The Omloop marks the traditional kick-off of the West European bicycle road racing season. Obviously, there have been a few races in the Southern hemisphere, the Middle East and Spain, but many see this race as the true beginning. It is the first race in a long series of classic races. In 2018, the Omloop’s course was changed radically. The riders now have to negotiate two serious climbs in the final few kilometers of the race in the form of the Muur van Gerardsbergen and the Bosberg. Once the riders have got past them, there is a 10 kilometer rush to the finish. If the riders get a gap after the climbs, then the goal will be to retain that advantage and fight it out on the finish line. As far as we are concerned there are five favourites for the win.
The Dane Michael Valgren has the best year of his career in 2018. He opened the season perfectly for his team, Astana, by winning that year’s edition of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. He then underlined his qualities by also winning the Amstel Gold Race. As winner of those two races, we can’t ignore him when talking about the serious candidates for the 2019 Omloop victory. He not really made a serious impression any 2019 races as yet, but he might suddenly appear at the front of the race. If he does: keep a sharp eye on him.
Greg Van Avermaet
In every one-day race at which he is on the start line, Greg van Avermaet is immediately one of the favourites. He won this race in both 2016 and 2017. In 2018, he was challenged by the new route, and crossed the line in 50th spot. But during the 2018 season, Van Avermaet showed he can race up front with the best of them in hilly terrain. Also, he already won a stage in the Tour of Valencia and two podium places in the Tour of Oman in 2019, so his form is looking good.
We have been used to seeing Niki Terpstra riding in the colours of the Belgian Quick Step since 2011. But he now rides for the French team Direct Energie. While he was one of the many “soldiers” at Quick Step, he is now clearly the team leader. Just like Greg van Avermaet, he finished last year’s event in 52nd spot: not his best result ever. But you can never ignore this guy, and he has the ability to come out of nowhere and win the race.
Following Terpstra’s departure from Quick Step, there is one less internal competitior in the classics. They can still choose to play the Zdenek Stybar card, but he appears to be second choice at the moment. If we look at the route map, we certainly think the race is perfectly suited to Gilbert. He was fifth last year, but he then appeared to be riding in a support rider’s role, so we know he can handle it. Gilbert has also shown good early form in the Tour de la Provence.
Our final favourite is Sep Vanmarcke. He won this race in 2012, and always seems to be on form in the early season classics. In 2019 he demonstrated that the new route suits him, and he bagged third place. The only thing which he needs is to avoid a mechanical, or puncture. Then he has a real chance to win.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad takes place on Saturday March 2, and will be broadcast live in the Low Countries on Eurosport.