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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2021: Who are the favourites?

Joe Robinson
26 Feb 2021

All you need to know about the first Classic of the year: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday 27th February 2021

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad marks the traditional start of the cycling season and the first race of Spring Classics ‘Opening Weekend’ alongside Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

This year will see the 76th edition for the men and the 13th edition for the women of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad semi-Classic that is best considered as Tour of Flanders-lite with a mixture of cobbled climbs and winding farm roads taking both pelotons from Gent to Ninove.

With current restrictions on roadside crowds, the exact routes of both races are being kept under wraps from the public until the race, however we can expect the usual fireworks finish provided by the Muur van Geraardsbergen-Bosberg left-right combination within the last 20km of racing.

The Kapelmuur is among Flanders' most feared climbs with cramp-inducing ramps of 20% on the climb's uncompromising cobbled surface. Formerly the penultimate climb at the Tour of Flanders, its slopes have provided a stage for some of cycling's most dramatic plays.

The final climb, the Bosberg, is not as hard as Geraardsbergen but just as exciting considering it is the last platform of attack before the race's end. Exciting isn’t it!

However, this year has seen a massive broadcasting rights-shaped spanner violently lobbed in the works. In 2021, both Eurosport and GCN have failed to acquire live television rights to the race so therefore there will be no ‘legal’ live television coverage of the men’s or the women’s race in the UK.

Which makes us ponder the eternal question? If a Cobbled Classic takes place in Spring but Eurosport and GCN are not providing live coverage, does it actually happen? I’m not sure, maybe we should ask the women’s peloton who have been racing the biggest and best one-day Classics without adequate television coverage for years now.

Anyway, here's a look at some of the pre-race favourites:

While the cats are away...

With the absence of Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin-Fenix and Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert, the rivalry expected to dominate Spring Classics for the next decade is on hold, or at least for this year’s edition of Omloop anyway.

Instead, the duo’s absence represents an excellent opportunity for one of the other remarkably talented Classics men within the peloton to put an Omloop-shaped feather in the palmares cap. Although, with less racing than usual at this point in the season, picking a favourite is quite the task.

Logic would suggest the Deceuninck-QuickStep team. That’s right, the entire team of seven riders, each of which you could construct an argument for why they could win. 

Leading the team is World Champion Julian Alaphilippe, debuting at Omloop. Still new to racing on the cobbles, he took like a duck to water at last year’s Tour of Flanders until he crashed into the back of a motorbike. It’s almost a guarantee that Alaphilippe will be there or thereabouts at Omloop on Saturday.

If not Alaphilippe, pick one from Kasper Asgreen, Davide Ballerini, Yves Lampaert, Florian Senechal or previous winner Zdenek Stybar. Even ‘El Tractore’ Tim Declercq could be considered as an outsider for the win.

Talking of firepower, the Trek-Segafredo team riding Omloop on Saturday could be considered just as ‘stacked’. The team is led by defending champion Jasper Stuyven, flanked by Mads Pedersen and Edward Theuns, with diesel engines Ryan Mullen, Alex Kirsch and Charlie Quarterman. That’s the making of a team that could go toe-to-toe with QuickStep.

In our expert opinion, the two riders from these superstar teams to look out for on Saturday are Danish duo Asgreen and Pedersen.

For British fans, the presence of one Tom Pidcock is exciting. The 21-year-old is now an Ineos Grenadier and is dipping his toe into elite Classics racing for the first time at Omloop.

Despite this lack of experience, a victory for the Yorkshireman is not as insane as it may sound. He can climb, he can sprint, he has a strong team around him including Ethan Hayter and Jhonatan Narvaez. One to consider for the win, maybe?

Not for us, though. Because our eggs are in the basket of perma-pain-faced, puppy-dogging Flandrian Tim Wellens. It’s about time the Lotto-Soudal rider won a major Classic, in our opinion. Years of pointless attacks at the Classics have so far amounted to nothing but we have this feeling that could change sooner rather than later. At least, we hope so.

Let’s not forget the usual suspects, either. Previous winner Greg Van Avermaet, now racing at AG2R-Citroen with good friend Oliver Naesen, has started the year well. Dylan Teuns of the ironically-named Bahrain Victorious is always one to watch along with Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates) and Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe). And Israel Start-Up Nation’s Sep Vanmarcke is surely going to finish somewhere between 2nd and 9th, right?

Welcoming back the women

If predicting who would win the men’s event from a limited number of race days was not hard enough, pity the fool who tries to guess the winner of the women’s Omloop based on absolutely zero race days.

That's especially so because of the quality of field scheduled to take place. To say it is superior to that of the men’s race would be an understatement. Six former champions are confirmed to be on the start line as well as last year’s podium finishers.

The defending champion is Annemiek van Vleuten and she will be debuting for new team Movistar. Regardless of new surroundings and the associated teething issues that could arise, the 38-year-old is still favourite to retain her title. That’s how good she is.

The competition will be stiff, though. Just look over to the SD Worx team (formerly known as Boels-Dolmans) who brag World Champion Anna van der Breggen beside Chantal Van den Broek-Blaak, Amy Pieters, Christine Majerus, Jolien d’Hoore and Demi Vollering among their ranks.

Like Deceuninck-QuickStep, an argument could be made for each of those riders taking the win. Of the lot, however, we fancy new signing Vollering to run well.

The dynamic Trek-Segafredo duo of Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini return after their stellar 2020 season. Both riders love racing Classics and work perfectly together. And let’s not forget Marta Bastianelli of Ale BTC Ljubljana, second-place at this race for the past two editions.

It feels that FDJ’s Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig is almost due a big result such as Omloop and that Canyon-Sram’s Katarzyna Niewiadoma is also centimetres away from a dominant performance. We also should not ignore the tough Lizzie Banks of Ceratizit–WNT who knows how to get results in terrible conditions.

Let’s also note that among the Team BikeExchange squad, Sarah Roy, Grace Brown and Jessia Allen all participated in the Australian National Championships last month so have got racing miles in the legs unlike the rest of the peloton.

Yet, for us, the team you really want to keep an eye on is Team DSM with 23-year-old German Liane Lippert and 25-year-old Dutchwoman Floortje Mackaij. Both are strong attack-minded riders who are already thriving in the Classics. Do not be surprised if either of them win this weekend.

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