The 2021 cycling season has been underway for some time now, but everyone knows, the season doesn’t start until Omloop.
Opening weekend, in the form of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, have given given us food for thought.
There have been plenty of other cycling races to keep up with, though, including the UAE Tour and the French classics of Faun-Ardèche and the Royal Bernard Drome.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad - Men's
Davide Ballerini and Julian Alaphilippe celebrate victory (Image credit: Wout Beel/Deceuninck)
“The season starts at Omloop” — with that in mind we can announce that the 2021 season is now underway!
The race seemed to be going by the script early on with Deceuninck-Quick-Step leading the peloton and keeping the tempo high to reel in the day’s early escapees.
It was the Molenberg climb which saw the day’s first genuine attacks. A reduced group went away including the World Champion Julian Alaphlippe. Alaphilippe’s sheer presence in the group, alongside DQS teammates Davide Ballerini and Zdeněk Štybar, meant the group had a great chance of going to the line.
Shortly after the Molenberg, we witnessed an incredible effort from Britain’s Tom Pidcock, who alongside Kevin Geniets of Groupama-FDJ bridged the gap to the aggressive front group.
Alaphilippe attacked shortly after on the Berendries, meaning his teammates could sit behind and disrupt the chase. However, the man in rainbows was reeled in ahead of the Muur, with the larger group further behind also catching the riders ahead simultaneously. This all meant that a large peloton entered the Muur at the head of the race.
An attack by Gianni Moscon on the Muur made little difference and a large group crested the Bosberg together — a particularly strange sight. Usually, we see riders scattered across the road at this point in the race.
Omloop 2021 was decided in a sprint. A textbook lead-out from Kasper Asgreen and Florian Senechal put Davide Ballerini in the perfect position to win emphatically, with no other rider coming close to the Italian. It was Britain’s young star Jake Stewart who took a surprising second place with Sep Vanmarcke in third.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad - Women's
Anna van der Breggen can’t stop winning (Image credit: Allan McKenzie/SWpix)
The women’s cycling season kicked-off at Omloop and last year’s winner Annemiek van Vleuten made her debut for Movistar.
SD Worx employed a similar tactic to Deceuninck-Quick-Step when they sent Demi Vollering up the road. This meant that the likes of Amy Pieters and Anna van der Breggen could sit in the wheels and follow any attacks from their competition.
Elisa Longho Borghini tried an attack at the foot of the Muur but to no avail, a climb which saw Vollering caught.
The decisive moments took place when Anna van der Breggen attacked on the Bosberg, leaving the rest of the field in her wake. Her lead swelled quickly to 30-seconds and entering the final kilometres the World Champion could begin to think about her celebration.
It was Emma Norsgaard who sprinted to second-place, one of the best results of her young career and providing Movistar with a great start to the season, despite Van Vleuten’s absence from the front group. Amy Pieters made it a 1-3 for SD Worx who put on a tactical masterclass throughout.
Mads Pedersen won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne 2021 (Image credit: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)
Although not a WorldTour event, KBK holds considerable prestige as the second race of Opening Weekend.
An attack from Mathieu van der Poel, followed impressively by Jonathan Narvaez, opened up the race with just over 80km remaining. The duo had caught the early breakaway by the top of the Oude-Kwaremont which arrived 20km later.
Trek-Segafredo were aggressive here after being entirely anonymous at Omloop where none of their riders finished in the front group. An attack on the Oude-Kwaremont from Jasper Stuyven animated the lead group here. However, cresting the climb, it was Kasper Asgreen, John Degenkolb and Arjen Livyns in the prime position.
The Van der Poel-led group, which featured Jonas Hvideberg, Patrick Gamper and Artyom Zakharov from the early breakaway held-on admirably and looked good with a 15-second lead entering the final 5km, though they were caught with just 2km remaining. Nonetheless, their effort was superb considering the firepower in the groups behind.
The group competing in the decisive sprint consisted of around 25 riders and Mads Pedersen made up for the Trek-no-show at Omloop by sprinting to victory. Anthony Turgis and Tom Pidcock rounded out the podium positions.
Tom Pidcock is very, very good
Tom Pidcock of the INEOS Grenadiers (Image credit: William Cannarella/Cor Vos)
After easing himself into his first season with INEOS at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var, the Brit has displayed exactly what he is capable of throughout Opening Weekend.
He showed supreme strength first at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad when he bridged to the front group. The effort was nullified when the escapees were caught on the Muur, and Pidcock then worked for Ethan Hayter, who fell in the final, denying INEOS their chance.
Pidcock showed further strength at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne when he sprinted to third place ahead of the likes of Greg van Avermaet, Matteo Trentin and Sonny Colbrelli.
We have noted the rise of multiple young Brits in recent debriefs, but Pidcock’s abilities cannot be denied. On current form we could see Pidcock obtain his first professional road win shortly.
Kasper Asgreen is the Quintessential Teammate
Kasper Asgreen (Image credit: Wout Beel/Deceuninck)
Kasper Asgreen is not only capable of winning classics in his own right, he is also a crucial cog that allows Deceuninck-Quick-Step to achieve their goals.
The Dane won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne last season with an impressive solo attack. This season, he worked tirelessly in the main bunch to catch the Van der Poel and Narvaez-led breakaway in the service of Bert Van Lerberghe, who ended by sprinting to ninth. Deceuninck may have preferred to have Alvaro Hodeg present in the front group.
Asgreen was crucial at Omloop too, placing Florian Senechal and Davide Ballerini in the perfect position entering the final 500 metres of the race, an effort which was pivotal in Ballerini's win.
Asgreen is strong enough to win himself, yet he is consistently selfless in working in the service of his teammates.
Adam Yates lost 34 seconds to Tadej Pogacar on the stage two time-trial. (Image credit: LB/RBCor Vos)
In last week's debrief we detailed the two stages that had taken place in the UAE, highlighted by a Mathieu van der Poel sprint win and subsequent departure from the race, as well as Filippo Ganna’s eighth time-trial win in succession.
The time-trial did prove to be decisive in the general classification. Adam Yates attacked Tadej Pogačar as best he could, particularly on Jebel Hafeet. He shook every rider from his wheel, bar the Slovenian. Pogačar held onto Yates before sprinting past him to win stage 3.
The last opportunity for Yates was Jebel Jais and although the climb was 21km in length, it simply was not steep enough to make enough of a difference. Jonas Vingegaard was able to escape the favourites as he was not involved in the battle overall, where he caught and passed the lone survivor from the breakaway Alexey Lutsenko to win the stage — a dejecting moment for the Kazak.
Tadej Pogačar held on to win his team's home race ahead of Adam Yates, with João Almeida of Deceuninck-Quick-Step in third.
The other three stages were fought in a sprint, with Sam Bennett and Caleb Ewan claiming two and one stage wins, respectively. Elsewhere, David Dekker continued to impress in his first WorldTour race, finishing second twice in his time in the UAE, enough for him to win the sprint classification.
David Gaudu, the winner of the Faun-Ardèche Classic 2021 (Image credit: ASO/GOMEZSPORT)
The Faun-Ardèche Classic and the Royal Bernard Drome Classics were somewhat overshadowed by Opening Weekend. Nonetheless, we witnessed some fantastic riders and great racing.
David Gaudu beat his countryman Clement Champoussin in a two-up sprint to decide the Faun-Ardèche Classic, with Britain’s Hugh Carthy starting his season well in third place.
At the Royal Bernard Drome Classic, it was Andrea Bagioli who won in supreme solo style ahead of the chasing pack. Daryl Impey and Mikkel Honore rounded out the podium positions.
Cover image: Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos/SWPix