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Why the 2018 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was so underwhelming

Joe Robinson
26 Feb 2018

There were a few clear reasons as to why the first cobbled Classic of the year was not that exciting

This weekend, for many, sparked the true start of the cycling season with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday. This cobbled one-day Classic usually produces electric racing and builds the anticipation for the upcoming Tour of Flanders to palpable levels.

However while Michael Valgren's (Astana) canny attack led to an impressive solo victory, I couldn't help but to feel a little unsatisfied with this year's race. 

Bucking the trend of recent years, the 2018 Omloop did not produce the fireworks on the much loved cobbled climbs between the usual culprits that we are used to seeing.

Below is a little looks at why we may have all been left underwhelmed by this usually tantalising race.

If it isn't broke, don't fix it

On paper, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad changing its route to the finish to replicate that of the Tour of Flanders from 2011 and before should have produced exciting racing. The cobbled climb duo of the Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg usually decimate the peloton.

Yet this year, it drew a bit of a blank. Just turn to stats expert and cycling journalist Cillian Kelly who produced some interesting figures regarding this weekend's race.

For only the second time in two decades did the top 50 at the race finish within a minute of the race winner, in this case Valgren.

Furthermore, 56 riders managed to cross the line within 15 seconds of the Astana man breaking the trend of just a handful reaching the finish near the eventual winner.

It appears as if the previous finish of the uncobbled Wolvenbreg and Leberg finished off with the cobbled Molenberg produced a more interesting finish that meant more attacks and tempted more riders away from playing the waiting game.

You cannot change the weather

Sep Vanmarcke (EF-Drapac) tried his hardest to light up the race with a barnstorming ascent of the Kappelmuur. He managed to put some time into a chasing group of hitters including defending champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and triple cyclocross World Champion Wout van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan).

Vanmarcke, joined by a sprightly Zdenek Stybar (Quick-Step Floors), tried his hardest to make something happen before the final but a bitter headwind nullified any attack from just a handful of riders sticking.

After the race, Stybar eluded to the wind playing a big part in the conservative nature of the race. Van Avermaet, Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), Tim Wellens and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) all tried solo attacks but you could tell the wind was just too strong for day of individual glory.

Valgren managed to escape solo eventually but this only came with under 2km only just managing to stay ahead of a rampaging peloton. 

Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad proved to be a perfect example of how a race can be neutralised by the weather.

No Peter, no party

Peter Sagan pulling a wheelie at the presentation for the 101st Tour of Flanders

Peter Sagan's (Bora-Hansgrohe) decision to miss the opening weekend of cobbled races certainly affected how exciting the race was. 

The three-time World Champion has never won this opening classic but has been a major protagonist in the two previous editions coming second behind Van Avermaet in 2016 and 2017.

There is an air of an inevitably around the Slovak when it comes to his racing style that he will attack before the final regardless of whether that is the right decision.

This lack of patience makes any race Sagan starts exciting, that's why his cycling's biggest superstar. So his decision to miss Omloop for the first time since 2015 meant that the race was lacking the character that usually ignites the excitement at the 'true start of the cycling season.'

No live coverage of the women's race

Whether this is the fault of the organisers, Flanders Classics, or the television broadcasters Sporza and Eurosport, I am unsure.

Yet, one reason that this usually exciting cobbled Classic didn't deliver was due to the non-existent television coverage of the parallel women's race.

Christina Siggaard's surprise win was only relayed to onlooking cycling world by race radio and some optimistic live tweeting by journalists at the race.

A particular disappointment considering the amount of television media present to cover the men's race.

This theme is all too familiar with cycling fans as it seems like live race coverage of women's major racing has not caught up to the level it needs to be at. 

The women's race finished while the men's race was still 50km from the finish with not much in the way of exciting racing particularly happening.

Surely it would have made sense to show the nail-biting finish to the women's race while the men's race was still so far from its conclusion, but clearly not.

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