Women's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2023 - contenders and predictions
Can Van Vleuten take back-to-back wins at the first cobbled Classic or can SD Worx dethrone her with their stacked roster?
This year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is the 18th edition of the women’s race and will be the first WorldTour race in Europe this season. It’s on the same day as the men’s race and features many of the same famous cobbled sections and climbs in the Flemish Ardennes.
Several riders are set to make their 2023 road debut at the Belgian classic including, Lotte Kopecky, Demi Vollering (both SD Worx), and Ellen van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo. Defending champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) is set to take the start and could become the second-ever woman to win the race back-to-back after Emma Johansson achieved the feat in 2010 and 2011.
All eyes will be on the fearsome Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg duo that now defines this race on its 132km route from Gent to Ninove. The climbs used to be the arena for race-winning moves at the Tour of Flanders before its finish was moved to Oudenaarde in 2012.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was upgraded to the Women's WorldTour level this year and now contains five cobbled sections and eight climbs.
Here are the key contenders and our predictions for the winner of the 2023 women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Annemiek van Vleuten
The world champion didn’t get her final professional season off to her typical style at the Volta Comunitat Valenciana, unable to take victory as she did last year. She was unable to drop Ashleigh Moolman Pasio or Amanda Spratt on the queen stage three, before being beaten by the pair in the final sprint, eventually finishing fourth overall. Van Vleuten is coming off the back of her best-ever season though, with wins at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Giro d’Italia Donne, Tour de France Femmes, Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta and the World Championships road race.
The two-time Omloop Het Nieuwsblad winner however, is starting her 2023 WorldTour campaign here with a strong team behind her and will be hoping to deliver her first win of the season. The addition of both Liane Lippert and Floortje Mackaij from Team DSM has bolstered the Movistar squad significantly and should give Movistar other cards to play in the finish if Van Vleuten isn’t quite up to her best. Lippert told Rouleur earlier this month that she was excited to race aggressively at Movistar and alongside Van Vleuten. The stacked Movistar team is finished with Arlenis Sierra and Emma Norsgaard who can sprint for victory from a group finish.
Van Vleuten was by far the strongest rider in the 2022 Omloop, launching away on the Bosberg with only Vollering able to follow. She was forced into riding the whole way into Ninove on the front, as Vollering had fast team-mates in the group behind, but still managed to overcome her Dutch compatriot in the final sprint.
Van Vleuten will likely attack in a similar position this year, and it’s hard to bet against her even if she didn’t look her best in Spain.
Vollering is opening her 2023 season at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad so her current form is unknown. But she will want to go one better than last year after losing the final sprint to Van Vleuten. She sat in the now world champion’s wheel for the final kilometres and was predicted to have a faster kick to the line after winning sprints to take La Course by Le Tour de France and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2021. Sadly for her and SD Worx she ran out of legs as she came alongside Van Vleuten and had to settle for second.
The pair also clashed at the Tour de France Femmes in which they were yet again the two best riders. Van Vleuten came out on top again ahead of Vollering on both of the mountain stages and in the general classification. Vollering is one of the only riders who can live with Van Vleuten on the toughest inclines and will want to get one over on her compatriot, who is 14 years her elder, before she retires at the end of the year.
The other advantage Vollering could have over Van Vleuten is her team. SD Worx has often been thought of as the best team in women’s cycling and their roster has only got stronger for 2023 with the addition of the number one sprinter in the world, Lorena Wiebes. Alongside Lotte Kopecky, Wiebes will give Vollering the ability to sit up in any of the leading groups that she makes it into and save her legs.
Wiebes finished third at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last year after winning the bunch sprint behind the two leaders and was prolific throughout 2022, with 23 wins to her name. If she is brought to the line usually no-one can come close to her, but she was defeated twice recently at the inaugural UAE Tour Women by her former lead out rider Charlotte Kool.
Elisa Longo Borghini
Trek Segafredo will be at the start line with a similar formula for their team led by the incredibly versatile Elisa Longo Borghini. The 31-year-old got her 2023 season off to a flyer at the UAE Tour, taking the queen stage to Jebel Hafeet and general classification in the first iteration of that race ahead of team-mate Gaia Realini.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad hasn’t been her best race by her incredibly high standards, with two fifth-place finishes in 2011 and 2017. Having won the Tour of Flanders (2015), Strade Bianche (2017) and Paris-Roubaix (2022), she is used to winning races on the toughest terrains and her top six finishes at both the Tour de France Femmes and Giro d’Italia Donne last year prove how proficient she also is on the climbs.
Longo Borghini won’t be Trek’s only plan for this race, however, with her Italian compatriot Elisa Balsamo provisionally down to start this race alongside her. Balsamo is one of the only other riders in the world who can live with Wiebes in flat sprints and can get over shorter hills. She proved that last season at Gent-Wevelgem and Trofeo Alfredo Binda where she survived the climbs and had enough left to dominate the sprints for victory.
Finally, Trek have one of the most experienced riders in the peloton, Ellen Van Dijk, alongside Balsamo and Longo Borghini. The reigning world time trial champion and Hour Record holder will start her 2023 season at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, a race in which she has finished in the top 10 no fewer than six times. Van Dijk not only brings her leadership and wealth of experience to try to help her team-mates, but also has the talent and engine to claim victory for herself in the right circumstances.
Since she won the British National Championships in 2021, Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM) has developed into one of the finest prospects in the women’s professional scene. Her versatility allows her role to change from race to race, be that as lead-out rider, breakaway chaser or team leader. With the departure of both Lippert and Mackaij to Movistar, it means Georgi will get more opportunities for herself in her fifth season for the Dutch squad.
Speaking to Rouleur a few weeks ago, Georgi explained that she has been given more of a leadership role for the 2023 season at Team DSM, especially during the Classics. The 22-year-old will hope to carry over her strong form from the UAE Tour into Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
Georgi was mainly on duty in the UAE for sprinter Charlotte Kool, who also starts this race. Alongside Franziska Koch, Georgi led Kool safely during the sprints to two impressive victories over former teammate Wiebes.
Don’t expect Georgi to be chained to Kool in the hope she can survive for a sprint however, as the Dutch rider's previous best performance at this race is a 91st in 2022.
Georgi can live with the very best over the short punchy bergs and even won the 2021 British National Championships with an attack on the cobbled Michaelgate climb in Lincoln. That’s no Muur, Bosberg duo but Georgi certainly has the capabilities to finish on the podium of this race.
FDJ-Suez as a team have struggled in February after winning the opening two WorldTour races of the season in Australia. Grace Brown took the overall and stage three of the Tour Down Under while newly crowned, two-time Esports world champion, Loes Adegeest, claimed a surprise win at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. They arrived at the UAE Tour with Brown and Marta Cavalli, but they ended up being largely absent in the race, only finishing in the top 10 once in any of the stages.
A bounce-back will be desired on Saturday and they’ve lined up a stacked team for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2023. Alongside Brown, Cavalli and Adegeest is Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. Despite her best finish at Omloop a 17th place in 2020, she has finished in the top seven at the Tour of Flanders three times (in 2019, 2021 and 2022). Uttrup Ludwig is one of the most popular riders in the pro peloton but also one of the best across different types of parcours. She, like her teammates, won't fancy the sprint against SD Worx and Trek and will instead want to thin the group down before they reach Ninove.
Cavalli doesn’t seem to be back to her top form from last year which carried her to phenomenal wins at Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne, but she has finished ninth at Omloop twice before (2019 and 2021) so she can't be ignored.
Brown will enjoy the short, punchy climbs as she always does and could roll attacks with Uttrup Ludwig and Cavalli to disrupt the group, Adegeest remains the wildcard option for a reduced-group sprint in this, her first season at the top level of women’s cycling.
UAE Team ADQ shouldn’t disregarded with their mix of experience and young talent. Headline names on their roster for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad include Silvia Persico and Marta Bastianelli. Persico had a breakthrough season in 2022 with top 10 finishes at the Giro Donne and Tour de France Femmes, as well as third place at the World Championships road race. At the UAE Tour, she finished third in the general classification so clearly has some early season form. Bastianelli would be a longshot for a sprint victory but having won the Tour of Flanders and finished second at Omloop twice, she'll still be a threat.
Finally, Kasia Niewiadoma is a name on most favourites lists for races she attends, although she hasn’t won a top-level race in four years (stage four of the Women’s Tour in 2019). The Polish rider is versatile though and consistently finishes inside the top 10 in many of the biggest races in women’s cycling. Perhaps Omloop will be the chance for her to get back amongst the wins.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad women 2023 predictions
We’re backing Elisa Longo Borghini to continue her early season form and win the 2023 women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. With Van Vleuten not looking at her best in Spain and Longo Borghini seeming quite the opposite at the UAE Tour, the Italian has all the right attributes to crest the Bosberg alone and ride away solo to win the season's first cobbled Classic.