Cycling’s top classics stars will battle each other and horrendous weather in the Belgian calendar’s opening weekend. Forecasters are calling for cold, rain and pummeling wind for Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
World champions Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) are among the leading favorites lining up Saturday for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the unofficial start of classics season. Other top names in the men’s race include Wout Van Aert, a late starter for Jumbo-Visma, Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal), the always deep Deceuninck-Quick-Step, and defending champion Zdenek Stybar. Peter Sagan, set to race the Giro d’Italia for the first time in May, is a notable missing name from the otherwise stellar start list.
Also missing is Mathieu van der Poel, who will skip the classics opener due to the flu.
“I’m feeling really good and I think my shape is as good as the last years, if not better, at this point in the season,” said CCC’s Greg Van Avermaet. “The classics are my big focus in the first half of the year so my season really starts this weekend. I’m looking forward to lining up with Matteo Trentin and I think we can play off each other when it comes to attacking and covering moves in the finale of both races. We have a strong team and if everything goes to plan, I think we can get some nice results this weekend.”
In the women’s race, which finishes ahead of the men’s race on a similar loop, favorites include Anna van der Breggen and Jip van den Bos will back defending champion Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak. Tour Down Under winner Ruth Winder, Lucinda Brand and Ellen van Dijk headline Trek-Segafredo. Marta Bastianelli, winner of the Tour of Flanders in 2019, leads Ale’ BTC Ljubljana. Coryn Rivera is targeting a strong spring with Sunweb, while Leah Thomas, hot off a stage win last weekend in Spain, lines up with a deep Bigla-Katusha team.
“I am so keen to race, I have been training so much, my training period has been long enough, so I am really looking forward to Saturday,” said van Vleuten, who debuts Saturday. “I think my preparation has been the best, the most enjoyable preparation from the last 10 years. I had an amazing winter with hard training but I enjoyed it a lot, especially training in the rainbow jersey, it gives that extra motivation.”
The women race Sunday at Omloop van het Hageland, which sees a new run-in to the final laps, which includes the Roesberg climb to spice things up. The men race at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, which favors the sprinters more so than Omloop, though every race over the weekend can deliver surprises.
And more so with forecasted weather looking abysmal. Highs are expected to be in the high 40s, with a 50 percent chance of rain, and winds around 15mph on both days.
“I think this weekend with the weather, there will be a lot of wind and rain and that can effect both races and makes them harder,” said Mitchelton-Scott director Martin Vestby.