After the success of Top Mañana and Tomorrow’s Worlds, we’ve expanded the franchise of our popular race prediction game to cover all men’s and women’s WorldTour races (plus, for this weekend only, because it’s there, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne). Because we agree with many of you that the cycling season doesn’t start in Australia or Abu Dhabi – and not because we couldn’t get our acts together in time – we begin with the first Belgian Classic: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
The Rouleur band is back together, committed to spending hours each week poring over form guides, weather forecasts and stages profiles, all in an inevitably fruitless attempt to give themselves some sort of edge over their rivals.
After a winter of hard negotiating, we’ve managed to secure our old adversary, the Cycling Mole, on a season-long deal. Each week he will be raining on our parades, taking us to task and mercilessly mocking our selections.
Rather than a single guest “expert” pundit, we’re going to bring in a different one of our friends from the world of cycling each week. For opening weekend we’ve roped in columnist, commentator and editor of The Road Book – available now from the Rouleur Emporium – Ned Boulting.
So we’re all set. The only thing we haven’t got is a catchy title that will take us through the whole season. Send your suggestions on a postcard (or email, or Tweet.) Let’s go!
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2020: – Gent to Ninove (200km)
Look, if you want the whole history of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, you can go to Wikipedia. Let’s just call it a shorter, colder Tour of Flanders. The route starts in Gent – very pretty town; well worth a visit – and finishes in nearby Ninove. The race passes through a few of the same towns as its Monumental cousin (the Flanders region is not exactly expansive), soars over several of the same sets of cobbles and includes a bunch of the same bergs. Most notable of these are the last two, the Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg which could well prove decisive.
Of the 63 runnings of the race, Belgians have won 56, with the Italians and Dutch lagging long behind at 4 each. No single rider has won more than three. A further three on the startlist for the 2020 edition, Ian Stannard, Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert, will be looking to join that club.
Ian Cleverly: Mads Pedersen – Trek-Segafredo (40/1)
“I’ve not looked at the weather forecast – I’m on holiday (don’t hate me) – but let’s assume the following: it’s Belgium, it’s February, it will be cold and bleak, so the winner will be tough as old boots. Who you gonna call? The Yorkshire sensation, the main Dane, the rainbow warrior himself. Plus Trek-Segafredo have started the season very well and have Jasper Stuyven to play the old one-two. Let’s go Mads for it.
Ben: Mads Pedersen – Trek-Segafredo (40/1)
Right, what’s this cycling malarkey all about again? Whilst we’ve had the early season races on the telly in the office, it’s not like they provide much guidance for the early Classics. So looking at the weather forecast, I’m going to go with the mudlark of Yorkshire, Mads Pedersen, to take advantage of the likely awful conditions and shut down the ‘World Champion’s curse’ at the first opportunity.
Andy: Yves Lampaert – Deceuninck-Quick Step (22/1)
Well, I think Deceuninck will win one of the openingsweekend races, so it’s a one in seven chance – easy. They’ll have the numbers in front, and Lampaert will finish it off, with good timing and strength. Here’s tipping the tractor boy for his best spring season yet.
Miles: Greg Van Avermaet – CCC Team (8/1)
As the season kicks off, I’ve naturally been daydreaming about a big Belgian battle in the first (proper) fireworks of the 2020 season. Greg Van Avermaet VS Philippe Gilbert in an epic showdown up the Bosberg to take honours at Omloop. My money is on Van Avermaet, but I’m always wrong which is why I don’t gamble.
Nick: Tim Wellens – Lotto Soudal (28/1)
Finishing on the highest peak in the region, the Alto da Fóia, stage two of the Volta ao Algarve 2020 was supposed to be “a day for the pure climbers”, apparently. Only no-one told Tim Wellens. The Belgian stayed with the also-rans eating Remco’s dust, and stood out in a top ten made up of some of the best puncheurs in the world. It tells me he’s got the kind form that could make the difference on the Muur. I know he usually gets it wrong but it’s never for want of trying or talent. This will be the weekend he comes good.
Ned Boulting: Greg Van Avermaet – CCC Team (8/1)
GVA had an “année sans” last year, recording only three race wins; one in Valencia, one in Montréal and one which was a carve up between him and Chris Lawless on the final stage in Yorkshire. But, on the scant evidence of his performance at the Tour of the Algarve, he looks in fantastic shape at the start of 2020. More pertinently, CCC have invested in Matteo Trentin – a very credible potential winner in his own right, and the perfect foil for GVA, who has spent too many years now carrying the expectations of his team at the classics solely on his considerable shoulders.
The Cycling Mole’s verdict:
Yes folks, I’m back. Turns out the good people at Rouleur aren’t fed up with me just yet. Your favourite playground bully is here to make fun of the cardigan wearing writers at the world’s finest cycling magazine, and don’t bother mentioning the #bekind movement, I don’t do hashtags.
The peloton head to Belgium for the opening weekend of the season, first up is Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The race is 200km long and features plenty of climbing and cobbles. The weather forecast is particularly interesting, with the wind getting up to over 40mph. This will blow the race apart and turn it into a bar room brawl. Back this year is the normal panel, but with a different guest for each block of races. Guesting is Ned Boulting, real name Norris. I wonder if Mr Flat Cap himself can defeat the mighty mole.
Looking at the picks I see a lot of names I would expect to see. Ian and Ben are going with Mads Pedersen, the current world champion. Be honest, that win was a huge surprise and following it up will be very difficult. After starting his season in Australia, I can’t see Pedersen winning this one, this is a bad pick.
Andy goes with QuickStep, a strategy that usually works. He’s decided to ignore Štybar, Asgreen and Jungels and his choice is Yves Lampaert. This is a solid pick; I am a big fan. Nick is going with Tim Wellens, and he’s right to point out that he started the season in good form. No doubt Wellens will be in the mix, but I don’t think he’ll do it.
Miles and Norris have spotted the form of Greg Van Avermaet, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him climb as well as he did in the Algarve. I can’t make fun of this, maybe I’ll just remind you that Ned is actually called Norris.
I know what you’re thinking, you don’t care what the panel think, you want to know what I think. Early season form is massive for this race, you have to look towards the Algarve to see who’s going to win. Given his current climbing legs, this has to be a day for Greg Van Avermaet, title number three is on its way.