Ghent > Ninove 204.3km
It’s time for The Omloop! The organisers have made a few changes to the route, out goes the Molenberg and in comes Marlboroughstraat and Biesestraat, plus some lovely narrow roads. It’s a risk to remove the Molenberg, but the addition of the narrow stretches of road will have an impact on the tactics in the race.
Cold, sunny, and not much wind.
This is where the race will be decided. The bunch hit the Wolvenberg at km149 and the next 40km is full of climbs and cobbles. I think we’ll see the big action when they hit the Marlboroughstraat, Biesestraat, Haaghoek, Leberg, Berendries, Vossenhol. All of this comes in just 10km of racing, for me, this is the most important point in the race. Some might be about to throw something at me because I’ve not even mentioned the Muur, but the frequency of the climbs, cobbles and narrow roads is perfect to snap the elastic.
Of course, the Muur will still be important, it will be used to get rid of the deadwood in the front group, and then we’ll have our selection for the finale. The top of the Bosberg comes with just under 13km to go, and there won’t be a headwind this year, so the front group should go all the way.
The strongest teams in the race are QuickStep and Lotto-Jumbo, they’ll be looking to make the race. QuickStep don’t really have a sprint option, for them it’s all about getting an elite group away off the front. Jumbo have both options; they’ll be happy with a sprint or late attack. It’s very difficult to pick when the right move goes in this race, it’s one of those races that always seems to surprise us.
I think we’ll see these teams push it on the Marlboroughstraat, you need a good position for the narrow roads that follow soon after, which then lead into the Haaghoek. There is every chance a strong group of 5-10 riders gets away and the peloton won’t see them again. Yes, whoever misses the split will have to chase in the bunch, but the strongest riders will be up the road and that makes it very hard to bring it back.
If it does manage to come back together, the Muur will be used to split the group again. Some teams only have one bullet to fire, do they risk waiting for the Muur? That’s a tough call to make. That’s the beauty of the race, you don’t know when the winning move will get away. Those teams with multiple options are in a stronger position, that’s why QuickStep always do well in these races.
Jumbo-Visma have seriously strengthen their classics squad this year, for this race we’ll see the debuts of Benoot and Van Der Sande. They will join Van Aert, Teunissen, Affini and Van Hooydonck to make a very strong outfit. They know this is the way to beat QuickStep, last year Van Aert was isolated early in the classics and had to use vital energy covering moves. He’ll be delighted by the support he’ll be given this year; can they beat QuickStep at their own game?
I’m joined by Edward Theuns of Trek-Segafredo to look at the race.
Jumbo-Visma – Van Aert and Benoot are their best options. Van Aert can win in many ways, he’ll always be the fastest finisher, no matter the size of the front group. Benoot will be used to attack, I’m very pleased to see him racing with Jumbo-Visma. Tiesj is about to turn 28, this is the right move at the right time of his career. Yes, there will be times when he needs to ride for Wout, but he’ll also have his own chances. Having both men at the pointy end of the race will make the team hard to beat.
QuickStep – this could well come back to haunt me but I don’t think they are as strong as usual. They arrive with Lampaert, Štybar, Asgreen and Sénéchal as their main options. Sénéchal didn’t look at his best in Andalucía, Asgreen is a little behind in his preparations because of COVID, so that leaves two. Lampaert did impress in the final Algarve stage, he seemed to be climbing well, but his poor TT is a worry for me. Štybar normally starts the season in good form, despite being 36, I think he could be the best option for the Wolfpack in this race. You can never write QuickStep off; they are always capable of pulling something out of the bag.
Ineos – another team with multiple options. They have Pidcock, Hayter and Narváez as their protected riders. Pidcock wasn’t at his best in the Algarve, which is understandable considering the busy winter he’s had. He was looking good in the final stage, but crashed out of the race, so I’m unsure about his current fitness. On paper, this is the perfect race for him, but I think it’s too early in his season. Hayter’s form is growing, he’s another who’s recent preparations have been hindered by COVID. I think the team will use him as a sprint option, which will free Narváez up to attack. Despite having three talented riders, I don’t think they start as the big favourites.
Bahrain – they have Colbrelli and Mohorič, two riders who destroyed everyone in the Benelux Tour at the tail end of 2021. Just like the Jumbo boys, they arrive from altitude without any racing in the legs. Colbrelli ended 2021 in the form of his life, he made the step up to the very highest level of the sport. Mohorič also enjoyed a brilliant season, they will form a very strong partnership in the classics. Is this race too early for them? We’ll have to wait and see.
UAE – Alessandro Covi has been one of the standout performers in the last couple of weeks, taking wins in Murcia and Andalucía. He’ll be joined by Matteo Trentin, a rider who always seems to be up there in the big races, but without really challenging for the win. Given Covi’s form, he’ll be confident of making the front selection, he’s a rider the others will be watching closely.
Alexey Lutsenko – another who started the season with a bang, taking a win in Jaén, but what happened in Andalucía? Losing to Poels in a sprint wasn’t a great sign of his shape, especially as he was posted missing in the other stages. Did we read too much into his dominant display in Jaén against a relatively weak field? Quite possibly.
Jasper Stuyven – only arrived back from Tenerife on Thursday, I don’t think I’ve seen that happen before. For me it’s just too close to arrive home before the race, I think it will be a disadvantage for the whole team.
I’ll take a win for Wout Van Aert, sorry to be boring!