Ghent > Ninove 129.1km
After a gentle opening over in Spain, the women’s season properly kicks off with the 14th edition of The Omloop. We have a new look SD Worx looking to continue their dominance, but they will come under fierce pressure from the likes of Trek-Segafredo and Movistar.
A beautiful day for racing. It’s sunny, relatively cold and there isn’t much wind.
This is where the race will be decided. The bunch hit the Wolvenberg at km74 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.
All eyes are on the new look SD Worx. Anna Van Der Breggen has retired, the team have looked to replace her by bringing in Lotte Kopecky and Marlen Reusser. Now, it’s impossible to replace someone like VDB, but the signing of Kopecky will get lots of people excited. Obviously, she’s not a direct replacement as VDB could do everything, but Kopecky is a rider who could dominate the classics over the next few years.
The team will look to do their usual which is to launch attack after attack, trying to slim down the peloton and isolate the team leaders on weaker teams. This usually leads to SD Worx having multiple options in the front group while other riders are isolated, then they launch the killer move. I would imagine they’ll have Kopecky, Reusser, Van Den Broek-Blaak and Vollering as their main leaders, all of them could win this race. Kopecky has an excellent sprint, she’ll be happy if we get a reduced sprint, if Emma Norsgaard isn’t there.
The Dane has quickly become one of my favourites, she is a remarkable rider. Still just 22, she had a phenomenal 2021 and I think she’s only going to get better. Movistar have her and Van Vleuten, that’s a strong duo. AVV started the season off in usual dominant fashion, easily winning in Valenciana, but this is a different cup of tea. She loves to ride an attacking race, but I’d be keen for her to save her bullets until the finale. If she rides totally in the service of Norsgaard, the race could well end in a reduced bunch sprint, but will she? Movistar like to take the race to the others, which isn’t a bad tactic against a team like SD Worx, but I’d like to see them try something a little different.
Trek-Segafredo are the other team who’ll be looking to control the race. They have an in-from Ellen Van Dijk, Longo Borghini and the world champion, Elisa Balsamo. It seems obvious it’s Van Dijk for the long-range attack, Longo Borghini for a late move, holding Balsamo back for the sprint. Despite the presence of DSM, UAE and Jumbo-Visma I don’t think anyone else has the strength in depth to challenge the bigger squads for control of the race.
Given the weather conditions, the race is likely to split in the section I’ve already highlighted. How big will the front group be? If SD Worx have numbers, it’s game over for everyone else. They don’t want a big sprint, as Bastianelli is too fast. They don’t want a smaller sprint with Norsgaard either, I think they’ll look to create very small front group or go for the solo win, just like last year.
SD Worx – Kopecky looks their best option for me, she’ll be keen on having a good start for her new team. No doubt about it, they have the strongest team by a considerable distance, you could argue that any of the squad could take the win. Marlen Reusser should be a worry for the others, if she gets a gap, she’s more than capable of TTing away. They’ll likely work out team leadership “on the road” it all depends on the composition of the front group.
Movistar – two clear options in Van Vleuten and Norsgaard. I’ll repeat what I’ve already said, I would like to see AVV ride in support of Norsgaard and try to hold the race together for a reduced sprint. I doubt this will happen, but I live in hope.
Trek-Segafredo – Van Dijk is going well, but she’s unlikely to win. Longo Borghini is always up there in the classics, but her lack of a sprint goes against her in this race. Elisa Balsamo has started the season well; she represents the best chance for the team.
Grace Brown – she’s a great signing for FDJ, it gives them a real presence in these races. Brown enjoyed a brilliant 2021, I’m hoping for an even better 2022. She needs to go long, but that’s not always a disadvantage. If SD Worx and Movistar look at each other, she’ll be off up the road looking for a solo win.
Marta Bastianelli – it all depends on how hard the racing his. The others will want to take some speed out of her legs, can she hang tough when the attacking kicks off?
I think we’ll see a win for SD Worx and Lotte Kopecky.