Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Preview

Time for some Belgo-sadism. You’ve seen the early season races in sunshine, admired the coastlines and the climbs, the bright sunlight, the early blossom. Now the sport goes north to take on roads and tracks best viewed seen from the comfort of the sofa, especially given the weather forecast.

This Saturday looks like Visma-Lease A Bike versus the field with Wout van Aert and his team mates taking on a peloton without, for now, Mathieu van der Poel, Tadej Pogačar or Remco Evenepoel and so opportunities abound for others.

The Course
Gent to Ninove the long way, 202km. It’s almost identical to last year, the only different is five kilometres less around Oudenaarde somewhere during the second hour of the race. The course spirals around to take as many difficulties as it can in the second half. The first cobbles come after just 36km with the Haagehoek and they’re chased by the Leberg hill. The Lange Munte pavé come after 88km and mark a change in the race as from here the cobbles and climbs start to come thick and fast, as you can see on the profile above.

The Molenberg comes with 50km to go and by now the action comes thick and fast. The moneytime is with 18km to go and the start of the Muur van Geraardsbergen. It starts climbing in town and then enters the woodland section which is steep with rough cobbles before reaching the chapel at the top which gives the climb its Kapelmuur “Chapel wall” nickname. Don’t forget the twisty descent where it’s hard to retake lost ground, gaps established over the climb can stick.

The final climb is the Bosberg, which at 1.3km is long for a climb in Flanders. The 5% average slope isn’t fierce and there are no pinchpoints or bends to exploit, it’s just a test of brute force after 190km where some attack and others hold on with all they’ve got left. Over the top and there’s 13km to go from here until the streets of Ninove.

The Finish: the same as last year, the “new” Ninove finish. It’s well outside Ninove on the nondescript bypass road, it has room for all the finish line infrastructure but lacks charm. It’s a big wide road that dips a touch and then rises to the line in the final kilometre.

The Contenders

Visma-Lease A Bike came with a strong team last year and won, now they look even better. Rival squads will include the Dutch team among their own tactics, everyone will look to them to shape the race and chase the early breakaway. Wout van Aert, the winner in 2022, is the focal point because he can win in several ways, but he and the team are staking their spring on a result for him in the Ronde and Roubaix so anything here is a bonus. Laporte has said he hasn’t got much left to win outside of a Monument but he’ll hardly turn this down, it’s worth noting he was sick twice in January and so could be chasing his form. These two pack the fastest sprints, Dylan Van Baarle, the winner last year, is probably the template for the others on the team: barge clear and let the colleagues mark any chase.

How to beat Visma? There are two ways, first anticiperen, the Dutch word of last spring meaning to get up the road early, not necessarily right from the start but before Visma start sending their riders in moves. This has its merits because every team will look to the Dutch squad to take on the race and Edoardo Affini can’t chase by himself. The other is to man-mark some of their riders, the ones who aren’t so quick in a sprint, and if they go up the road, go with them with the hope of winning the sprint. The trouble is that following Dylan van Baarle or Jan Tratnik in a move is probably the easy part, relatively. Then they have to be marked in the move on the climbs and the Visma riders can always sit on a breakaway saying they have fast sprinters behind.

Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) might be the best sprinter going, that’s another debate but his great value is versatility as he can handle the bergs along the way when plenty of sprint rivals can’t. Lars Boven is one to watch for the future.

Lotto-Dstny still hasn’t won a major cobbled classic since Gent-Wevelgem in 2005. That might change soon as in Arnaud De Lie they’ve got a rider who can win bike races on one leg. He took the sprint for second last year, a result then but now a problem for him because few will fancy their chances against him in a sprint and so he’s going to be marked and attacked.

Intermarché-Wanty have a decent chance. Biniam Girmay has beaten Visma at their own game, getting in the breakaway in Gent-Wevelgem in 2022 and then out-sprinting Laporte for the win. Mike Teunissen and Laurenz Rex bring more options but probably line up in support.

Once the squad to beat in the cobbled classics, Soudal-Quickstep come with strong riders and a list of talking points. Patrick Lefevere gave that wide-ranging interview to Humo magazine full of salty quotes but so far only the Alaphilippe ones have made it over the paywall into English-language outlets. Will this motivate Julian Alaphilippe, surely he just wants to win anyway. As well as taking potshots at rivals and colleagues alike Lefevere did also support for other riders, notably saying that getting Gianni Moscon to win races again is the “match of my life” which both suggests a challenge and a possibility. Kasper Asgreen is bound to feature this spring and as we saw in the Tour de France last summer, he can sprint alright from a breakaway.

Now comes a long list of riders and strong teams but they’re caught, not muscular enough to bend the race to their shape nor led by a rider with a strong chance of winning from a sprint. These riders can win but it’ll be interesting to see how they do it. Matej Mohorič (Bahrain) can turn a three metre gap into thirty seconds so is always a danger to float away, British champ Fred Wright could be in the mix too. 2020 winner Jasper Stuyven (Lidl-Trek) can repeat while new team mate Jonathan Milan is still finding his way around the Belgian roads.

Ineos come with Tom Pidcock and Ben Turner as there best bets, Pidcock looked good in the Volta ao Algarve and has won on the MTB circuit already but how to take a gritty win here? Turner’s been a revelation in the classics in 2022 but crashed out last year, he’s tall and rangy but packs a good sprint.

UAE are one of the strongest squads in the sport but the cobbled classics are their weak point, relatively and Tim Wellens brings experience and aggression but a low win rate. Stefan Küng is often in the mix but probably needs a foul day where it’s everyone for themselves, he might find the weather this time suits, Groupama-FDJ groupies Lewis Askey and Sam Watson are fast, rugged riders but there are faster in case of a sprint.

Alberto Bettiol can barge away and EF have a cohesive team but how to win? Decathlon-Ag2r La Mondiale are off to a decent start this season but face a tougher test now, Oliver Naesen is a hardy rider but an infrequent winner; watch for Pierre Gautherat this spring. Arkéa-Samsic look up against it in World Tour races but they have a decent team here, it’s just getting ahead of the star names to win.

Every year there’s one spring classic where a Movistar rider does well to the surprise of many. This year they’ve got both Ivan Garcia Cortina and Oier Lazkano so the surprise factor is reduced but winning is something else.

Uno-X have a team of hulking riders but are having a run of bad luck, Alexander Kristoff slipped on icy roads in training recently but that said the tarmac probably came off worse. Rasmus Tiller and Søren Wærenskjold might find the repetition of climbs too much.

Foul weather, sharp climbs? Bonjour Axel Zingle of Cofidis, the ex-skier seems to thrive in grim conditions and is fast-improving but a win seems a big ask.

Visma-Lease A Bike
De Lie, Philipsen, Asgreen, Mohorič
Pidcock, Stuyven, Girmay
Zingle, Lazkano, Bettiol, Trentin, Turner, Kristoff

Weather: significant. Light rain for most of the day, a top temperature of just 7°C.

The wind will blow from the SW at 25km/h, just short of what’s needed for crosswind action but close and it’ll help shape the race, fanning riders across the road at times and making life hard for those on the front at other times. It’ll mean a crosswind on crucial roads to Geraardsbergen, then tailwind for the final section after the Muur and over the Bosberg.

TV: the race starts at 11.00am and finishes at 4.00pm CET. This section is now almost as hard as predicting the winner, in recent years you could just point international viewers to GCN. Anyway it’s on Sporza/Een for locals and VPN users alike with coverage starting at 1.30pm but probably for chitchat before the racing is live. Elsewhere it’s on Eurosport across much of Europe (where subscription prices per month vary according to your location). In the US Max should be streaming it.

Women’s Omloop: the men’s race is chased by the women’s event which starts at 1.30pm and finishes at 5.15pm and we’re likely to see SD Worx-Protime in the same position as Visma-LAB, head to ProCyclingUK for their enjoyable preview.

46 thoughts on “Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Preview”

  1. I don’t recall a set of chainring predictions ever like this before, with a whole team at the top. Remarkable the strength in depth that Visma-Leasea Bike bring.

    • I think I’ve tipped a team like this once or twice before, this time it’s more for economy of having to fill the top rankings with WvA, Laporte, Tratnik, Van Aert, Benoot, Jorgenson, plus for the way they can work off each other. I think they’ve got to work hard though to get rid off Philipsen, De Lie and Girmay.

  2. Does feel a bit like Van Aert v nobody, though that is a bit harsh on the likes or Asgreen, Stuyven, Pidcock, Mohoric and a couple of others who form a very handy second tier behind the galacticos. I would have thought Pedersen would’ve had a go given his form.
    Going back to the discussion on the cycling calendar… though this is always an interesting race, and due to its time-slot in February more likely to feature the weather Belgian cycling is famous for than when the real classics come round, the fact that so many big name riders are willing to miss it clearly demonstrates the problem with making warm up races top tier.

    • It is an opportunity for plenty of riders who are these days confronted with the near monopoly of the galaticos – if Wva doesn’t win then MvdP does etc – and so this Saturday looks more open.

      On the calendar front, it’s fun now but with the plan to have coherent blocks of racing on the agenda, does it survive as a standalone event weeks before the other cobbled classics, and given it’s effectively a clone race? I’d like to hope so and having more than one cobbled classic is a good thing. But you can imagine they’ll want to prune something and which one gets the chop?

      • In my view none of them need to be cancelled outright. But if you want to form some sort of cycling super league, or ProTour, then you wouldn’t need Omloop, Dwars Door, E3 and the butchered carcass of De Panne in it. They can still take place for a lower tier of peloton though. Plus a few big hitters keeping their legs turning for the big ones. I’m pretty sure thats exactly how they did function previously.

  3. I’d love to see Girmay make a good showing. Ever since his big win in ’22 it seems like he hasn’t done what everyone had hoped. He has a loaded spring schedule, so it’d be nice to see him start it off well.

  4. Turner a 2 chainring _and_ a 1 chainring pick – does that make him worth 1.5, or 3? 🙂

    I’d like to see him do well – he had a tremendous year in the classics in his first season, but after a while, that will start to feel a long time ago …

    • One chainring for him. He did start well but the hard part is converting this to more results, a lot of riders can show between KM40 and 20 but popping up for a result is the hard part. I think he can though as he’s surprisingly quick in a sprint, and he can make a useful helper role at the Tour etc as he can ride on the front.

  5. That Visma LAB Squad is stacked! I just realized Ben Tullet is also on VLAB now. And Uiterbroek had a good stage at Gran Camino and Kooi won UAE. Ouch.

  6. I’m looking forward to Visma and WVA winning everything but coming up short at Flanders and Paris Roubaix as I feel like has happened quite a bit in recent years.

    • I’ll be very (unpleasantly) surprised if the Visma team can repeat their domination of 2023. With Roglic now being an opponent, seems a big chunk of their GT strategy went with him, even if you discount his own efforts in opposition. IMHO it seems the pasty Dane is gonna have to carry far more of the load each day without Roglic’ there to force opponents to mark him while the Dane sits back and waits for his turn to attack. Sure, they’ve got a lot of other guys (like Kuss) but for my money none of ’em have the chops to distract the Dane’s opponents the way they did in 2023. Can they come up with a new game plan or will the old one still work?
      OTOH I wouldn’t mind seeing WVA win P-R and/or Flanders…he’s much more of a racer than the pasty Dane.
      PS-note to Anon Y. Mouse – last time I checked Omloop was NOT a monument so your LOL about MSR falls kind of flat IMHO.

  7. FDJ groupies: I like it. Askey seems more suited to the rough and tumble of Roubaix than Omloop.
    Gusts up to 45km/h are predicted for this afternoon. It could be interesting.

  8. A whole 5 lines (on the mobile) about the women’s race after an article that even mentions the usual nonsense put up by PL. Nice job, TIR. 👌🏼

    • As covered many times before, this is a blog about mens bike racing, Ana. There are good places to read about womens racing, which absolutely don’t have to cover the mens’ sport.

      • Oi, that’s not my comment but someone posting under the name*.

        I do cover women’s cycling from time to time, but just not as much of course and if I tried a preview, I wouldn’t do it justice, instead happy to share links to better places. Am looking forward to both Omloops later.

        * The IP address of the comment is shared by someone who has posted here from time to time under another name and if they’d like me to change it to the pseudonym they used then, happy to although I suspect they might not like to “own” that comment 😉

        • Sorry – that was me and the wrong username was entirely unintended! (Was obviously thinking about the blog.)

          My point wasn’t that you don’t know lots about women’s racing – I have no idea – but simply that I don’t this blog – or any other – has an obligation to write about women’s racing if it covers the men’s side.

          But apologies for masquerading as you! Was entirely accidental.

    • Imagine reading a free blog by a volunteer and criticising the author because they don’t cover the races you’d like them to cover?! Amazing entitlement. This isn’t the BBC or Eurosport. Start your own website. No one is stopping you.

  9. I have the greatest respect for Inner Ring’s commentary on men’s bike racing, but I thought the three-lines (on the website) comment on the women’s race sounded dismissive merely by its brevity. Better not to have said anything at all: comparisons are odious, and readers will read comparisons in even when they’re not intended. And the second response to Ana’s comment really did sound patronising.

    • Imagine reading a free blog by a volunteer and criticising the author because they don’t cover the races you’d like them to cover?! Amazing entitlement. This isn’t the BBC or Eurosport. Start your own website. No one is stopping you.

      • The ‘free blog by the volunteer’ (surely Inner Ring deserves a more fulsome description than that??!!!) explicitly limits itself to men’s races…but made the mistake of adding a token three lines on a women’s race. Better to stick coherently to the brief and not mention them at all.
        If (as I believe) the original objection wasn’t about IR not covering women’s races, but rather to what looks like classic male tokenism, then it’s warranted.

          • It’s not about the quality of the writing, it’s about perceptions of disproportion between two bits of it. Which wouldn’t have happened if there had been, as per the brief, zero lines on women’s cycling.
            And your response? As a member of the gender that’s been entitled for thousands of years, as soon as someone – justifiably or not – queries the status quo you accuse them of ‘amazing entitlement’?!?
            Sure put that feisty little latino chick in her place, didn’t you? We’re all glad that’s sorted out.

        • That escalated quickly.

          Anyway, I don’t think it was a mistake to add a mention of the race and share a link to a preview.

          I’m happy to tell people there’s a race on, when the race finishes and point them to a better preview than I can offer, it’s done in the spirit of sharing rather than dismissal or tokenism. Loyal readers will know it’s been like this for years.

    • “Sure put that feisty little latino chick in her place, didn’t you? We’re all glad that’s sorted out.”

      “Latino chick”?! What on earth on you wittering on about, you weird sexist. Go away now.

      • I was referencing YOU and your response to Ana Borba’s original query.
        Just go back and read your original post and see who’s being a weird sexist.
        Years of entitlement lead to blind spots…

        • I’ve never referred to a woman as a “chick” in my life. That’s your words, your thoughts. Don’t project that onto me. Check your own blind spots.

          • I apologise for putting words in your mouth: obviously my inferences (based on what seemed to me to be an offensive post) were wide of the mark.
            So forgive me for interpreting your post as anti-feminist (‘Amazing entitlement’); as mansplaining (‘This isn’t the BBC or Eurosport’); as barking orders and expecting them to be carried out (‘Start your own website. No one is stopping you.’).
            And for suspecting it might have been framed differently had you been addressing someone called – say – Annabelle Cholmondoley-Smythe.
            Obviously I got it completely wrong. I must have been having a bad day.
            Have a good week.

  10. I’ve never referred to a woman as a “chick” in my life. That’s your words, your thoughts. Don’t project that onto me. Check your own blind spots, Tim.

  11. Tim “Latino chick” Fitzpatrick insinuating other people are racist is pretty ironic. The only person using racist or sexist language in this thread is you, Tim. Go away now.

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