The Spring is here! At least in cycling terms that is…
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is the start of the Belgian cobbled Classics season and it’s probably one of the most hotly anticipated years ever. I’ll be doing a full write-up for the Spring Classics so for now I’ll just focus on Omloop Het Nieuwsblad which takes place on March 1st 2014.
Omloop het Nieuwsblad
Omloop traditionally has a history of being won by Belgians but a recent run of only two wins in the last 7 races shows that the race is finally becoming more international in the new millennium. The big news for this year is that the iconic Kapelmuur is back on the route.
The race is effectively a warm up for the Tour of Flanders later on in the Spring as it uses a lot of the same short sharp cobbled climbs. This makes the race perfect for those targeting the later race such as favourite Tom Boonen.
Boonen in fact has never won Omloop het Nieuwsblad despite his glittering palmares, four top ten finishes shows he has been repeatedly close. He has come out this week saying he’ll try to win this year but that he also doesn’t need to win it – I understand this as he doesn’t want to get injured taking risks here as he searches for higher prizes.
There are five different previous winners lined up for the race this year and each can still be considered as a contender. In chronological order –
Nick Nuyens won this event back in 2005 and has won events at a similar level since. He won the Tour of Flanders somewhat out of the blue in 2011 but hasn’t featured the last couple of years. Hard to rule out but probably not a winner at Omloop this year.
Thor Hushovd won in 2009, he’s certainly lost top end speed and moved away from sprinting into focusing on the Classics. He will see this as a good warm up but his win in 2009 was possibly a peak – he’s finished in around 30th place in the years since.
Sebastian Langeveld won in 2011 and has struggled with injuries or bad luck since then. Very much a classics specialist he felt at GreenEdge that he wasn’t getting enough support as it was a squad not build for these races. Moving to Garmin, will hopefully help this. He came 44th in this race last year but then came 23rd in a brutal Milan – San Remo and top 10s in the E3 Prijs, Tour of Flanders and Paris – Roubaix. He’s very much a contender this year.
The 2012 winner Sepp Vanmarcke is a contender for all of the Spring cobbled races. Winning here in 2012 was a springboard to just losing out to Fabian Cancellara in Paris – Roubaix last year. Barring bad luck I would expect a top-ten here and to see him competing at the sharp end of the rest of the Belgian season.
Luca Paolini was last year’s winner and the closest rider to match Boonen on paper in this race. After four attempts at this race, Paolini’s worst finish is a 12th place in 2012 and he has two top 5s as well. Not quite favourite, but I’ll expect him to be involved at key moments.
And the rest….
Jurgen Roelandts has a top ten previously here but has started the season strongly with a 3rd Overall at the Tour of Qatar and should be Lotto’s main focus.
Stijn Vandebergh came 2nd here last year and was in the champion breakaway in Paris – Roubaix but unfortunately crashed out. Based on last year he can be involved again this year.
Greg Van Avermaet has three top-5 finishes here, including the last two years. He’s very likely to be involved in a two prong attempt with teammate Taylor Phinney. Last year’s top-10 in Milan – San Remo was the watershed that showed Phinney could be useful at this time of year. He’s being groomed as a TT and Classics rider, expect him to have a go here.
If they have a good day…
These riders have the talent but will require some luck or be released from team duties to perform strongly here.
Sky have Edvard Boasson Hagen leading and it feels like years we’ve been saying he’s a great talent. Sky seem to have not got the best understanding on how to win Classics but with Ian Stannard being groomed to take up the Classics challenge too it will be interesting to see who does the best for Sky.
Sylvain Chavanel has rarely done well at this race but this may have been due to performing other duties whilst at Omega Pharma-Quickstep. He has one top ten and as leader at IAM Cycling he stands a good chance of repeating this.
Zdenek Stybar announced himself with 6th at Paris – Roubaix but was riding in the top 3 until he clipped a spectator. This result makes him a contender but it depends on how much freedom he’s allowed on the OPQ team.
Look out for Boom, Sieberg, Mondory, Farrar and Eisel if you want to follow a real outsider in the race on Saturday.