Race preview: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

February 24th, 2018
Gent, Belgium

Men’s 73rd Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Start: 11:35am (CEST)
Finish: 04:19pm (earliest), 04:47pm (latest)
Distance: 196.2km

Women’s 13th Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Start: 11:43am (CEST)
Finish: 03:07pm (earliest), 03:29pm (latest)
Distance: 121.2km

To the die hard fan this will always be known as Het Volk; to the slightly lesser cycling aficionado or the younger generation, it’s known as Het Nieuwsblad. Anything cycling related is hugely competitive in Belgium and the birth of Het Volk was no different.

It was originally incarnated to rival their competitor newspaper, Het Nieuwsblad, whose main cycling event was the Tour of Flanders. But when these two Belgian national newspapers eventually merged in 2009, Omloop Het Volk reinvented itself and became Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

Like the peeping yellow of a daffodil bloom makes everyone breathe a sigh of relief that winter is finally giving way, this race tells cycling fans things are about to get dirty, that the next couple of months are all about cobbles, mud and beer. Last year saw the men’s race status raised to WorldTour level, whilst the women’s is still to follow suit.

Keeping to tradition, as cycling so often does, Het Nieuwsblad will be held on the Saturday, the day before Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne for the men and Spar-Omloop van het Hageland for the women. It is common for riders to race the two days, and both Sunday races usually come down to a bunch gallop to the line.

The Routes
This year’s edition sees the start of both the men’s and women’s races in Gent and the finish in Ninove. There will be a heroes’ welcome for the inclusion of the Muur van Geraardsbergen (15.8km from the finish line) and  the Bosberg (12km from the finish line) as the grand finale of both races.

A homage to the good old days of the Tour of Flanders? The last 60km of this year’s brand new Omloop Het Nieuwsblad route mirrors the beloved finale of the Ronde between 1973 and 2011.

As racing goes, there’s nothing quite like having two cobbled climbs act as a tinderbox to light up the final kilometres. And with the Muur van Geraardsbergen cranking the gradient up to 19.8%, that’s more than enough to make those legs burn and create the crucial differences. 

Read: What’s in the next issue? 18.2 goes big on the Classics 

Previous Winners – Men
2017 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel)
2016 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel)
2015 Ian Stannard (Gbr)
2014 Ian Stannard (Gbr)
2013 Luca Paolini (Ita)
2012 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel)
2011 Sebastian Langeveld (Ned)
2010 Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa)
2009 Thor Hushovd (Nor)
2008 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) 

Previous Winners – Women
2017 Lucinda Brand (Ned)
2016 Lizzie Armitstead (Gbr)
2015 Anna van der Breggen (Ned)
2014 Amy Pieters (Ned)
2013 Tiffany Cromwell (Aus)
2012 Loes Gunnewijk (Ned)
2011 Emma Johansson (Swe)
2010 Emma Johansson (Swe)
2009 Suzanne de Goede (Ned)
2008 Kirsten Wild (Ned) 

Most Wins – Men
Peter Van Petegem 1997, 1998, 2002
Joseph Bruyère 1974, 1975, 1980
Ernest Sterckx 1952, 1953, 1956
Greg Van Avermaet 2016, 2017
Roger De Vlaeminck 1969, 1979
Eddy Merckx 1971, 1973
André Declercq 1949, 1950
Johan Capiot 1990, 1992
Freddy Maertens 1977, 1978
Eddy Planckaert 1984, 1985
Philippe Gilbert 2006, 2008
Ian Stannard 2014, 2015

Most Wins – Women
Suzanne de Goede 2006, 2009
Emma Johansson 2010, 2011

This year’s contenders – The Men
Could Greg Van Avermaet be the first to win the race for three consecutive years? That will be the question posed to him by many a microphone-pointing journalist before the race. And with the lack of a Sagan-shaped rainbow on his tail, it’s easy to think GVA could have this year’s edition sewn up. 

Read: Tony Martin – setting his sights on the Hell of the North 

But let’s put away the needle and thread for just a moment. EF Education First-Drapac have a couple of tricks up their fluorescent pink sleeve. Sep Vanmarcke, who rounded off the podium in last year’s edition, will be up for a year-on-year improvement. As will his team-mate, Sebastian Langeveld, third to Van Avermaet at Paris-Roubaix 2017 and another rider happy to help hunt him down.

Quick-Step Floors are coming with their usual hustle and veterans Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar and Philippe Gilbert. The latter two pulled off some great results last season, with the Belgian’s 50km solo win at Flanders and Stybar sobbing onto Tom Boonen’s shoulder after taking second place in Paris-Roubaix.

Read: Philippe Gilbert – Ned Boulting meets the Belgian in Monaco

Another to watch out for is Tiesj Benoot of Lotto Soudal. A lot of Belgians have high hopes for the young gun, who finished third in the 2016 edition of this race. Jasper Stuyven of Trek-Segafredo is another Flandrian who shouldn’t be overlooked. He hit last season running with second place at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne and is usually lurking in the top five of the cobbled one-day races.

This year’s contenders – The Women
Last year’s winner Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) has already come out declaring that the new course really suits her. There’s nothing quite like a bit of friendly intimidation.

But pre-race psychological warfare or not, she will have her work cut out to keep the spring season-opener crown with the likes of world champion Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans), Annemiek Van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott), and Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle High5) taking to the start line.

Still, with a strong team including Ellen Van Dijk and Coryn Rivera by Brand’s side, Team Sunweb will be the ones to beat.

The cobbles are coming.

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