big things in the classics are not racing such as Fabian Cancellara, Sep Vanmarcke and last year’s winner Ian Stannard.

Weather: cold and dry with the mercury just above freezing around the start before rising to 6°C in the afternoon. There will be a 18km/h breeze from the ENE gusting to 27km/h which is just enough to help split things up in the crosswinds given the general direction of the race heading south before returning north.

TV: the race starts at 11.45 and local Belgian TV coverage starts at 1.30pm Euro time with studio introduction before the live racing starts at 2.15pm with the finish is forecast for 4.40pm but tune in well before to watch the action. The Taaiennberg at around 3.15pm.

The distribution rights vary a lot from country to country so check where you live and if not cyclingfans.com, cyclinghub.tv and steephill.tv serve up the pirate feeds.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad podium 2015

Women’s Race: the women’s edition is supposed to be live on TV and offers some action – plus a glimpse of the new finish – while the men are still rolling with the finish forecast for 2.55pm. Ella Cyclingtips has an expert preview of the contenders and pretenders.

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Ablindeye February 26, 2016 at 12:25 pm

Was hoping you’d see the spring in with one of your fine previews, thanks. This is one of my favourite races, despite its relatively small stature. Rarely a disappointment, setting the change in tone from sun baked to cold, grey survival fest – can’t wait!

ocaz February 26, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Looking forward to this only had a vague understanding of the spring classics but read some books this winter to build my knowledge and these are the types of races and the type war of attrition I love!!

For UK viewers it is showing on Bike channel 464 on Sky from 1:30pm

Adam Bowie February 26, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Thanks for the note about UK coverage on Bike! I’d looked earlier in the week and only found the Monday highlights in the EPG. Must have been a very late addition.

Ablindeye February 26, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Thanks for the heads up – is this a Sky non subscription sports channel like Eurosport?

The Inner Ring February 26, 2016 at 12:51 pm

Just got a press release from them today:

I wanted to get in touch to let you know about the race coverage we will be showing on BIKE, a new free to air cycling channel available in the UK on Sky (ch.464) and Virgin Media (ch.552).

This weekend on Saturday 27th we have live and exclusive coverage of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad from 13.15pm to 3.45pm and repeated again at 8.30pm to 10.15pm. The race highlights will be screened at 9pm on Monday 29th.

Ablindeye February 26, 2016 at 1:03 pm

That’s great news, many thanks. I won’t have to employ a stream and can watch it from the comfort of my sofa, with a hot cup of coffee, while I empathise with the riders…
I’m surprised Eurosport hasn’t picked it up, yet is showing the lesser K-B-K (in my view anyway) on the Sunday. It’ll ceratinly raise the profile of the Bike Channel so nice work by them.

Ablindeye February 27, 2016 at 2:26 pm

More kudos to the Bike Channel, they have Rob Hatch doing the commentary.

Larry T. February 26, 2016 at 9:27 pm

https://www.velopress.com/books/the-spring-classics/
is one of my faves on this subject….in case you’ve not read it?

Elliot February 26, 2016 at 12:44 pm

Thanks for the link to the women’s preview. I know you don’t have the time, or feel you have the knowledge, to write about women’s cycling, so a pointer to another quality site is appreciated.

Mendip5000 February 26, 2016 at 1:19 pm

I’d like to second that; the piece you linked to was a good one. I’m just confused about whether the women’s race is or isn’t televised…

channel_zero February 26, 2016 at 5:46 pm

Check in on the unofficial unsanctioned Women’s road racing blog.

https://prowomenscycling.com/

Ms. Connolly has been at it for a long time and seems tireless.

Richard S February 26, 2016 at 12:45 pm

I think a Quickstep rider will win…

Omloop seems to be quite often the breakthrough win for younger/less prominent riders. On that basis I’m going to throw Ed Theuns name in. I’m thinking Gougeard will have a breakthrough too at some point, so why not tomorrow?

The Inner Ring February 26, 2016 at 12:59 pm

Theuns is a good pick. As said above a lot of the Topsport riders seem to plateau after joining the World Tour even if some have go on to do very well like Vanmarcke or De Gendt. For Gougeard it’s hard to know, he was aggressive in some classics last year got a stage win in the Vuelta but needs top form to do it here and that’s uncertain.

Anton February 26, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Greg Van Avermaet for me. He’s always good in this race and has to become the winner one day. For Topsport Vlaanderen I think Amaury Capiot and Preben Van Hecke are the best bets.

The Inner Ring February 26, 2016 at 1:01 pm

I’ve seen Capiot’s name in the results. He and Maxime Farazijn are both the sons of ex-pros, Johan Capiot and Peter Farazijn. As for Van Hecke surely he’s got a giant target/follow-me sign on his back with the Belgian champion’s jersey?

Richard S February 26, 2016 at 2:27 pm

I think Gilbert is more likely than GVA. I reckon it will come down to a pretty small group and I’d be surprised if they both missed it.

Titch February 26, 2016 at 1:31 pm

The cycling season only truly begins when Inrng previews Omloop Het Nieuwsblad…

Megi February 26, 2016 at 7:15 pm

I second that. Interesting decision by the organisers to choose the World Champion for No 1 in the absence of the defending champion. Will that further inspire Etixx Quickstep, who must still be smarting from placing 2nd, 3rd and 4th last year?

PT February 27, 2016 at 12:25 pm

Don’t you mean MotoGP season?

Ablindeye February 26, 2016 at 1:36 pm

I’m going to go with Benoot, good form and he should be fully motivated to make an early mark.

Richard February 26, 2016 at 2:23 pm

To be nerdy in a non cycling kind of way, it’s regression to the mean you are after, not any kind of converse to the law of large numbers. Great preview as always.

Dr Manhattan February 26, 2016 at 2:28 pm

Does Direct Energie actually have a Belgian version of their jersey?

The Inner Ring February 26, 2016 at 6:03 pm
Richard S February 26, 2016 at 2:32 pm

With regard to Jens Debusschere, how is his name supposed to be properly pronounced? Is it Jens Debu-skerra or Debu-share? I can see how it could be both! Does it just depend on if you’re saying it from the Flemish/Dutch or Wallonian/French side of things?

Marcel February 26, 2016 at 2:46 pm

The ch is not pronounced I believe, and all the e’s are pronounced ‘uh’, so it’s something like Duh-buh-suh-ruh.

Anonymous February 26, 2016 at 6:26 pm
AK February 26, 2016 at 9:39 pm

It’s a Flemish name of a Flemish rider so how it is pronounced in Wallonia is about as relevant as how it’s pronounced in Beijing.

Cillian Kelly February 26, 2016 at 2:49 pm

“Nobody has ever won this race and the Tour of Flanders in the same year, ditto with Paris-Roubaix”

Not true of Paris Roubaix. Three guys have won Het Volk and Paris-Roubaix in the same year.
2000 – Johan Museeuw
1995 – Franco Ballerini
1973 – Eddy Merckx (surprise, surprise)

But it’s definitely true of Het Volk and the Tour of Flanders. It’s happened 17 times that a rider has finished on the podium of both in the same year, but nobody has ever won both in the same year.

The Inner Ring February 26, 2016 at 5:45 pm

I’ll go and fix the Roubaix bit. In a way that ruins the “stale” argument about riders not being able to manage winning from now until April given Roubaix is a week further on than Flanders.

DMC February 26, 2016 at 6:08 pm

The stale argument is still valid, it’s only happened 3 times in history!

noel February 26, 2016 at 3:17 pm

getting goosebomps already…..

I’d like to see Daniel Oss getting a look in between Gilbert and GVA. Can’t knock GVA’s amazing consistency though…

Andy Fenn anyone?

and I’ll be watching out for Mitch Docker from now on – loving his podcasts….

The Inner Ring February 26, 2016 at 6:04 pm

Quinziato is in great shape too with an excellent TT in Qatar but the preview above is 2,000 words already. I chopped Fenn out because he seems to be going into the domestique role rather than being the promising sprinter he started out as. A bit like Blythe at Tinkoff too.

Will February 27, 2016 at 11:52 am

+1 for the Mitch Docker podcast – great snapshot into the life of a pro.

Gervais February 26, 2016 at 3:26 pm

Quickstep will attack early on the muur. Martin, Boonen and Terpstra will make the move,Vandenbergh will be left behind to mark any counter attack because he was so good at reeling back Terpstra last year .
Panzerwagen for the win

Ecky Thump February 26, 2016 at 3:36 pm

It has to be Etixx this year.
Look at the team they’ve got out.
The Belgians will have all the tricks to break up the pack and I think that race radios will be to their advantage also.
Vandenbergh can bust it open and I think Martin will be used similarly, as a lieutenant for Boonen / Terpstra.

Kristoff may be in good nick Inner Ring but he’s going to come under massive sustained pressure.
It will be interesting to see if the Aussies can handle it too, coming off good form likewise.

DMC February 26, 2016 at 5:05 pm

Yeah, might be the tail end of good form for some of the aussies! Must be tough for them to have good form during their summer in December-February, and then keep any form going for the Classics.

channel_zero February 26, 2016 at 9:23 pm

It has to be Etixx this year.

…Every year since at least the 1990’s with Patrick Lefevere.

The exact reason why I enjoy this sport so much is the strongest team doesn’t always sweep the podium. (Let’s pretend P-R Mapei didn’t happen…)

channel_zero February 26, 2016 at 5:50 pm

It might be a little early for a Stybar to podium in 2016. I’m hoping he’s let off team duties in the next few weeks.

Bag Pus February 26, 2016 at 7:53 pm

Shame Dimension Data are not riding

Jan February 26, 2016 at 10:58 pm

I agree! Boasson-Hagen has been looking strong this year!

Matt February 26, 2016 at 9:23 pm

I was told last year while over watching the Ronde by a wiley old local that Tiesj Benoot would become the next Boonen. Tiesj Benoot it is then.

Bag Pus February 27, 2016 at 3:30 pm

50k to go and the wily Belgian looks like he knows what he’s talking about

Etixx and Katusha will be hunting the break down mind you

AK February 26, 2016 at 9:51 pm

Ah, de Omloop is here finally. To me it’s always a bit special, more than Gent-Wevelgem or some of the other non-monument races in the area. And always hard to call because there are always some top classics riders that decide not to target this race. And some that do, along with a lot of others who are also strong in this terrain.

Dai Bank February 27, 2016 at 9:51 am

I, too, have a bit if a feeling that Benoot will feature but givven his RVV result will he feel that the curse needs respect and will hold back for a month.

Matt February 27, 2016 at 11:03 am

Or the reverse with Benoot riding all out at Omloop. He has the time to do well in all the races why not early on in this season? Ill be watching online.

J Evans February 27, 2016 at 11:05 am

It would be nice to see Benoot choosing (or being allowed) not to focus on only either the cobbled or the hilly classics, in the future, but his team is already talking that way. Seems like he could be good at both – why not go for it? Same with Sagan – disappointing that he has never tried LBL.

If Boonen falters this season, I think Stybar (and maybe even Trentin as an outside punt – good sprint) might be E-QS’s best bet. He’s got a better kick than the others in the team, aside from Keisse, who has never shown particular classics form.

Ecky Thump February 27, 2016 at 11:48 am

Neither Stybar nor Trentin are racing this weekend or do you mean generally?
Etixx look slightly light on sprint finishes, hence Kristoff’s tag as favourite.
I don’t know if it’s sentimentalism but I’ve got a feeling Etixx will bring Boonen home today, then Kristoff will mop up tomorrow.

lefthandside February 27, 2016 at 4:53 pm

Great mix of established names and up and comers in the final select bunch. Good old GvA.

J Evans February 27, 2016 at 4:58 pm

At last. Let’s hope he can now win a really big one.
Sagan’s positioning in the sprint was poor as usual but GVA was evidently the strongest.
Rowe wasted precious energy by – a number of times – forcing Gougeard to chase. (The other three were happy to let Gougeard sit at the back, as he was clearly shattered, having been in the break.) Each time he did this, Rowe himself lost momentum as he had to pause and then chase after Gougeard, whilst the others circulated in front of Gougeard, keeping their rhythm each time.
I know the jostling for the gutter is part of it, but I’d still like to see them forced to ride on the cobbles on the Taaienberg.

Ecky Thump February 27, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Rowe ran out of food and drink. He was searching his pockets in vain at 19km out, and then even motioned to Gougeard for a drink at 10km. Bad mistake.
Well done to GVA, and well done to Inner Ring too for the prediction.

Talking of mistakes, what to make of Etixx?
They were a non-entity, and totally missed the move on the Taaienberg.
That has to be the poorest Spring race I’ve seen them ride.
Much worse than last year.

DMC February 27, 2016 at 5:42 pm

That was a pretty good showing by Etixx compared to last year I think. Last year was an epic failure, this year was a training ride for them, gearing up for the big races later on!

DMC February 27, 2016 at 5:44 pm

Nobody in recent years has won the Omloop and then had a great spring, so for the all the top riders to keep their kegs dry was smart!

J Evans February 27, 2016 at 5:52 pm

‘Ran out of food and drink’ is one of those excuses I never really buy – it just seems too much of a novice error to be true; certainly considering the number of times it’s trotted out. (I was watching in Flemish, so I’ve no idea who said what.)
It’s early days to be worrying about E-QS.

Ecky Thump February 27, 2016 at 6:25 pm

I watched it on Sporza too.
But when your blood sugar falls away, that’s game over and for a rider with a finish like Rowe it’s no wonder he was trying to save any he had left at the back of the group.

Etixx were shockingly lame.
I don’t see them winning tomorrow and, if so, that would not be the start to the Classics Season they’d have wished.

Megi February 27, 2016 at 5:09 pm

Belgian cyclist wins after rider attacks on the Taaienberg and takes the winning quartet away with him. I wouldn’t want to be on the Etixx Quickstep bus right now. But oh to be on the BMC bus with Van Avermaet.

DMC February 27, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Anyone else really impressed with Alexis Gougeard?!?

22 year-old Frenchmen (kid) was in the break all day, and then stayed with the World Champ, GVA, et al. all the way towards the end, and then did them all a service by leading out the sprint (and in doing so, keeping the leaders away from the peloton). Really impressive ride!

J Evans February 27, 2016 at 6:07 pm

Yep, had the good sense at the end to make sure he kept 5th, knowing he wasn’t going to get any higher.

Anonymous February 27, 2016 at 6:06 pm

Good for GVA, but Sagan is developing into a Monster of a rider; this result on what was really just a training day. Fun race to watch.

STS February 27, 2016 at 7:53 pm

“No suncream. No sand. No sheikhs. No skyscrapers. No seafront esplanades. Welcome to Belgium… ”

Thanks for that. The quote of the week for me 🙂 .

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