Feverish? Hot under the collar? Aching arms and legs? Hopefully it’s just because you’ve completed a recon ride over the cobbles and are all set for the openingsweekend. The spring classics start this weekend with the Omloop this Saturday, a tour of Flanders.
The Route: 200km from Gent to Ninove and largely the same as 2018 and 2019, this is the old Tour of Flanders course with a series of cobbled roads and steep climbs leading to the Kapelmuur and Bosberg climbs.
A start in Gent outside the Kuipke velodrome and then the first 30km head roughly south-east. After 60km the road starts snaking all over the place meaning one minute a crosswind, the next a headwind and knowing the route from here on is crucial. There are 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.
The route embraces the old Tour of Flanders route for the final 60km. The Wolvenberg is hard, it’s 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 is rough, even if it’s been remade of late. 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 and a final chance to break rivals. 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: Zdeněk Štybar won last year and repeat wins are quite a thing, ten times the winner one year has won the next. The Czech champ’s already won this year, just as he did last season before winning here. Deceuninck-Quickstep has lost some of its old stalwarts but new names emerge like Kasper Asgreen, while Yves Lampaert, Bob Jungels and Florian Sénéchal will be expected to deliver this spring. As ever the team has strong riders and will take turns to fire riders up the road but would you bet the ranch on one of them winning out of a small group? Sénéchal is handy while Jungels and Lampaert would probably prefer to get away by themselves which leaves Štybar as the most complete.
Greg Van Avermaet (CCC) is a safe pick for the podium but tends to place rather than win: a year ago when he was second here to Štybar. So far in 2020 he’s had quiet results but look more closely and he was hanging with the best climbers recently in the Algarve but the bad weather isn’t what he’d choose. Matteo Trentin is a good recruit as it will allow the pair to play off each other but the Italian has yet to win a spring classic of any sort but is due one soon.
Jumbo-Visma bring a strong team with Wout van Aert the star name but Mike Teunissen, Pascal Eenkhoorn and Amund Jansen bring weight to the team and pack a fast finish. Van Aert is versatile, look at the Dauphiné last year where he won a time trial one day and the bunch sprint the next which suggests he can solo away or win from a sprint. Form is the question, he’s returning from that big knee injury sustained in the Tour de France and if he dabbled in cyclo-cross then a 200km race is another thing.
Bahrain-McLaren bring a decent team with Sonny Colbrelli a strong sprinter after a race in hard conditions in form too, while Dylan Teuns is in excellent form, he’s more of a specialist in uphill finishes but made the breakaway here a year ago.
Team Ineos have struggled for years in the classics, the results haven’t matched the expenditure but they’re a force as ever and Ian Stannard can dine out on his 2015 overwinning for years to come. Luke Rowe is solid but an infrequent winner to put it mildly and the team’s best rider is Gianni Moscon who is focusing on the spring classics.
Trek-Segafredo have been targetting the classics for some time but with little to show for it. Mads Pedersen is one to watch but now has a rainbow target on his back but this should open up space for Jasper Stuyven.
Sep Vanmarke is 31 and still the only spring classic on his palmarès was the Omloop in 2012 and a career that evokes the old blues lyric of “if it wasn’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have no luck at all” with snapped shoes, broken derailleurs and other mishaps denying him a big win. EF Education First look revived these days – but only send six riders – and Jens Keukeleire can feature too.
Niki Terpstra is the perpetual dark horse and if his recruitment chez Total Direct Energie doesn’t look like an outward success, he helped them up their game last year which secured a few more points which has given them that automatic ticket to all World Tour races. Not the panache Jean-Marie Bernaudeau yearns for but we’ll see.
Israel isn’t the obvious team for the spring classics but in acquiring Katusha’s World Tour licence they’ve got Nils Politt under contract and the German looks to be in great condition after placing ninth in the Algarve TT and Mads Würtz one to watch too.
Among the others, 2018 winner Michael Valgren seems in decent shape and we’ll see if NTT fare better collectively. Philippe Gilbert made a name for himself as a young pro winning this race in 2006 and 2008 and is now captain for Lotto-Soudal with Tim Wellens ready to liven things up with his persistent attacks. Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) says he’s short of peak form right now and team mate Silvan Dillier is strong too. Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton-Scott) returns for another swing at the classics. Team Sunweb’s new recruit Tiesj Benoot made a name for himself with third place in 2016 as a second year pro and has since proved versatile enough to look at home in the Alps too while Søren Kragh Andersen could feature. Groupama-FDJ’s Stefan Küng is in good form and contract year. Finally Alexander Kristoff (UAE Emirates) can lurk for the sprint.
|Greg Van Avermaet, Zdeněk Štybar, Bob Jungels|
|Wout van Aert, Yves Lampaert, Nils Politt|
|Sep Vanmarcke, Jasper Stuyven, Gianni Moscon, Michael Valgren|
|Pedersen, Asgreen, Trentin, Kristoff, Wurtz, Teunissen, Colbrelli, Teuns, Naesen, Terpstra|
Comment: nobody gets 5 chainrings, GVA feels like a safe pick but the grim weather isn’t for him. As the of the spring classics form is still a loose idea, extrapolating from Portuguese time trials only gets you so far and that’s part of this race’s charm.
Weather: spring classics you say? This race has had its share of winter storms and even snow. Today has a wintry feel with 4°C at the start and a top temperature of 11°C and it’ll be wet, with rain clearing. Crucially it’s windy with a SW breeze blowing at 35km/h which is sufficient to split the bunch in the crosswinds, gust could reach 50km/h.
TV: the race starts at 11.35am CET and is forecast to finish around 4.30pm CET. Live TV coverage starts at 2.00pm with local channel Sporza going on air before with and Eurosport showing the race too.
Women’s Race: this starts at 11.45am CET and finishes at 3.20pm and uses the same final 60km as the men’s route. It’s live on GCN’s Youtube channel from 1.00pm CET to the finish meaning it’s probably easier to watch than the men’s race. If readers can share a good preview in the comments, I’ll add it up here.
Omloop? Dutch for a circuit, a tour… a loop. Het Nieuwsblad, literally “the newspaper” is a local newspaper behind the race but the race is run by Flanders Classics, the big race organiser in the region.