Despite the real racing season still being about 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 this weekend! No more desert(ed) highways, no, now come the spring classics starting with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
For years this race was a rival to the Tour of Flanders, now it’s more of a partner event, an opening salvo for the spring classics season. Here’s a preview of the Omloop:
The race covers 200km and starts in Gent outside the Kuipke velodrome. The first 30km take riders south-east, with weather indicating there will be a strong crosswind. At 60km the road starts curving in just about every direction and ti’s here that the cobbled sections begin with the first of three passages over the Haaghoek pavé. Then the pack will head up the asphalted Leberg climb, 6% average with 14% grades at the onset.
Another 5 kilometres and the road goes vertical again – albeit short – on Den Ast.
The Katteberg looms halfway through the race. After the cobbles of the Holleweg and (again) the Haaghoek the Leberg makes its second appearance at 110km. The route continues to the Paddestraat for 2.3 kilometres of pavé.
Racing will intensify in the last 80 kilometres with another eight hills and four cobbled sectors on the menu. The riders crest Rekelberg (800 metres at 4%), Valkenberg (540 metres at 8.1%) and Wolvenberg (645 metres at 7.9%) before the cobbles of the Ruiterstraat, Kerkgate and Jagerij follow in rapid succession. The Molenberg (463 meter at 7%) leads to a third stint on the cobbles of the Haaghoek before the Leberg pops up again. Shortly after its summit the route takes in the combo Berendries (940 metres at 7%) and Elverenberg/Vossenhol (1.3 kilometres at 3.6%). That last hill is paved with 650 metres of cobblestones.
With 27 kilometres left to race an interesting finale at the foot of the Wall of Geraardsbergen should shake things up. The renowned cobbled climb is 475 metres at 9.3% with steepest sections at almost 20%. Finally, racing will head to Bosberg – 980 metres at 5.8% and almost half of it is cobbled. The last 12.8 kilometres to the finish in Ninove are flat.
Weather: Currently slated to be cool and cloudy with a 20km/h wind from the south-east.
Greg Van Avermaet has won before and he seems to like starting the classic season with a bang as opposed to a long warmup. The name change to CCC and the team shakeups have been significant but he’s still got strong support.
Matteo Trentin is my top pick if the race ends in a bunch sprint. He’s a versatile sprinter and he should be able to get over the climbs without expending too much energy, unlike most sprinters.
Philippe Gilbert won this race back in 2006 and 2008 and is in great form now. He might be saving himself for later classics though.
Alexey Lutsenko has four wins already this season. If the race had an uphill finish he would likely be my top pick, but he is powerful enough to go solo in the final 40km or so.
Sep Vanmarcke got a stage win in the Tour du Haut-Var and he grabbed a top-10 in the Etoile de Bessèges TT stage. He’s got a scrappy team of veterans including previous winner Sebastian Langeveld around him.
Wout van Aert is a wildcard. He got slaughtered by Mathieu van der Poel in the cross season but he also had an exceptional debut on the road last spring.