Road

Five top takeaways from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne

From van der Poel's two-hour attack to SD Worx's daylong stranglehold, the 'opening weekend' shone a light on the classics season to come.

The 2021 classics season kick-started with a scintillating opening salvo this weekend.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne raised the curtain on a series of high-profile, one-day races through the next few weeks, and many of the biggest names in the men’s and women’s peloton hit the ground running at all cylinders. Mathieu van der Poel pummeled, Julian Alaphilippe dazzled, and SD Worx threw a collective haymaker.

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With racing resuming as soon as Le Samyn on Tuesday, here’s what the “opening weekend” indicated about the spring classics to come:

Mathieu van der Poel shoots an early warning shot

Van der Poel was relentless as ever with over 80km of attacking at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Mathieu van der Poel came out swinging in his opening classic of the year.

Like he has done so many times before, the Dutchman uncorked a major move with some two hours of racing remaining in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday. Sharing the work with Jhonatan Narvaéz, “MvdP” motored across to the breakaway before doing the lion’s share of the work in keeping the break clear from a charging chase group behind.

Van der Poel came away unrewarded with 12th place, but his 80-kilometer ride taking the wind in the attack groups gave the Alpecin-Fenix ace all the training he needs before the classics season heats up, and shows that he has confidence oozing from every pore. 85km move? Why not?

He punched past the best for a sprint win at the UAE Tour last week. He revved the diesel in the fields of Flanders on Sunday. Who knows what he’ll do next, but the peloton has been warned.

Rainbow jerseys shine bright over spring

Van der Breggen looks to close her career at a crescendo in 2021. Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

Both the men’s and women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad proved that rainbows can shine in the bleak winter of Belgium.

Julian Alaphilippe was as swashbuckling as ever with a daring solo attack in the men’s race before playing the team role when bought back to heel. Anna van der Breggen simply rode the bunch off her wheel to win the first race of her last season before retirement. If world champions have a duty to honor their jersey through panache, poise and power, van der Breggen and Alaphilippe did that by the bucketload on Saturday.

Both of the reigning world champs have big ambitions for their year in the jersey. Alaphilippe is eyeing a full classics program, the Olympics and a world title defense, while van der Breggen traces a path toward an Olympic defense via the Belgian spring and a return to the Giro Rosa.

Both AvdB and Alaphilippe have set the tone for the year to come, and it’s looking like their iconic jerseys be in the eyeline all the way through until the worlds this September. Rainbow jersey curse? Nope.

Tom Pidcock has the legs to go very far

Pidcock didn’t rate himself as a cobblestone rider or a sprinter. He’s proven himself wrong. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Tom Pidcock touts himself as a rider suited for the Ardennes, and one not well-suited to a sprint.

If this weekend proves anything, it’s that the 21-year-old Brit can do what he wants. The Ineos Grenadiers rookie bridged across to an elite group of attackers like a rocketship before animating the malfunctioning move at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Some 24 hours later, he bettered a dozen hefty sprinters to kick to third in Kuurne.

What Pidcock showed in enthusiasm and bravado on Saturday he balanced with racecraft and patience in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday. The diminutive Pidcock kept his powder dry toward the back of the chase group Sunday as burly rouleurs did the pulling, and then came from nowhere to outsprint almost all of them.

He’s got the clout, he’s got the cunning, and he’s got decades left in the legs. He fancies his chances for Strade Bianche this weekend, and few would rule him out.

The stage is set for Wout van Aert

Van Aert, van der Poel, Alaphilippe – and Pidcock – are all set to clash at Strade Bianche this weekend. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Van der Poel has pummeled. Alaphilippe has dazzled. Pidcock has shown no fear. Now it’s time for Wout van Aert to get involved in the action. The foursome is set to butt heads for the first time this road season at Strade Bianche on Saturday, and it could prove spectacular.

Van Aert is yet to race on the road this year, while van der Poel, Alaphilippe and Pidcock all have racing in their legs and fire in their bellies after some top performances in the short season to date. Van Aert, however, is the defending champion in Strade, and showed throughout last year that he can pull out the unexpected as and when he wants.

All four of them harbor different racing styles and different motivations. Pidcock, van Aert and van der Poel know each other all-too-well after a relentless battle through the cyclocross winter. Alaphilippe has a point to prove after crashing out of Tour of Flanders last October.

Strade Bianche will see the quartet lighting the fuse for what could be a spectacular classics season to come.

SD Worx outmuscles the opposition

SD-Worx took one-three on the podium and placed two further riders in the top-13. Photo: as Czerwinski/Getty Images

New name, new kit, same powerful team. The newly rebranded SD Worx outmuscled and outmaneuvered the best at Omloop.

A talent-stacked team lined up in its new purple and red kit Saturday, and dictated the playbook throughout. After pulling back the break and cranking the tempo to a point that neither Annemiek van Vleuten nor Lizzie Deignan could withstand, SD Worx got numbers into the lead bunch, and proceeded to throw a series of haymakers at Liv Racing.

And just as the Dutch powerhouse had the strongest team, it had the strongest rider Saturday, with van der Breggen unleashing a fittingly unstoppable move to match her teammates’ suffocating grip on the race.  Liv Racing had nothing in response. Trek-Segafredo – last season’s standout squad – was dizzy on the ropes. They have just one day to regroup and figure out how to unlock SD Worx before Le Samyn on Tuesday.

Just an hour before the women’s race, Deceuninck-Quick-Step had dominated the men’s Omloop. Van der Breggen, Amy Pieters, Chantal van den Broek-Blaak and their wrecking crew proved that whatever “The Wolfpack” can do, SD Worx can do it better.