Ghent > Ninove 207.3km
The opening weekend is here, hallelujah! The races so far have given a big hint at form, but as we have several riders racing for the first time in 2023, there’s still a lot of unknowns. The organisers have seen the error of their ways and brought back the Molenberg.
Cold and windy. Temperatures will barely get above 3 degrees and the wind will hit around 25km/h, coming from the north. That’s plenty to split the race.
I’ve decided to break the race up into a few parts, mainly to show the wind and where the big move might go.
The first 100km has lots of crosswind sections, the red shows this. There is a long headwind section around km 60, and as it’s still early in the race, big moves are unlikely but not impossible.
The next phase of the race is full of danger. Not only do the climbs and cobbles start, but there are multiple crosswind sections, the one at the bottom of the picture is long and full of potential.
Then comes the beginning of the finale, which starts with the Molenberg. The approach will be fast and furious, then comes the climb, which is quickly followed by lots of crosswind as the bunch head towards Geraardsbergen. If the winning move hasn’t formed yet, it will here.
Yes, there is a stiff headwind after the Bosberg, but pulling back a strong group will be incredibly hard, especially after a tough day in the saddle. The finishing line has been brought forward a little, no more tricky corners in the final kilometre.
The Molenberg doesn’t look much, but the incredibly narrow entrance ensures it can be pretty easy to split the bunch on the climb. Once over the top, the road continues to be narrow and it’s a crosswind.
You know it’s the Omloop when Tiesj attacks on the Berendries. You just now it’s going to happen!
The legendary Kapelmuur. In previous years we’ve not seen much between the best on this hill, but it all depends on how much energy they’ve had to use before it. The harder the race, the harder it is.
The presence of Arnaud De Lie will have a huge impact on the race, most teams want a hard day in the saddle. The cold and wind make this much easier to happen, it looks like a selective day to me. Lotto are not strong enough to hold the race together, De Lie will have to ride an aggressive race, and try to take it to his rivals.
Jumbo-Visma, Ineos, QuickStep and Bahrain will all want to make this race hard for De Lie, they all have the same collective goal. The strong teams will stick to the usual plan of constant attacks until the peloton splits, they’ll all hope to have multiple riders in the front group. Just where the race splits is impossible to predict, but if it hasn’t happened before the Molenberg, then it happens just after. The wind conditions as the group head towards Geraardsbergen are perfect for a group to build a race winning advantage. Some will look at the headwind in the final 10km, but that should pale into insignificance compared to the rest of the race.
My initial thoughts are that QuickStep aren’t as strong as they would like. Jumbo-Visma are strong, but a little unknown due to it being the first race of the season for many. Ineos are strong and have a number of riders on form. Bahrain don’t have a lot of strength in depth, but their leaders are looking good. FDJ could fly under the radar but are unlikely to win.
I think we’ll see a race where Jumbo-Visma and Ineos slug it out. The defending champions are obviously weaker without Van Aert, but they still have several riders who love the hills in this part of the world. Ineos have a clear leader, and he’s on form, they’ll try and manufacture a situation where it’s a group of solo leaders and he can use his current legs to take the win.
As always in this race, trying to predict is one thing, getting it right is another.
I’m joined by Matteo Jorgenson to take a good look at the route.
Christophe Laporte – 2022 was an incredible season for him, and there’s no reason to think he’s not going to get better. Jumbo-Visma have a very strong team at the race, Benoot and Tratnik should also be in this list but then it would get ridiculously long! A solo winner isn’t likely this year, having a good sprint will be a massive help. Form is unknown, but he normally goes well at the start of the year, and the Jumbo Bees fly after coming back from altitude camp.
Tom Pidcock – took an important win on Sunday, confidence will be sky high for this race. When Van Aert and van der Poel are not racing against him in CX races, he normally takes advantage, I wonder if it’ll be the same on the road. Ineos arrive with a good team, but they are not quite as strong as Jumbo-Visma. They do have Sheffield and Turner to support in the finale, but I don’t see them as winners, but Pidcock is.
Arnaud De Lie – this race was added to his program after a hugely successful start to the season. As I’ve already mentioned, his mere presence ensures a hard race. If he was riding on a strong team, he could win, but I don’t think Lotto can control this one.
Fred Wright – last year he was brilliant in this part of the world, that was before he impressed in the Tour and Vuelta. He was good in Valenciana, and I expect a huge year from him, starting here.
Matej Mohorič – the other Bahrain option, another who’s already shown some good form. The key to a Bahrain win will be getting both options in the front group.
Stefan Küng – took a brilliant win in the Algarve TT, the legs are clearly good. Last year, he was brilliant in the classics, rarely outside the top 10. The problem is winning, it’s the same for all riders with his characteristics. As the “sprinters” continue to grow stronger, it’s very hard for someone without a sprint to win.
Jasper Philipsen – he’s got a sprint, but can he survive a tough race? I have my doubts at this point of his season.
Tim Wellens – the form is growing. He would have been pleased to get a win in Andalucía, it would have settled him a bit after making the move to UAE. This is a race he knows well, and with all his experience, and good legs, I expect him to make the front split. Then we’ll see if he can win this race for the first time.
Matteo Jorgenson – after taking a brilliant win in Oman, he’s another who’ll approach this race with confidence. He doesn’t have much experience of racing in this part of the world, so he’ll need help from his team to ensure he’s in the right place at the right time. I’ve long said he can be a top classics rider, it’s time for him to show everyone what he can do. After appearing in The Preview Show, he knows what to do!
Jumbo-Visma versus Ineos.
I’ll take a win for Christophe Laporte.
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