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Your New Favorite Race: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Spencer Powlison /
Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Welcome to the VeloNews 2017 WorldTour fan guide. Great news: There are tons of cycling races all season! Less-great news: Like trying to pick an ice cream flavor at Ben & Jerry’s, tons of choices can be overwhelming. So, we’ll try to help out by giving you quick, fun overviews of major races. Stay tuned for more previews.

Need to pick Your New Favorite Team? Here are 11 teams you should follow in the 2017 season >>

Your New Favorite Race: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Why should you care about this race? The spring classics have arrived! Omloop is the official kick-off for cobbles season, and if that doesn’t get your pulse racing, consult your physician. [VeloNews stories should not be construed as medical advice -Ed.]

Most dramatic edition in recent history? Recency can cloud judgement, but man, that sprint between Greg Van Avermaet and world champ Peter Sagan last year was pretty thrilling:

However, I think the nod must go to the 2015 edition of Omloop, when Ian Stannard out-foxed four (FOUR!) Etixx – Quick-Step riders, including Roubaix winners Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra:

Your Race’s defining feature: It’s impossible to discuss this race without referencing the proverbial elephant in the room, which is its ungainly and seemingly unpronounceable name. We get it, the English larynx was not designed to sound out strange Flemish words. Luckily, this race’s name is easier to sound out than it appears on paper. Omm-loop Het Noose-blad. Easy. Now you can drop its name to your heart’s desire without fear of sounding like a newbie (that’s “Nieuwbie” in Flemish, of course).

The other defining feature at Omloop are all of the wonderfully painful cobbled climbs that we get to see a month later during the Tour of Flanders. Yep, Omloop contains such favorite Flanders hellingen as the Molenberg, the Eikenberg, and the marquee climb, the Taaienberg, affectionately known as “the Boonenberg.” Yes, this is the 90-meter ascent, with a max gradient of 19 percent, where Tommeke loves to launch attacks and form the final selection. Coming 59km from the finish, it’s a bit early to decide the race in some seasons, but watching the top classics riders sprint up the tightrope of smooth concrete on the right shoulder of the Taaienberg is what Omloop is all about. Plus, watching the peloton zoom up those bumpy climbs is the perfect way to get the proper “stoke” going for Flanders.

But the thing is … We love the thrill of a new classics season, that Christmas morning emotion of Omloop. Here’s the thing: the rider who wins Omloop usually has peaked too early to be the odds-on favorite at Flanders and Roubaix. Degenerate sports gamblers, take note. Greg Van Avermaet won in 2016 but then didn’t net any other classics victories that spring. (Okay, to be fair, he won Tirreno due to a freak snowstorm and won the Olympics later that summer.) Stannard was similarly unsuccessful after Omloop wins in 2014 and 2015. Johan Museeuw was the last guy to win a major spring classic (Paris-Roubaix) following an early win at Omloop in 2000. Omloop is a great indicator of a rider’s classics form, but not the best bellwether for future classics glory.

Ladies first? Yes! Omloop hosts a women’s race, and in this peloton the curse of an early Omloop victory seems nonexistent. Lizzie Deignan won in 2016, the first of her five major spring classics wins. The women’s race often is decided from a small group, or sometimes solo, as Deignan did. This route features eight cobbled climbs, notably the difficult Molenberg, 500 meters in length with a 9.8 percent average. This challenge comes 39km from the finish — good for a final selection, but perhaps too early for a solo escape.

Who are you betting your beer money on this year? I like Boonen for the 2017 edition. Any other season, I doubt he’d be eager to win Omloop, but this is his swan-song. Though he’s raced here 14 times, Boonen has never won this spring classic. Roubaix and Flanders are obviously his top priorities, but I think Boonen will have a little extra motivation to add Omloop to his palmares. Plus, he’s only got to be good before his retirement party on April 9 (Roubaix), so he can structure his season and training differently than others who have full summer schedules ahead.

In the women’s race, I like Chantal Blaak. For starters, she’s racing with the ever-dominant Boels – Dolmans team. The Dutchwoman also has four career top-five finishes at Omloop, so her experience should pay off. If not her, then teammate Amy Pieters, winner in 2014, would be a fine “plan B.”

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