• Rúben Silva

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Preview

Well here it is! Season start..ish. Well some will say yeah some will so no, but that doesn't really matter does it. The racing in Belgium begins courtesy of the opening weekend and this saturday it's Omloop day, the second classic of the WorldTour and first European WorldTour event. It's one for the classics specialists and will be the first test for those looking for the cobbled monuments.

The Route

The route is a well rounded 200 kilometers, big enough to be a true classic but a step below the huge monuments. It's very similar to last year, only a bit over 1600 meters of climbing so very manageable, and the cobbled sectors and bergs will be well spread around the route. There are some early sections that could cause trouble, but until sector number 7 the Wolvenberg the race should remain quite controlled.

From there on the Wolvenberg/Kerkgate/Molenberg combo should open the flurry of attacks that are to come, start putting tactics up to play and for the real racing to start.

The Leberg is summiting with 40Km to go and should be a vital part of the route, it's a hard cobbled climb and sets up for the Berendries pitch very quickly, also quickly followed by the Elverenberg and a short cobbled sector, the favourites and teams with big numbers should put serious pressure here, and the race will likely be broken up by some.

But of course, what's made the Omloop route different in the last few years is the addition of the Muur-Bosberg combo. The Muur de Geraardsbergen is perhaps the most iconic climb in Flandres, it's the hardest one on the route and the main guns will likely try to put decisive attacks on the steep pitches here.

The final climb of the route is the Bosberg and like last year it summits with 13Km to go. It's a pure power climb, the rought part is around a 1-minute effort at 9% average, safe to say decisive attacks won't happen here, it's not usual to see it, but splits are possible, fatigue will build up, and as we know in the classics every moment counts.

The next few kilometers are through this road, straightforward, it could be the place for the decisive attacks, tactics play into part here more than power and attacks aren't easy to bring back.

And the last kilometers look like this, very fast, very hard to bring back moves both in group or in solo if they work well, the final kilometer is quite technical, and even if it comes down to a sprint it's gonna be more complicated than just power, positioning fight is essential.

The Weather

As a storm is currently hitting the Atlantic coastlines the race tomorrow will suffer the effects of very strong wind. In excess of 20Kph with 50Kph gusts. It will come as a Southwestern wind. This is mean right from the start there will be highly exposed risky sections, the race can make or break in the first hour, but really it can happen at any time, with so many switches of direction it's going to be sense of opportunity to make a move. Most of the bergs will actually have cross and tailwind to it, I mean ALL the important sections of the race will, it will be chaotic, from the Wolvenberg on there will rarely be a headwind section meaning long distance moves may pay up big time. The Muur and Bosberg will also be done in tailwind, meaning if there's a working group it'll likely be successful, but a solo attack will also be really dificult to bring back.

Interview with Johan Jacobs

Johan Jacobs is a 22-year old rider from Switzerland, he is making his debut in the cobbled classics as a pro tomorrow as he races in his new colours of the Movistar Team. Following a season that saw him finish runner-up in the U-23 Paris-Roubaix and 7th in the U-23 Ronde, I seeked to understand what he is expecting in new grounds.

Echelons: As a neo-pro, how are you feeling in such a big structure and what are the biggest differences in terms of race preparation?

Johan: I feel really honored to be part of this project. Kind of nervous aswell, as this is the highest level of cycling and I‘m still adapting to the new style of racing. In terms of preparation, not much actually, train well, eat well and sleep well. Three simple things every cyclist has to do to reach their best level possible, which is needed for this kind of racing.

E: Taking into account your background on the U23 scene do you feel like you can already be an important piece to the team or is the priority to get experience here?

J: The main goal to get to know these races, gain experience like you say. Of course if the opportunity arises and I can be a valuable factor for the team I‘ll be more than happy to help.

E: What are your expectations? Both on personal and collective terms.

J: Have fun and learn.

E: You must’ve seen that the weather forecast for Saturday is dreadful, do you like those conditions or do you prefer the hotter days?

J: I try not to stress about the weather, there are only so much factors you can influence yourself. I try to focus on those to make myself better. The weather you can‘t do anything about, so you just have to deal with it.

E: To wrap it off in a lighter subject, having raced San Juan and Provence already what was the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from your teammates?

J: “Dig Deep”

One of the rough men?

There is no doubt that this weather makes me, and well, everyone, think of the hard men, the rain specialists to take over this race. This specifically makes you think of a special name at the same time doesn't it? Well you'd be right to think of Mads Pedersen, after winning the worlds on pouring conditions on his skinsuit as if he was being showered by a summer breeze, it wouldn't be a surprise to see if confortable in his element again tomorrow. But the reason I'm mentioning him first is due to the immense quality in Trek's squad, it has been built over the years, despite having crashes last week in Algarve both Jasper Stuyven and Edward Theuns are strong win candidates and the whole team features an array of powerfull and/or experienced riders that can make Trek equal to the other big teams. Thinking of that wet day in Yorkshire also points out that both the other medal finishers are present, firstly Matteo Trentin in his new CCC colours should come in force, he and Greg van Avermaet have been racing hard and the latter looks in stupendous form already and now that they have each other both may be in for a very successful sprint, health allowing it. And the other medalist was Swiss Stefan Kung and he should be taken into account tomorrow too, despite not having that track record in the cobbles Kung has the experience of many years already and no doubt has the power to equal the strong men, he may not have the sprint but the conditions will be highly favourable to his skillset.

One "underdog" that has been immensely mentioned in the past week is Ian Stannard who's won this race twice, he seems past his peak for a long time but you never know when he may make a comeback since he rarely gets to race for himself, INEOS will be very well rounded and he has Gianni Moscon and fellow Brits Luke Rowe and Owain Doull to play a big part in the race. Direct Energie also feature a very nice combo, after being struck by bad luck last sprint Niki Terpstra is still searching the results that he's looked for since leaving Deceuninck, and I wouldn't write him off to win this one he's also one for the horrible days, just something about these northern riders... He has Adrien Petit and Dries van Gestel as great support and the Frenchman is also prone to success in these occasions, and I would mention aswell Alexander Kristoff in this league, the Norwegian is also one who thrives in the cold and windy races.

Lastly two riders who specifically tend to perform better in the rain, unsure wether they'll encounter it but wet roads are a sure thing, Sonny Colbrelli first of a Bahrain that is flying in this season start, he has also Dylan Teuns as that sprinter-puncheur combo in the team that can work to great effect, and the other is Tim Wellens, he's started his season last week in Algarve and showed great form already, his focus in the cobbles in the last few years has proved quite good and he is coming into another stint looking for success, backed, or maybe helping Phillipe Gilbert who has said to yet be unsure of his form, so I wouldn't count him in tomorrow.

Maybe the Weather won't affect that much?

So what if that happens? What if the roads dry up, the sun starts to peak through the clouds and no-one is really that unconfortable. Although many in this list would probably like the cold too, it will open the door for many more riders to fly in the cobblestones. Well I'll mention Deceuninck, weird to go this far into the preview without them but they have no-one who is specifically a lover of the grit. But they are with no doubt the strongest team, with Zdenek Stybar who's coming in flying from CX and San Juan racing, the others haven't yet shown their true colours this season but have all raced, Asgreen in Provence, Senechal and Lampaert as the other fast men have been in the Algarve and Jungels was up in Colombia for a big while. They will opt for their strenght in numbers as their number one card for sure as they usually do. The other strenght in numbers squad to be mentioned is Jumbo-Visma, but although I love the trio their bringing I'm not seeing them very successful tomorrow and this is why, they all just came from sunny perfect weather and major altitude in Teide, tomorrow they will face the exact opposite and it may be a shock to the system. Wout van Aert wasn't actually planning to be here, as for Mike Teunissen and Amund Jansen they also have the ideal skillset to thrive here but they are all starting their road season here and it just feels like too sharp of a start to consider them already as undoubted win favourites.

The Flandriens then, AG2R have a strong strong team to back home boy Oliver Naesen in the cobbles but their issue is always usually the organization, but nailing that and they have a strong contender for the top places, EF are coming in with a very interesting duo in Sep Vanmarcke and Jens Keukeleire, two underdog riders at this point in the cycling season and both have a sharp sprint if it's necessary, EF is preparing for a Ronde title defense and so a lot of their talent is not taking part in the race tomorrow. Paris-Roubaix runner-up Nils Pollit is one of the most underated riders in the cobbled scene, his team change may post a little issue but he has solid support to back him up if they're well organized, but if the German has his best legs he can with no doubt pose an iminent threat to the big guns, as one of the most powerful riders in the peloton and a very strong sprint.

As relative outsiders I'd like to point out the Scandinavian NTT duo Michael Valgren and Edvald Boasson Hagen, a lot of quality but after last year's disaster I'm still doubting a bit of what they can actually do already, despite the team having a very good start to the year, Sunweb are coming with some new names that can play a big role, Soren Kragh Andersen will have the company of Tiesj Benoot and Jasha Sutterlin and I can only wait to see what this new setup can do, still with Michael Matthews in the sidelines for now, there's Luke Durbridge and as a joker possibly Edoardo Affini for Mitchelton, I'm very curious to see how the Italian goes this sprint and if he can focus on these races aswell, there's Jurgen Roelandts leading Movistar, Lukas Postleberger as the rider who should lead a strong Bora squad, getting a chance whilst the team's classics block was out in Colombia including Sagan, and as a wrap-up I'd include Aimé de Gendt and Loic Vliegen of Circus as riders to watch.


Deceuninck/Trek - The two big teams, plenty of power, plenty of options, they will surely be looking to cover all attacks and put pressure on everyone else very early on.

CCC/EF/INEOS/Jumbo/Direct Energie - These teams have an array of options each and should be the ones to instigate the attacks, looking to surprise and trying not to be caught out of moves and into chasing.

Lotto/Bahrain/UAE - These will be looking for bad bad weather, in case they don't they won't have an easy time, they may struggle to get in the moves so tactics will be essential.

AG2R/FDJ/Israel/NTT/Sunweb - All of these teams have very strong leaders but will need the right tactics above great legs, all about the head when racing in Belgium.

Astana/Bora/Mitchelton - These will be looking out for some opportunities, they won't show, so breaks and early attacks to try and infiltrate riders for strategical purposes should be a major focus early on.

Cofidis/Movistar/Circus - Solid leaders but will have dificulties racing for a result in such a strong peloton.

Alpecin/Bingoal/Valaanderen/Arkéa - Same as above, these teams should likely focus on getting riders in the break above all and then try to resist what's to come later in the day with their leaders in hope of a solid result.

Prediction Time

Stybar, Pedersen, Pollit, Trentin

Stuyven, GVA, Asgreen, Lampaert, Teunissen, WVA

Naesen, Wellens, Keukeleire, Kristoff, Terpstra, Colbrelli, Theuns, Kung, Stannard, Valgren

My call for the win is Matteo Trentin. Having him combined with GVA is scary, the Olympic champion is perhaps the most experienced rider and has the raw knowledge that is absolutely crucial to the team, CCC's classics block was in Algarve and their two main cards have been racing hard, I think Trentin is finally in an environment where he can play his card right and tomorrow will be the case.

Make sure to let me in on your opinion, and of course follow me on twitter for the latest updates!