Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Preview

Greg Van Avermaet, Omloop 2016

The season goes up a notch with the start of the cobbled classics this Saturday and racing that supplies action for hours rather thanks to the tricky course and the ferocity of the peloton as it twists around the Flemish countryside. More than ever the Omloop is a mini Tour of Flanders and all the better for it.

The Route: 196km. A start in Gent outside the Kuipke velodrome and then the first 30km head roughly south-east meaning instant crosswinds (see “weather” below). After 60km the road starts snaking all over the place meaning one minute a crosswind, the next a headwind and so knowing the route from here on is crucial. It’s here the cobbled difficulties begin with the first of three passages over the long and exposed Haaghoek pavé before the asphalted Leberg climb, 6% average but with 14% early on. Onto the feedzone and the TV coverage should pick up from here with another loop to the Haaghoek-Leberg combo.

It’s back to the future with the route embracing the old Tour of Flanders route for the final 60km, a 2001 a race odyssey. This means no Taaienberg, the climb where Tom Boonen always attacked to test his legs and where the race would often split apart. Instead the Wolvenberg is hard, tarmac but it reaches 19%. The Jagerij cobbles have suburban feel, lined by houses and not too rough. The Molenberg is iconic, look for the TV shots of the windmill but for the riders the rough cobbles are selective.

The third passage over the Haaghoek and Leberg should be decisive. There’s still 41km to go and a tarmac trifecta of the Berendries, Valkenberg and Tenbosse brings us to the moneytime moment with the Muur van Geraardsbergen, also known as the Kapelmuur. After a hard start roared on by the crowds they enter the woodland section which is steep and brutal and the pavé feel medieval before rounding the bend to the chapel. The final climb is the Bosberg, 1.35km which is long for a climb in Flanders and just 5% average and almost in one long straight line. It doesn’t sound hard but in the old Tour of Flanders it was after 240km and the final straw for some and a launchpad to victory for others. This time it comes after 185km and may not be as decisive, we could see some cagey riders hanging on with others reluctant to attack for fear of being brought back. There’s 12km to go.

The Finish: north into Meerbeke and under the flamme rouge. There’s a wide right hand bend and 500m into a headwind before another right-hander and a slight uphill finish.

The Contenders

Greg Van Avermaet Oman
Greg Van Avermaet is the prime pick. He has won this race for the last two years, he has a strong team riding in his service and he’s in great shape too. To expand on this his two past wins have seen him make the selection from far out and then confidently win the sprint. His BMC Racing team are strong with Jürgen Roelandts, Stefan Kung and Jempy Drucker possible outsiders if BMC have to play other cards. As for the form, watch the video of the last kilometre of Stage 3 in the Tour of Oman as GVA just rides the field off his wheel, exhibiting the kind of power which he can use in the sprint or to force a selection over the pavé. Better still for him he can afford to lose this race because the Tour of Flanders in April is the big goal.

Next come Quick Step. The shrink down to seven riders per team means more than ever you wonder who is on bottle duty because on their day all Quick Steppers can win. Dries Devenyns and Iljo Keisse are the probable domestiques. On paper Philippe Gilbert wins is the leader because of seniority but Quick Step’s tactic is to throw riders forward into the final phase of the race and win by numerical superiority rather than line up for one rider… although this doesn’t always work. Gilbert looks to be in good shape following several close results and has won this race twice. Fernando Gaviria could be in for a shock in the cold and besides it normally takes a few years to learn these roads although his performances in Sanremo show he’s a fast learner. Zdeněk Štybar has the experience but not the trophies, he’s still hunting for a big classics win but showed good form in last week’s Tour of the Algarve. Yves Lampaert and Niki Terpstra bring yet more options.

Astana have had a strong start to the season. They seem more orientated to stage races but Alexey Lutsenko is a versatile rider, he’s just won on the green mountain and won an uphill finish in the Vuelta last year but was also on the podium in Dwars Door Vlaanderen. Magnus Cort Nielsen (pictured) is more than a sprinter and fellow Scandinavians Michael Valgren and Truls Korsaeth bring more to the table.

A few years ago Ag2r La Mondiale were among the whipping boys of the spring classics, in 2012 they had to wait until late May to take their first victory of the season. Now with Oliver Naesen they’re serious contenders for the spring classics. Naesen was a revelation last year and is back for more and the straight-talker says he’s feeling better and his training numbers prove it. He’s got a broken nose which can’t help on the cobbles but he says it doesn’t bother him. The team go up a level in support too with new recruit Sylvan Dillier and if it means they’re strong in the classics it’s good for their habitual Tour de France ambitions too given the opening week with its coastal chaos and the team time trial. Alexis Gougeard is a perpetual breakaway contender too. How does Naesen win? By brute force, the harder the race the better.

Sep Vanmarcke

EF-Drapac bring a strong squad too with Sep Vanmarcke praying for the law of averages. He’s been so strong in recent years only for a broken shoe here, planting his front wheel into a betonweg crack there and many more mishaps have left him with a near-blank palmarès after winning the Omloop as a neo-pro back in 2012. His luck has to turn at some point and he’s got a good squad in support with Mitchell Docker, Sebastian Langeveld and Matti Breschel bringing a lot of experience.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad podium, 2016

Lotto-Soudal have three options with Tiesj Benoot, Tim Wellens and new recruit Jens Keukeleire but the win is hard to see. Both Benoot and Wellens seem increasingly adept in stage races but they’ve also proved their worth in the classics and should enliven the race, Benoot in particular made the podium here in 2016 as a neo-pro still attending university.

Edvald Boasson Hagen is 30 now and has gone from great hope to disappointment and now has “mercurial” status, capable of winning a Tour de France stage but equally his best result in the classics last year was a modest 19th in Sanremo; in 2016 he was fifth in Paris-Roubaix. The cold weather, the hard course and his reliable sprint – he pushed Marcel Kittel to a photo finish last July when nobody else came close – still make him a pick with Di Data team mate Scott Thwaites a strong rider too.

Mitchelton-Scott have a strong classics team too but how can they win? Matteo Trentin is a good pick to sprint from a small group while Luke Durbridge has the horsepower to ride into contention.

Trek-Segafredo are in a transition year. They lost out in the bidding for a grand tour contender last autumn but can keep their powder dry for bidding this spring. In the meantime their classics team has promise with Jasper Stuyven as the captain capable of delivering a big win and some podiums. Mads Pedersen as one to watch while Giacomo Nizzolo and Fabio Felline are fast-finishing outsiders.

Team Sunweb have just taken their first win of 2018 and it’ll be hard to repeat this in Belgium. They have Michael Matthews opening his season so his form is unknown while Søren Kragh Andersen and Edward Theuns could figure but had a discreet Tour of Oman.

Arnaud Démare is capable of winning a cobbled classic but perhaps a flatter one but his form is there and the cold isn’t usually a problem for him. Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne surely suits him and his FDJ train more and if he’s out of contention on Saturday he could shut things down to save for the next day.

Bora-Hansgroge look like orphans without Peter Sagan but all the more reason to get stuck in before they’re back to being butlers for the World Champion. Team Sky bring a young squad with new recruit Dylan Van Baarle their best bet. Katusha-Alpecin also bring the young riders without an obvious leader but watch Mads Würtz Schmidt.

Bahrain’s been in the news this week for jailing a dissident for his tweets so they’ll hope Sonny Colbrelli can bring them more positive press coverage and he’s got a good sprint and copes well with the cold but is not the most enterprising rider to get in the moves.

Finally eight teams have wildcards but taking on the established teams is a big ask. Among all the others Guillaume Van Keirsbulck found winning ways with Wanty-Gobert last year. Sean De Bie has won for Verandas Willems this year and team mate Stijn Devolder is still racing aged 38 but all eyes will be on Wout Van Aert, the new cyclo-cross World Champion. He could be in form but he could equally be turning stale.

Greg Van Avermaet
Quick Step, Sep Vanmarcke, Oliver Naesen
Jasper Stuyven, Matteo Trentin, Tiesj Benoot
Edvald Boasson Hagen, Tim Wellens
WVA, Terpstra, Lutsenko, Roelandts, Keukeleire, Matthews, Cort Nielsen, Colbrelli

Weather: sunny and very cold. Much of Europe is about to get blasted by icy air and it’ll be 4°C at most on Saturday, expect to see riders with gloves, leg warmers and more. This is normal and the race has been snowed off in the past. There will be a 25km/h wind gusting to 37km/h coming from the north-east. As a rule 30km/h is sufficient to split a race up in crosswinds.

TV: Belgium’s Sporza is the local channel behind the production and worth watching. Even if you don’t speak Flemish you’ll still get plenty of what’s going on and after watching a few times you’ll pick up terms. Otherwise it’s on Eurosport across much of Europe.

The race starts at 11.45am CET and coverage on VRT/Sporza begins at 1.30pm with the finish forecast for 4.30pm Euro time.

Women’s Race: this starts at 11.55am and finishes at 3.20pm and uses the same final 60km as the men’s route. It’s not on TV (but the women’s Tour of Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem will be live) but the TV might cut to the finish line to show the finish. Velonews have a good preview online.

48 thoughts on “Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Preview”

  1. Yes, bring it on! Either it will be an epic race in tough conditions on a historic parcours, or it will be bore-fest with all the peloton’s most powerful legs stricken with fear and cold…

  2. A couple of years ago or so, Spain sent directly to jail for some five days two puppeteers because *within the narrative of their show* (intradiegetic, if you get what I mean) a placard appeared on scene displying the words “Gora-Alka-ETA”. That was enough to spend some days and nights behind the bars.
    It’s now all over the news that a rapper was sentenced to three and a half years of jail because of his “offensive lyrics” (written at 17 or so). Most of the latter are even mild in the context of such a musical genre, but they name the Royal Family or political personalities.
    The lead voice of another music band was also sentenced to jail (one year) for twitting, mainly about the ETA bomb attack which killed… one of the minister of Franco’s dictatorship!

    After the right-wing government passed in 2015 the so called “Ley Mordaza” or “Gag Law” (against comical gags? Or as laughable as a comedy sketch? That too, I guess – but what I mean is: shutting mouths) which seriously restricted freedom of expression – the official name is “Law for the Security of Citizens” – this sort of espisodes are more and more common.

    Also note that people can be fined up to *tens of thousands* of euros just for protesting near public buildings or private houses of political figures (“disturbance”). Sometimes even in case of authorised demonstrations! And fines can be as high as *hundreds of thousands* of euros if the protest is spontaneous and in specific sites. No image of security forces can be made public without their consent(!) – press included, obviously. The decision to fine is up to the police forces on the ground which can make them immediatley effective at their discretion (while any appeal is especially expensive, lenghty and doesn’t stop as such the execution of the fine). I’ve seen it happen in person, *random people* being IDd and fined 1,000 euros for *just being there* during a protest (and she was an old lady!, come on); or up to 600 € for wondering on Facebook if the “lazy” municipal police really needed the planned “new building”, bigger than the national police’s or the department of social services.
    Jail is worse – and jail can happen, too, as the above examples show – but fines can be even more damaging, because they can be used constantly and they pretty much escape any court supervision since the police calls them and then you need to appeal through the administrative channel.

    Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Press Institute expressed serious concerns and the NYT wrote about Spain falling “back to the dark days of the Franco regime” with a law which “has no place in a democratic nation”.

    Back on topic: I just hope that cycling will be further fostered in Spain to balance the bad press!

    Not saying that Bahrain is good (maybe only ’cause Nibali rides there ^__^), not at all, but sometimes it’s easier to see things which go wrong far from the safe European home, while we prefer to forget what’s happening in our countries, where – if we are aware – we might even have more opportunities to challenge this sort of situations.
    Ops, I suppose that J Evans will stop watching the Vuelta, now 🙂

    • Nah, J Evans still watches races in Britain, even though he deplores what his own government does. One has to draw the line where one feels is appropriate and reasonable: there is nowhere that that placing can actually be justified. If I was to boycott watching races from countries whose governments I disapproved of I wouldn’t be watching any races.

      As for the race, I hope Sep Vanmarcke can live up to his potential and escape the worst of his luck this year, so he’s my tip for the race.

    • Not that I don’t agree with your comments on the Ley Mordanza, but I am not really sure to understand what this brings in the context of this cycling blog???

      • It was intended to be a quick remark about the Bahrain line by inrng and rapidly went out of control 😉

        Please note that I think it’s totally fair to remind us all where the money comes from, it could even be seen as a way to manage the ethical predicament of needing to cover cycling teams while at the same time not contributing in the cyclewashing of some regimes.

        All the same, it stroke me how Bahrain sending someone to jail for a tweet makes the general news, raising indignation – and from there even gets to a specialistic website; whereas Spain is repeatedly doing the same without pretty much anyone getting worried in Europe.

        If we can feel prompted to react to Bahrain’s abuse, be it only sharing a pun on a cycling website everytime the country is named, we also might be if the same is happening in… a core cycling country, which is both culturally and geographically much closer to us all (those of us who are in Europe, I mean).

        Obviously, I’m not going to take advantage of every single remark about Bahrain or Israel or whatever to drive the attention on this sort of serious situation we tend to neglect, although – or because – they’re closer (also note that most institutions and media reacting to Ley Mordaza where really USA based).
        I just felt that, from time to time, it’s opportune to balance the “otherness” effect which news about Bahrain, Russia, Latin America and so on may have on us: as if the problem only lied “down there”, south or east of something.
        If this sort of things *really* worries us, it’s time to look around in our countries, where we might be able to get organised and seriously try to *change* ’em instead of (rightfully) raising our eyebrows about Bahrain censorship (which is also fine, feel assured about it). Under this specific respect it’s not like we’re doing much better than Bahrain , *even if* “our” countries also enjoy a lot of subtler ways to exercise greater control and factual censorhip.
        And don’t get me started about torture…

  3. “2001 a race odyssey” – very good. Anyway, it’s hard to see past GVA given his current form and past victories here but he’s everyone’s favourite I’m sure. For an outside bet I’ll go Trentin. SVM looked good in Andalusia but Omloop isn’t quite hard enough for him, although he’s my outside pick for Flanders.

  4. I’m very interested to see what Wout van Aert can do. I’d might be a bit too much to ask for him to mix it in the finale with the big boys of Belgian racing. It’s hard to see past GVA but it’s possible Quick Step can mark him out if it without Sagan to worry about. I’m hoping for a brutal race and a proper hard man winner. Can’t wait.

    • I think Wout can do it,maybe not win but he will be there,he has a Belgian team working for him,
      His engine is huge and the finish suits him.he’s saying that he’s there to try the classics to see if he will like it, last time He tried something to see how it felt he raced the elite field at 19 in jaarmatkcross Niel and totally destroyed everyone but Sven.maybe i’m Wrong but I think he is the real deal.

  5. Last edition of OHN to be held in conditions like this was 2013 won by Paolini in a 2 up sprint with Vandenburgh. Seem to remember the finish was pretty dull as the small group behind just gave up chasing. Hope we get a few more fireworks tomorrow, the rain seems to bring out the best in the race, think 2011, 2014 both really good editions

    • Paolini won in part because of Quick Step, with Vandenbergh up front they were reluctant to chase even if he was always likely to get outsprinted. Vandenbergh is said to be getting stronger again after health issues from a big crash.

  6. Man, this moment when I was reading the heading “The Contenders”, this was really the moment I sat up and noticed: the season really started for me. Here we are, enjoying cycling through INRNG’s race previews again!

    It might be still a bit too cold to wear the INRNG jersey this Sunday, but I’ll wear it as soon as I can!

    • Agreed. More generally, it will be interesting to watch a northern classic without Sagan to animate the race. He was certainly frustrated last season that Quickstep and GVA’s tactics seemed to be solely in response to him. Understandably, you have to watch the strongest man in the race (Sagan), but it’s also nice when teams make their own moves. Looking forward to Omloop!

      • I think we’ll see Lotto-Soudal use their cards (and this time it’s not Griepel in the break)… that should keep things interesting if BMC and Quickstep will just be watching each other.

        Wellens is a curious pick… obviously he has been favourited for Ardennes classics in the past given his success on punchy uphill finishes… the win in Ruta del Sol shows more of a GC orientation than cobbled classics. He has the form, but not the pedigree or experience of someone like GvA in a race like this, where it may be more about how to hide in the wheels on critical windy sections saving energy, than just using explosive power on the Muur after 185km.

        Curious to see how van Baarle does… with a set of SKY domestiques at his disposal.. but maybe too early for all these guys, who will be eyeing Flanders rather than a win here signing a peak too early.

    • His program is skipping opening weekend apparently having interupted San Remo preparations in last few seasons by getting sick in the colder Belgian weather.

    • He resumed training soon after but it’ll be a setback for sure, he’s probably better suited to Paris-Roubaix or taking his chances in a semi-classic. The team say he’s got a free role, ie they’re backing him and he’s not fetching bottles and clothing.

  7. Looking forward to seeing what Dylan Van Baarle can do. And also think that Arnaud Demaure might surprise people.

    Can’t wait for the classics to begin! Viva le cyclisme.

  8. Any idea why Degenkolb isn’t in Trek’s lineup? He isn’t racing in Abu Dhabi and he isn’t injured…so where is he? For a two time monument winner he really has disappeared from the classics after that training crash.

  9. Just reading womens preview on and it refers to the womens race being live in full and not geo-restricted at
    Linky not working owing to my fatfingers not pressing the right buttons on my android device. Sorry but trying to do that while watching a dire rugby union match between France and Italy is beyond me…

  10. Cannot wait for the race tomorrow – the first which I will endeavor to watch live. Thus, the race will also be a bit disorienting to me, as I start the process of getting accustomed to the riders’ new teams. Among others, I expect it will take me quite a while to get used to seeing Matteo Trentin in colors other than those of Quick Step; Dylan van Baarle in Sky colors (doubly disorienting, as I’m still getting accustomed to their white jerseys); and Edward Theuns not wearing the red and black of Trek-Segafredo. Lots more beyond them, too…

  11. I agree with the general scenario of Quick Step v GVA / BMC, and also the point above about Sagan’s absence.
    The defining Spring-long theme last year was Quick Step’s and Sagan, and GVA very cleverly profited from this, I feel.
    It took Quick Step up to De Ronde to really get to grips with Sagan, and it was the aggressive tactic of putting strong riders in breaks (using rotated attacks too) that was finally used with most success.
    I’m looking for more of the same tomorrow. Terpstra and Gaviria could be key.

  12. Maybe I missed something, but nobody speaks about Degenkolb and Kristoff. Some years ago they were the next big thing for Flanders and spring classics (with convincing wins). Of course I know about the Degenkolb “crash” in Spain, but he has had time to revover by now, hasn’t he? Don’t they participate?

    • Kristoff is fine-honing his form in Abu Dhabi; after an apparently slow start of the season, he found his fast legs at the end of Oman and brought them to the other side of the Musandam peninsula.

      Degenkolb looked strong in Mallorca but then struggled in Dubai (Hatta Dam shoul have fitted) and Algarve.

      I don’t know how much Degenkolb might be actually affected by the consequences of that horror crash (all the training group hit frontally by a car), but what’s sure is that he’s one of those guys who then suffered permanent damage – on his index finger. Probably more relevant, he lost the second half of last season because of pneumonia. He forwarded winter training, probably meaning that he got a very early peak, now perhaps relaxing a bit in order to get back strongly when the big races are really on. He’ll be in Paris-Nice.

      • Thanks for all the details, most of them I ignored. I had not realized that deggie had had pneumonia last year.
        We will see whether both of them can come back to the level that made them win 2 monuments each.

  13. As always, many thanks for the preview.

    The phrase at the end ” the TV might cut to the finish line to show the finish” for the womens race sums up the terrible state of affairs for womens cycling. It’s not only lack of parity with mens cycling, but these races have a story unfolding over hours, and the actual finish is only a tiny part of it — so it’s more of a reminder of how sexist cycling remains than anything.

    I think we should compare with tennis, and always have it in mind of what cycling should be: there should *always* be the womens race alongside and discussed and filmed in the same way as the mens race throughout the season. It will take decades at the current rate of ‘progress’. The olympics and the worlds is the only time this happens. Why?

    Watching the film “battle of the sexes” about tennis in the early 70s one can’t help but think that this is cycling today: we’re as backward as that.

    And for fans of cycling: we could have two races today to watch and not just one!

  14. weeclarky,


    I don’t believe, “it’s more of a reminder of how sexist cycling remains than anything.”

    Rather: Maybe for every 100 fans following mens cycle races, there is a tiny percentage following women races. & all that’s related to that. In the U.S. there isn’t much interest or news even regarding mens cycle racing, so… There’s only so much attention span, money, sponsors; it’s not difficult to understand.

    I only have x amount of time & energy to devote toward spectating & I wish I knew more and would only spend more on mens cycling interests. I don’t believe I’m alone… If I’m going to follow cycling other than the mens pro tour, I’m going to check out pro continental mens racing… I’t not a conspiracy; it’s acknowledging marketing interest.

    My (very) limited thoughts.

    • I think this is a really important point – which actually to me illustrates why it’s so important to actively promote women’s cycling. I think it’s a reasonable assumption that had there not been pioneers in women’s tennis [say] pushing for parity, we would never see any of it today.

      Essentially, we know very well that people spend a lot of money promoting something, in order to turn people on to it [usually to make money]. After a while, it seems like it’s always been like that — in fact the Olympics is a brand promoted like that. But really, its very much a marketing decision a few people have taken.

      So, I think that the coverage isn’t just there to fill a demand — the design of it shapes opinion and changes what people are interested in.

      But the more I think about these things [and I’m a male cycling fan from the 80s], the more I see how utterly ridiculous the whole state of affairs is. And I hope it can change. It’s not right, and it’s not fair.

      • Hard not to wonder what might have been the result if the UCI, instead of shoving “Heinie’s Folly” down the throat of pro cycling, had come up with a plan to encourage/force the top teams to fund women’s teams under the same sponsorship? I listened this weekend to three different sets of TV (though they were all Italians) commentators go on about the insane costs of the sport and how pro cycling is just too expensive for the publicity value.
        It’s hard to believe that having women’s racing funded at a decent level could not improve this situation. Perhaps when they finally give up on the failing World Tour idea they’ll try something like this?

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