Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Preview

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It’s the openingsweekend. The Belgian racing season begins and with a difference: everyone is supposed to watch from indoors. One of the best features of the spring classics in Belgium is how the public turn out, these are more than bike races to the locals so it’ll be an odd day without people, frieten and beer although last year showed us it could be done. It should still be a great race and here’s the usual preview with the route, contenders, TV times and more.

The Route: 200km and almost a secret. Because of the pandemic the organisers have permission to run the race but on the condition they don’t encourage people to gather beside the road. People can come out of their houses to watch but nobody is supposed to gather in groups larger than four. So no start presentation, no VIP zones and there’s less detail on the route; that’s last year’s profile above but it’s almost identical, the only difference seems to be in the start. As usual there’s the start in Ghent and the finish in Ninove, the two towns are just 40km away but the race makes it 200km by twisting, turning and looping in a small sector of the Flemish countryside. This means reconnoitring the course pays dividends because riders know where the pinch points are and which way the wind blows, although Saturday looks quite calm this time. The race sticks to the usual route and final 60km are where the action happens with a series of cobbled sectors and climbs.

The moneytime is with 18km to go and the Muur van Geraardsbergen. It starts climbing in town and then enters 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. This time it comes after 188km 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 13km to go and into a very slight headwind.

The Contenders: last year’s winner Jasper Stuyven (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Sport via team press release) returns as part of a Trek-Segafredo double act with Mads Pedersen and the Dane is probably the safer pick as we’ve seen his form in racing while Stuyven hasn’t started yet. Pedersen is as capable as Stuyven for a solo charge, but an even better sprinter. They’ll make a great duo in the upcoming races.

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Deceuninck-Quickstep’s squad of seven riders has six conceivable winners. Julian Alaphilippe is back on Flemish roads to make amends for that motorbike crash that took him out of the Tour of Flanders last autumn . The bookmaker’s pick, he’s a very obvious rider, both visibly because of his bright white jersey with the rainbow bands and tactically too, he’ll look to attack on the climbs. But if he forces a split and races from a small group he’s got a good sprint for the finish, plus the form is there as he showed Egan Bernal on Mont Ventoux but was active on other days too. Davide Ballerini is a form pick after the Tour de La Provence as well, he dreams of the cobbles and packs a good sprint but we have to go back to 2009 for anything resembling a bunch sprint. Kasper Asgreen and Yves Lampaert could go clear but the benign weather conditions make this a bit harder and the risk is a repeat of last year where they’re joined by a faster finish, although they’ll exploit the team’s numbers. Florian Sénéchal is an outsider too and Zdeněk Štybar is 35 now but not done yet. Which leaves Tim Declerq as the human windbreak and bottle fetcher.

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Ag2r Citroën have undergone some big personnel changes thanks to the new co-sponsor. Greg Van Avermaet is a twice previous winner here and doesn’t really need a third one as he’s got bigger frites to fry later in the classics season, the same for Oliver Naesen but both should be in the mix. In the past both have been strong in the classics but had to make moves at times because they didn’t have cover from team mates, together they’ll make an interesting tandem.

Lotto-Soudal have Philippe Gilbert and Tim Wellens but how to win? Gilbert knows, he won in 2006 but was a more explosive rider then. They’d need to get into the day’s late selection and then try and attack it but the competition’s against them and the terrain maybe not hard enough for Wellens. Lotto are perennial runners-up in the cobbled classics, yes they’re a Belgian team but a lot of the squad’s resources are behind Caleb Ewan winning grand tour stages and if they’ve been close the team haven’t won a World Tour cobbled classic; Nico Mattan won the “Pro Tour” Gent-Wevelgem in 2005.

Sep Vanmarcke (Israel) has been a perennial contender since he won the Omloop in 2012 as a neo-pro, outsprinting Tom Boonen but that’s been his only spring classic victory and he’s only won one World Tour race, he’s the sort you might bet on to place rather than win. But the form is coming and he should be close.

Team DSM bring new recruit Romain Bardet but look to Tiesj Benoot and Søren Kragh Andersen. Benoot can do the spectacular but SKA’s more likely to get the job done, he’s a fast finisher who is very hard to catch if he goes solo.

UAE Emirates can do the old 1-2 with Alexander Kristoff hanging in for the sprint and Matteo Trentin trying to infiltrate the main move, or even the reverse if they feel like it. Both have looked good but not sparkling in the early season races.

Among the others Bora-Hansgrohe bring a solid squad but need someone to who can finish the job, that’s Peter Sagan and he’s training in Gran Canaria, but look for new recruit Nils Politt. A similar story at Groupama-FDJ, EF Education-Nippo, Jumbo-Visma and Ineos, several strong riders but no obvious winner although for the latter Tom Pidcock is one to watch.

Ivan Garcia Cortina should make Movistar a lot more visible in the northern classics but how to win? Alpecin-Fenix aren’t a World Tour squad but can win on any flat course and even without Mathieu van der Poel, Jasper Philipsen and Dries De Bondt bring options. Total Direct Energie have a decent team on paper but they might need time to get the likes of Edvald Boasson Hagen, Niki Terpstra and Anthony Turgis working as a unit. Dylan Teuns (Bahrain) should feature but he’d be a stronger pick if the race finished uphill. Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) seems to have his mojo back and is capable of winning a semi-classic, see if he can feature here. Luke Durbridge (Bike Exchange) probably needs a longer, more attritional race.

Julian Alaphilippe, Mads Pedersen
Jasper Stuyven, Søren Kragh Andersen, Yves Lampaert
Vanmarcke, Van Avermaet, Naesen, Wellens
Štybar, Trentin, Asgreen, Teuns, Pidcock, Philipsen, Ballerini, Sénéchal

Weather: it’ll be a calm Belgian spring day, partly cloudy, 12°C and a 5km/h breeze from the NE. This means the weather won’t be big tactical factor but this itself means the race will be less attritional, expect more riders in contention later into the race.

TV: local channel Sporza begin their coverage from 1.30pm CET with francophone Belgian channel RTBF starting at 2.00pm, as do the international channels like Eurosport/GCN. The finish is forecast for, whisper it, around 4.20pm CET.

Women’s race: it’s on TV too with coverage starting on Sporza’s website, plus the Eurosport Player/GCN app at 3.45pm CET and once the men’s race is done on the main channels they’ll hop over for the last hour. The finish expected around 5.30pm. It should be Annemiek van Vleuten vs SD Worx but with more and if anyone can share a knowledgeable preview I’ll add a link here there’s a great preview over at

44 thoughts on “Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Preview”

  1. Hope everybody had a good ‘off season’ and of course have prospered through lockdown.

    Very nearly pulled from the UK TV schedule – a portent of Brexit or not, but it is concerning.

    No Chain Ring for Wellens – going well at the moment and my pick – although I have history and always pick people who finish outside the top 10. I cant see past MVDP ever but think KBK might be one for the sprinters, if the peleton work it that way so Kasper Asgreen

    I hope this season lives up to my expectations and selfishly that I get to ride with friends again (March 29th in the UK) and that I get to see a prorace ‘in the flesh’.

    Until then I have craft beer , Yorkshire Tea and solo rides.

    Thanks for the preview.

    • Was nearly pulled from Discovery channels all over Europe – Curtesy of United Arab Emirates, apparently an intermedia media broker with links to UAE didn’t want the world to switch channel to Gent during the finale in Abu Dhabi. Nothing to do with Brexit (this time)

      • Where did you get that? Note the UAE Tour finishes before, there’s no clash. The problem seems to be that Discovery/Eurosport/GCN had the rights to Flanders but not the smaller races starting with the Omloop this weekend and that Flanders Classics has parcelled out its media rights to sports marketing company IMG which left IMG in a brinkmanship position of trying to get a good deal for their new clients but with a clock ticking in that if they failed to get even a bad deal then fewer people could see the race outside of Belgium.

  2. I know my view is terribly Old fashioned .
    I know cycling as a sport desperately needs to diversify and globalise.
    The 2021 season starts properly with Het Volk, sorry oomlop het niewsblad.
    Thank you I ring for great preview, just a little bit excited.

    • It’s the first race that I watch too.
      Time only allows so much cycling-viewing, and for me it’s the one-day Classics (plus anything on cobbles/dirt) and the grand tours – I have to miss out on stage races, which mostly I’m fine with (although I usually watch Paris-Nice because it’s early in the season, and I’m a bit excited).

    • There’s been some good racing so far this year, eg Tour des Alpes-Maritimes and Var last weekend was excellent, a lot of suspense for a lot of time and just of many races on TV that were not a few years ago. But if everyone has a ration of racing to watch, the Omloop rarely disappoints and if anything by the time the Ronde comes around you’ve had a fill of racing on the same roads, the Ronde is still great but with the Omloop it’s all fresh for a new season in Flanders.

  3. “Nico Mattan won the ‘Pro Tour’ Gent-Wevelgem in 2005”.
    And that might deserve to be asterisked, too 😛
    Moto-Mattan and the Belgian doing their thing against poor Flecha.

  4. Pidcock was very anonymous on all the stages of Haut Var. Was he just getting ready slowly, keeping his powder dry, or not capable of better? After the cross season he should have been in good shape. Hayter could be worth following too after an excellent TT in his last race. Worth a chainring I think.

    • I don’t think Haut de Var suited a rider coming off cyclo-cross. He’s been training for hour long efforts, not the climbs. He’s now focusing on MTB so I’d be surprised if he features.

    • I’d like to see him do well, but when was the last time any sub 60kg rider did well in the cobbled classics. Even the pocket rocket Bettini was 65ish but never featured heavily in the cobbled ones.

      • Bettini was often pretty much lighter than 65 kg, surely around 60, even if I’d say not under that mark (as reported by procyclingstats and many sources on the internet), or only sometimes that lean. Not when he was winning bunch sprints, for example. Personal impressions not supported by much actual data.
        That said, sometimes he sacrificed his options in favour of Boonen in the Ronde, and proved nonetheless that he could well slip into a top ten, consistently with the fine list of top 5 placements he was able to achieve in less monumental cobbled classics, be it Het Volk, Three Days of La Panne, Kuurne or Harelbeke. As a consequence, saying that he didn’t feature on the cobbles is a bit unfair, IMHO.
        He never tried Roubaix, and I can’t see him having much of a chance, although Bartoli, for example, tried it way too late during his career and somehow repented not having had some shots at it before.
        Pidcock could also take advantage of his notable bike handling skills, perhaps, but I totally share your POV: no lightweight rider has won Flanders in more than three decades, Criquelion being probably the last one able to do so.
        Bartoli was indeed around 65 kgs and the lightest rider to win Flanders since 1987.

        • Pidcock, what a showing for a first classics weekend.
          He’s got to have been the Sugar Ray Leonard of the peloton this weekend. Pound for pound or shall I say kilo/kilo. Looking forward to seeing him in a variety of terrain, distance, one day or stage race.

        • Thanks for the knowledge @gabriele and yes after looking up some results Bettini certainly did feature better than I remember and he was lighter (was probably thinking of Bartoli with regards to weight).
          Pidcock certainly proved himself more than capable (especially after KBK). I’ll go eat my Mapei cap!

  5. I can’t see why every other race doesn’t ask people to stay home – nor why governments don’t order them to do so.
    Bike racing can be quite safe – COVID-wise – without crowds.

      • How you behave affects other people’s health. Therefore, it’s not about your ‘freedom’. It’s about your responsibility to the other humans.
        You can see this very clearly when you look at how the likes of Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, etc. have handled Covid. These Asian societies focus much more on consideration for others, whereas western society is so focused on oneself. That’s why they have a fraction of the western countries’ deaths.

        • You are very kind taking other people’s health and well-being into consideration, Mr Homo Hygienicus. Please also consider my well-being and allow me to go on the street when I feel like and not when the government in its kindness gives me a permission to do so.

          • Please PO and GFY.

            Preferably that but if you intend to stay, make an effort to self-moderate your comments and to stick stringently to the main guideline: discuss road cycling, not the state of the world or any larger issues you may or may not feel strongly about. There are other, far better fora for addressing those issues, letting out steam or just having some fun by engaging in trolling.

            PS I thought J Evans an old and wily enough fox to know not to feed the trolls, but apparently I was wrong.

  6. Quick dispatch from a card carrying member of the Society of Pedants: worth pointing out that Lotto has won a bunch of World Tour cobbled classics with Perter Van Petegem (including the Flanders Roubaix double one year). Maybe you are saying that this was an era when the classics were part of a differently named series than “World Tour”? Thanks for the great preview INRNG.

    • Van Petegem did great but that’s my point, the team haven’t actually won a big cobbled since those days, before the World Tour came into being. They have taken the odd semi-classic along the way but for a Belgian team their results often tend to dip in March and April, particularly in the cobbled classics. Of course it’d be great to see them do it, if Wellens wins it’s because he does it’s usually by blowing everyone off his wheel, plus Gilbert’s got such a story with this race.

  7. Once Julian Alaphilippe was brought back Davide Ballerini was the big favourite and, as usual, DQS delivered. Ineos & Tom Piddock did well but showed their inexperience towards the end but perhaps they might have a classics team in the making.

  8. I must say that the failure of the parcours (for whatever reason) to be selective meant this was a bit of a let down for the season opener. I only tuned in for the final 15km, but was following the CN text. Seems like it was blighted by crashes including the one that took out Hayter towards the end. The sprint was barely worthy of its name too, with some rather sluggish looking legs.

    • I found it quite interesting because it was all very touch and go for a long time – the main group that had broken away looked like they were going to take it, and might have if Alaphillippe hadn’t gone on a lone raid.
      It just didn’t have a very spectacular end (most of the faster riders must have been either too knackered or too out-of-position, I assume – apart from Kristoff who was also taken out). I didn’t think there were an abnormal number of crashes.
      Good weather is rarely a good thing.

    • That’s harsh in my view RQS, it was a decent race that didn’t reveal its winner right until the end.
      The weather was kind, and you had a lot of riders in good condition but no one in top condition this early I’d say.
      Alaphilippe doing the world champion jersey proud, Pidcock looking strong. There was lots to admire.
      I enjoyed it.

      • Fair enough. But my assessment was based on watching the last 15km, by which time the lead group was sizeable and the likelihood of a bunch sprint seemed nailed on. Even the commentators seemed disappointed that the race had not been selective.

    • I find there’s nothing more disappointing than tuning in to a Belgian cobbled classic only to find its sunny, 14 degrees and there isn’t a breath of wind. It makes them much less interesting and also seems to have been quite common in recent years. People in cycling talk about how brutal the weather is in Belgium but as someone who lives in Northern England it looks lovely most of the time.

      • Yup, most of Scotland would be a great place for a bike race: there’s almost no flat land, the roads are narrow and not at all smooth, and it’s always blowing a gale (and it’s usually raining if you’re towards the west).

          • Well, pandemic-wise, there’s a lot of sparsely populated countryside, and even if it does get warmer it’ll still be windy, hilly and wet (plus, global warming might deflect the Gulf stream, meaning that while the planet will generally become warmer, the UK could get significantly colder, and Scotland’s hilly nature means it will be far less affected by rising sea levels than the likes of SE England… so many positives to global warming).

        • I’ve always thought the Tour of Yorkshire would make much more sense as a really long, really hard one day race (like the Worlds the other year) rather than a half baked 3 day stage race.

  9. This seems so odd to me, considering I cannot understand why any other race will refuse to remain put in their time, and why governments wouldn’t want them to force to do so many others And if you are not trying to ride in large numbers, bike racing may be enjoyable – if done without a lot of people.

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