We’re taking a quick look at the opening weekend of Classics season, the hilariously named Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. It’s only funny because Americans are geocentric inbreds with the international class of a mind 1950s trailer park, AND because the #ompoop is usually good for some light-hearted #SNARK for the whole race on Twitter. VeloNews featured it as “Your New Favorite Race” earlier this week, and while it’s certainly up there, it’s important to remember that the big names aren’t firing on all cylinders yet and, shoot, some of them aren’t even racing.
One of kolo’s favorite racers, Greg van Avermaet, is the defending champion for BMC Racing and since he now has some Sammy Sanchez-esque gold accents everywhere, you won’t struggle to find him like in years’ past. GvA’s top talent is to be smarter than everyone else, and being smart is about 20% luck. Last year, he let everything go all race long until Peter Sagan pounced. Tiesj Binoot, and Luke Rowe went with GvA and Sagan, and the day was done. GvA took the sprint, proving that after 190km, the fastest rider on paper (Sagan) isn’t always the fastest to the line. And to be fair, it isn’t usually GvA. As shown above, Stannard beat him to the line in 2015, with GvA sprinting with one hand noticeably un-gloved.
All four riders from the winning break last year are back, but it’s Rowe and Team Sky in the most interesting position. They’ve banished two of their best Classics men, Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski, away from the cold and wet cobbles of Northern Europe to prepare for the Giro and the Ardennes campaign, respectively. While Sky’s reserves are left anything but thin, it’s a certainly a vote of confidence for Luke Rowe as co-leader with two-time winner Ian Stannard. The pair will bear the burden of the Classics this spring, although just you watch the young Italian Gianni Moscon.
It’s about this time of the post where the goosebumps are rising, and of course, out of the dust clouds or mud puddles of Classics seasons past, Tom Boonen enters the frame. With Fabian Cancellara now well retired and spending his time skiing and wearing watches, Boonen begins his swansong. He’s confirmed that, win or lose, Paris-Roubaix will be his final race. En route, winning Omloop would be an encouraging start, but he’s not even the biggest favorite within his own team. QuickStep have stuck with their galacticos solution to the Classics. Have five guys who can win, but then none of them do. Like Garmin and BMC before them, it’s a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. That will be a theme throughout this spring, with Boonen, Matteo Trentin, Zdenek Stybar, Phillipe Gilbert, Nikki Terpstra and Iljo Keisse all capable of winning something between now and the first weekend in April.
Trek-Segafredo begin their post-Fabs era with Jasper Stuyven and Edward Theuns as their best chances to win. Stuyven is a sure thing, or at least that’s what all the Belgian fans are saying. Those are some big shoes to fill and it’s almost fitting that the man they actually signed to fill them, John Degenkolb, won’t be on the line until later in the campaign. Still, Trek need something out of the weekend as a bit of moral, and with Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne slanted towards sprinters, it’s Omloop where they’ll need it to happen.
There are plenty of other riders in the mix, but the #BOLD PREDICTIONS will focus on just a few.
- Tony Martin WILL finish ahead of Alexander Kristoff on Saturday. New team, new goals, new bike, and an appetite for the Classics means Martin will be formidable. He’s spent the last three years doing long-range chase duty for the QuickStep outfit, and now he’ll get to use his energy inside of 50km, rather than around 100km, from the finish.
- Oscar Gato WILL finish in the top ten. The Astana man has been in the mix for a few years now, but the cards never fall his way. He’s got free reign and a great pedigree in the Classics, and this should be his weekend.
- Jelle Wallays WILL be in the breakaway on Saturday for Lotto Soudal. Those guys always manage to slip in the moves early, and Wallays is a dangerous man to let up the road. Since his step up from WantyGroup he hasn’t put together a full race, but his second year will be the right time to mature.
- Luke Rowe will win Omloop. There, I said it, and yes, it’s because he’s cool. Ian Stannard will accept that he’s a year past due but still has the engine to help. Sagan will finish second (of course) with Sep van Marcke third.
- Arnaud Demare will win KBK on Sunday as he makes a run at defending his Milan-San Remo win of 2016.
Peep those LIVE! coverage links here, with video starting around 8.15am and the finish expected around 10.30.