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Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad delivered an action-packed final 50km of racing. We saw multiple attacks, a bizarre controversy involving a sidewalk, and an exciting three-up sprint that included the reigning Olympic and world champions. Yes, it was a perfect way to kick off the 2017 classics season.
So what did Omloop teach us about our cycling stars at the outset of the 2017 season? How did that final sprint go down? Should we wring our hands with anger of this sidewalk kerfuffle? Let’s roundtable!
What did we learn about Greg Van Avermaet?
Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: We already knew he could ride the stones, play tactics, and sprint with the best — nothing new to see there. It showed me he’s a little more thirsty for wins than you’d expect an Olympic champion to be, but hey maybe now that Omloop is WorldTour, there’s more incentive to show up guns-blazing in Gent.
Caley Fretz @caleyfretz: He ain’t scared of a couple rainbows.
Fred Dreier @freddreier: He’s the cagiest, smartest guy in a breakaway. GVA only pulled when he needed to, saved energy, and let Sep and Sagan do the work. It was no surprise he had the best legs at the end.
What did Peter Sagan’s loss tell us about him?
Spencer: The opposite of GVA. Sagan looked super blasé, like this was just a training ride for him. Maybe it was. He certainly didn’t take the post-race interview very seriously, which makes it pretty remarkable that he romped to a win in Kuurne Sunday, so I guess he won the overall for cobbles weekend #1?
Kristen: Sagan is just as interesting and entertaining after losing a race as he is after winning one. Did you see that strange post-race interview?! A small part of me hopes he loses again soon so we can see this prickly personality come out again.
Caley: He’s going to win Flanders. He didn’t hit top form too early.
Fred: He’s the strongest guy right now. You ever been on a group ride when some pro cyclist shows up just burns matches for the hell of it? That’s what it looked like in that front group with Sagan. He took the longest pulls, monkeyed around on the back, skidded through turns, and generally flexed his muscles all day. He was an inefficient, match-burning shaggy dog of a racer, and I loved it.
Who was the biggest loser at Omloop and why?
Spencer: It’s easy to call out Trek – Segafredo, but at least Jasper Stuyven attacked on the Taaienberg and animated the race. I’d hand the soggy waffle loser award to Quick-Step Floors. The Belgian super team was a non-factor in the race. Boonen crashed in that big pile-up, and apparently they didn’t have a plan B.
Kristen: Boonen and Quick-Step. The team walked away from the weekend without even a podium spot to celebrate after Trentin started his sprint too early at KBK. Boonen crashed out on Saturday and didn’t even start Sunday due to stomach problems — not a great way to start the season.
Caley: Quick-Step Floors forgot to eat its Lucky Charms on Saturday. It came into Omloop with the best team in the race (on paper anyway) but failed to deliver, largely thanks to crashes. We don’t know much about their collective form after opening weekend, which may actually be a bit worrying for other teams.
Fred: Trek-Segafredo. Stuyven’s attack initiated the action with 50km to go with his teammate Ed Theuns. Still, they missed the ensuing selection when Sagan, Sep, Gougeard, GVA, Boudat, and Grivko motored away. They made the race, and then watched it roll away.
How should the UCI deal with this sidewalk controversy?
Spencer: If they’re serious about this rule, they’re going to need a lot of fencing. Otherwise, play ball, and make sure the moto officials don’t interfere to give one group an advantage over another.
Kristen: The UCI shouldn’t have made such a big deal about the rule before the race unless they were willing to DQ a dream-team trio like they had this weekend — and they obviously were not willing. It’s impossible to enforce these rules at races like Flanders so why pick out other races to make a big deal about it?
Caley: I don’t like this rule. Race routes in Belgium are already nutty, it’s not like a couple curb hops adds much to the danger. As long as you’re not cutting through back yards, I say ride wherever seems logical.
Fred: When it comes to pavé, riders are always going to seek out a smoother option. So if you want them to stay off the sidewalk, gutter, or grass, then the UCI better put up barriers or hay bales or maybe Concertina wire. Simply asking the riders to stay on the cobbles (and off the smooth pavement) is like asking someone to keep their hand on a hot stove.
What’s your take on the final sprint?
Spencer: Vanmarcke should have either gone early, just inside of the final kilometer, or he should have tried to take the inside line on the final corner (not the outside line on the penultimate corner). People are critiquing Sagan for blowing that second-to-last corner, but it seems like he was just trying to shut down Vanmarcke … Uh, Peter, you should be way more worried about GVA in this sprint. Van Avermaet was near-perfect: patient, jumped when the other guys were scrubbing speed on the outside of that right-hander, child’s play.
Kristen: Sagan overshot the corner so he wouldn’t have to lead the other two into the final meters of the sprint but it was too late by then. Once Sagan positioned himself behind GVA and Sep he couldn’t get his leg speed up enough to overcome GVA’s sprint.
Caley: Vanmarcke should have attacked earlier, but he doubled the error by attacking the wrong way around the final corner. Momentum is everything after 200km, and that ended any chance of edging two superior sprinters. Sagan was either avoiding the Omloop Curse or, more likely, is still missing some punch.
Fred: Sagan was out of matches, and GVA is a killer on uphill sprints. No matter the positioning, I think GVA still comes out on top.