Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Preview

It’s Friday and here comes the openingsweekend. No more desert(ed) highways, the spring classics season begins with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, for years a rival to the Tour of Flanders and now more of a partner event, a curtain-raiser to the spring classics season. Here’s a preview of the Omloop, look out for the Kuurne preview later this weekend.

The Route: 200km. 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.

Again it’s back to the future with the route embracing the old Tour of Flanders route for the final 60km, a 2001 race odyssey with the Muur-Bosberg combo in the final. To get there 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 feels 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 and the finish is flat.

The Contenders

Greg Van Avermaet has won before and while others like to build up to the bigger classics in April, GVA seems to go all in from the start. His team’s changed name to CCC and the exodus of riders has been significant but on paper he’s got plenty of strong support with Guillaume Van Keirsbulk and Łukasz Wiśniowski. To win he’ll have to force a move clear and win in the sprint, a big ask but he’s done it here before.

Matteo Trentin is the rational pick, if races often end in a sprint then he’s a safe pick. He’s a versatile sprinter, not the fastest in the bunch but able to get over the climbs in a better state than others leaving fresh for the sprint and he’s shown this with recent wins. Mitchelton-Scott can play other cards with Luke Durbridge but will surely plan to contain the race and ensure Trentin gets to the kopgroep.

Deceuninck-Quickstep are the team to beat this weekend as well as to spell correctly. Tim Declercq and Florian Sénéchal look like workhorses and the team will surely deploy their tactic of sending two or more riders into the moves in the final hour to ensure they’ve got multiple options for the finish. Zdeněk Štybar has found winning ways this season after a long drought. Philippe Gilbert has won this race back in 2006 and 2008 and is in form now but may prefer a supporting role in order to demand help for bigger classics to come. Yves Lampaert is strong but is the race hard enough for him, he’s a bit of a diesel and needs to get away solo or in a small group. All together it’s a strong team but there’s no one leader you’d bet on.

Lotto-Soudal deploy the attacking tandem of Tiesj Benoot and Tim Wellens who can enliven many a race but can they win? The team is a fixture of the cobbled classics but rarely win, they have only a one win in an HC-rated or higher cobbled classic this decade. Jens Keukeleire can cover for a sprint too.

Lutsenko, Tour of Oman

Astana have had a strong start to the season and Alexey Lutsenko has four wins already this season and if the race had an uphill finish it would suit him perfectly but he’s also powerful enough to go solo in the final stages. His problem is experience, he’s only ridden this race once. Magnus Cort brings options for the sprint too and Davide Ballerini is a talent set to explore the Flanders countryside.

Team Sky lose Luke Rowe to illness but Dylan van Baarle is one to watch although he seems suited to harder races yet to come. Two time race winner Ian Stannard returns, confoundingly only 31 years old despite a long career but absent from the podium since third place in the 2016 Paris-Roubaix.

Last year’s winner Michael Valgren returns and should be a contender. He won in part thanks to his raw power and a well timed counter-attack but also thanks to Astana’s strength in numbers last year. Dimension Data have a decent team with Julien Vermote for a long range move and Edvald Boasson Hagen and Giacomo Nizzolo for a sprint.

Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) has found winning ways again thanks to a stage win in the Tour du Haut-Var and crucially he made the top-10 in the Etoile de Bessèges TT stage which suggests he’s in form. A winner in his debut pro season he’s now turned 30 and comes with a team of veterans including previous winner Sebastian Langeveld.

Ag2r La Mondiale need a result and Oliver Naesen is their leader and had a strong Tour of Oman but as ever, like Sep Vanmarcke, the alchemy of form into victory is the hardest part. Team mate Silvan Dillier looks strong and Alexis Gougeard is good for the early breakaway but as ever their problem is turning breakaways into wins.

Arnaud Démare is a potential winner is sick and won’t start. Stefan Küng is a good recruit for Groupama-FDJ and can toil for Démare or barge clear on his own.

Trek-Segafredo have three candidates in Jasper Stuyven, Mads Pedersen and Edward Theuns but how to win. They’ll have to force a small move clear.

Wout van Aert is a wildcard factor for Jumbo-Visma, once again he got thrashed by Mathieu van der Poel in the cross season but that didn’t stop him having an exceptional “debut” on the road last spring. Danny van Poppel is handy for a sprint too.

Team Sunweb have in-form Søren Kragh Andersen and the untested Michael Matthews who has yet to race this season but presumably hasn’t come to work on his tan and returns to the race where he started his season last year too… and promptly broke his shoulder, so just completing the course would be a start but he’s a rider who picks off quality wins and is versatile, able to infiltrate breakaways, go solo or win sprints.

Katusha have Jens Debusschere for a sprint and then several breakaway options with giant Nils Politt and the promising Mads Wurtz Schmidt but a much needed result – they’re languishing on the UCI rankings below some Pro Conti teams – looks a hard ask. Similarly Bora-Hansgrohe bring Sagan… Juraj Sagan that is (pronounced “you-rye”) with Peter staying away. Instead Pascal Ackermann is the leader, useful for the sprint… in Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne perhaps with Daniel Oss and Jempy Drucker as ones to watch. UAE-Emirates Jasper Philipsen is the “new Tom Boonen” according to some headlines, largely because he’s won a race this season and hails from the same corner of the country as Boonen. Bahrain-Merida’s best bet is Sonny Colbrelli. He’s one to watch because of a quick sprint but remains an outsider. Niki Terpstra is one to watch, to see how he fares as a team leader. Jimmy Janssens has had a decent start to the season, Cofidis bring sprint firepower with Christophe Laporte and Hugo Hofstetter.

Matteo Trentin, Greg Van Avermaet
Sep Vanmarcke
Alexey Lutsenko, Zdeněk Štybar, Michael Valgren
Oliver Naesen, Philippe Gilbert, Dylan van Baarle, Yves Lampaert
Stuyven, Van Aert, Cort, Matthews, Colbrelli, Laporte

Weather (updated Saturday morning): morning rain will clear to leave damp roads. It’ll be cool and cloudy with a 20-25km/h wind from the south-west. This means a crosswind for the last 40km but a gentle one, enough to exploit at times but not strong enough to tear the peloton to pieces. The final portion to Ninove has a tailwind.

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 11.35am CET and coverage on VRT/Sporza begins at 1.30pm with the finish forecast for 4.40pm Euro time.

Women’s Race: this starts at 11.45am and finishes at 3.20pm and uses the same final 60km as the men’s route. New for 2019 is there’s a promised livestream and there’s a good preview at

When does the 2019 season start? As calendar subscribers know the factual answer is the 23 October 2018 with the Tour of Hainan. It’s the openingsweekend in Belgium so for Belgians, a cycling mad country, this is the start for them. There may be other races on TV before, but here the sport comes to them with millions in earshot of the “ro-dan-i-a” call.

29 thoughts on “Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Preview”

  1. INRNG, do you reckon Wout van Aert can Build on his performances from last year? I was surprised that you didn’t mention him.

  2. Despite the REAL racing season still 3 weeks away I’ll be very happy to watch guys racing bikes on terrain that doesn’t look like the Tour of Las Vegas!!! That stuff is like watching paint dry..or perhaps more accurately, watching sand blow? And of course that’s if the TV director can manage to show guys on bicycles rather than the “scenery” shots of piles of sand, ghastly skyscrapers or barren mountains. I’ve either turned it off entirely or watched later when I could skip to the last few kilometers each day.

    • Do you ever get bored of repeating yourself year after year? It’s sure boring reading it. Can’t you just enjoy the racing without sneering?

      • I think I wrote “I’ll be very happy to watch guys racing bikes on terrain that doesn’t look like the Tour of Las Vegas!!!” Sorry if that’s not positive or rah-rah enough for you. How ’bout me being excited about Strade Bianche next week to the point I plan to go see it live and MSR’s only three weeks from now. Is that OK?
        Finally- if you dislike my comments so much why not just scroll past them instead of acting like the RonDe of 2019?

        • How about not making them in the first place, we all know you’re raging about bike racing happening outside western Europe and before March, save yourself the calories and us the mouse scrolling and keep your kvetching to yourself, eh? RonDe has more interesting things to say than you.

          I’m personally looking forward to the old Ronde finish in OHN, hopefully it’s selective but if not I’ll be happy for Matteo Trentin to win.

    • Why do you say it starts in 3 weeks though? Do you think Omloop+KBK weekend doesn’t deserve to be the opener? Have you been to these races? Anyone that dares to race in those conditions is well respected in Belgium and crowds of thousands of conaiseurs are better than hundreds of thousands of drunks that gather for the better known races. Oh and the VIP arrangements the bigger events employ are so far away from the essence of this sport…

  3. Start of the season proper just about to go and get Belgium beer and diary has been cleared for the weekend.

    Quite surprised to Van Der Poel not making a start he’s had a Stella “Cross season, or is he waiting for Flanders.

    Stunning preview for me it’s the best six weeks of the year in terms of racing.

  4. For me this is the start of the cycling season. Not Omloop, Inrng’s preview to Omloop. I couldn’t care less about the Australian and Middle Eastern races but I’m all in now.

  5. can Benoot and Van Aert push on from their Strade Bianchi exploits this year? – maybe they need the weather to be a bit messier than predicted on Saturday. Would like to see the young guns step up though, can’t believe Gilbert won it 13 yrs ago, and is still a contender…


    I’m sorry for the childish comment. But I can’t contain this pure happiness.

  7. I woke up this morning turned to my girlfriend and said ‘Yay! Omloop!’
    She replied ‘Omelette?’
    To which, I responded (and this needed no further explanation) ‘Cobbles, cobbles, cobbles.’

  8. A tasty antipasto for the coming season! Action all the way through with attacks, crashes, wheel changes, etc. And we get a primo piatto next week with Strade Bianche before the first main course (secondo piatto) of the season three weeks from today.

Comments are closed.