Het Nieuwsblad & Kuurne 2020 PEZ Preview
Race Preview: The ‘warm up’ races are over and now the ‘proper’ racing starts on Saturday with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday. Hard races for hard men of the road, steep climbs and cobbles, plus the weather can be decisive. Ed Hood will be ‘Roadside’ at the weekend, but here is his PEZ Race Preview.
There shouldn’t be any snow in Belgium at the weekend
Het Nieuwsblad 2020
PEZ soothsayer and mentor Vik reckons that all races thus far in 2020 are ‘irrelevant.’ Sorry, Richie, Remco, Tadej, Saleh, Sergio et al. He has a point; sunshine and cheesy photo ops aren’t going to feature this Saturday. Quilted jackets, bobble hats, frites and pils surely will though. Temperatures near freezing, bone cutting winds and maybe some icy rain and/or snow are most likely to be the order of the day.
But don’t expect dry weather in Belgium in February
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, originally Omloop van Vlaanderen then Omloop Het Volk but ‘Gent – Gent’ if you’re a Gentenaar. Parcours-wise we have no desert, tropical rain forest or vineyards just 200 unforgiving kilometres through unglamorous Flemish farmland including nine sections of cobbles – ‘kasseien’ – and 13 mostly cobbled, short sharp jousts with gravity called, ‘hellingen.’
Hillingen and kassein
The last two are tapped right into the nostalgia well – the savage Muur van Geraardsbergen/Kapelmuur at 183 kilometres and the less severe but deceptively strength sapping Bosberg at 187 kilometres. This duo is straight out of the ‘pre finishing loop’ era of the Tour of Flanders.
De Muur – From a far gone era
Let’s have some history.
The first fourteen editions were all won by Belgian hard men and since then they’ve added another 42 wins, unsurprisingly that makes Belgium record holder with 56 victories. To say that Italy and The Netherlands are ‘distant’ second place holders is an understatement – they’re on four each.
Van Avermaet putting the pain on in 2017
The last Flatlands winner was Greg Van Avermaet (2017). Some thirteen Belgians have won the race twice; three have done the treble: Ernest Sterckx (1952, ’53, ’56); Eddy’s loyalist lieutenant, Joseph Bruyère (1974, ’75, ’80) and a man who was no stranger to a glass – or two – of Leffe, Peter Van Petegem (1997, ’98, 2002).
Museeuw and Van Petegem, with the late VDB
Looking at the potential winners it came as a bit of a shock to be reminded that Belgian ‘Big,’ ‘Phil Gil’ first won this race 15 editions ago, way back in 2006 clad in the white of F des J. The next edition went to now retired Italian ‘Pippo’ Pozzato – leaving Chris Peers’ bar, where we watched the finale, in stunned silence.
Gilbert for the second time in 2008
Gilbert repeated the deed in 2008 to make himself a double winner – he’s been top 10 on five occasions. Viking Thor Hushovd’s long ship is at its moorings in the fjord these days but he took the honours in 2009 – no complaints there, he was a hard man for a hard race. Argentinean Spaniard who’s now a race pundit, Juan Antonio Flecha provided one of the few hi-lites to Team Sky’s inaugural 2010 season.
Flecha in 2010
Dutchman Seb Langeveld was a surprise winner in 2011, he’s still racing with EF and in line with their, ‘it’s not just about World Tour races’ philosophy he won the January’s Egmond beach race in The Netherlands for the third time, ahead of a certain Johnny Hoogerland – yeah, the barbed wire guy. But Seb sits out Saturday’s race, having crashed in the Etoile des Besseges and broken his collar bone.
Sep Vanmarcke – Past winner, but does he have a chance in 2020?
There was another quiet bar in 2012 when big Belgian Sep Vanmarcke spoiled Tom Boonen’s best ever chance of winning and took the honours in a sprint which appeared to be a formality for Tommeke. Sep rides and has been top 10 here on five occasions. He’ll be in the mix on Saturday but his lack of a finish to match his stature is a handicap and no one is daft enough to let him head up the road on his own.
Luca Paolini, winner in 2013 – Pre beard
A year later in Arctic conditions it was genial but troubled Luca Paolini taking the flowers – no one grudged him that win on a day with ice on the puddles. The following two years, 2014 and 15 it was bestial Englishman Ian Stannard who won, the latter victory inflicting a crushing defeat on a trio of Quick-Steps – cue another silent bar.
Stannard out-witted the Quick-Step brigade
GVA pulled off the same trick in 2016/17 – the man has also been twice second and has made the top 10 on eight occasions. With Gilbert and Stannard he’s one of three double winners of this ‘mini Ronde’ on the start sheet and won’t be far away come Saturday; whilst it’s possible but unlikely we’ll see Gilbert or Stannard making the final cut. Revelling in the cold conditions in 2018 it was Dane Michael Valgren doing a ‘Pedersen in Harrogate’ ignoring the conditions during a season where he would add the Amstel Gold to his palmarès. But we think it’s unlikely he’ll be ‘there’ on Saturday, last season gave us nothing to suggest he was on an upward trajectory in the Classics, albeit he finished the season strongly with solid rides in Plouay, Canada and Harrogate.
Stybie in 2019
Last year it was the ever-smiling Czech former World Cyclo-cross Champion, ‘Stybie’ who had most left in the finale. Stybie is certainly a possible double winner, he’s already opened his account with a stage win in San Juan. But it should be remembered that Vik’s ‘irrelevant’ mantra does apply to results scored thus far in 2020. The big hitter ‘Classicers’ are all focussed on this ‘Opening Weekend’ rather than stage wins which will be forgotten by April.
Who will win?
We have previous winners then, CCC’s Greg Van Avermaet and Deceuninck’s Zdeněk Štybar then as ‘possibles’ – who else?
Niki Terpstra hasn’t been on many podiums recently
Niki Terpsta (Total Direct Energie and The Netherlands) the Paris-Roubaix and Ronde winner will be hoping for it to be a hard day – he’s a hard man.
Will Kristoff be laughing at the weekend?
Alex Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates and Norway) is another man hoping for a hard day, when the rest are on their knees he’s just as quick as he ever is.
Luke Rowe has the experience
For all the criticism they get for their (comparatively) poor Classic showings given their budget, ‘Skineos’ have won this race three times and they can look to hard Welshman Luke Rowe on Saturday; he’s been fourth, sixth and ninth here.
The ex-Belgian champ could do with a win
Belgian Oliver Naesen (AG2R-La Mondiale) must win big soon, could it be this Saturday? – he’s made the top 10 on two occasions in the past.
Tiesj Benoot – Outside bet?
Ties Benoot (Sunweb and Belgium) at 25 years-of-age, and coming in to his best years always has to be considered – but will he be brilliant, or invisible?
Tim Wellens could be the man
Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal and Belgium) was on the podium last year, if he’s on a good day, he could move up.
Jurgen Roelandts – Movistar’s only hope
Jurgen Roelandts (Movistar and Belgium) isn’t going to be helped by a team most of whom, like the Razorlight song says, ‘really, really wish I could be somewhere else.’ But he’s big strong and at home on the cobbles and ramps.
Van Aert will be in Gent on Saturday.
Just announced: Wout Van Aert will ride the Omloop on Saturday. The Jumbo-Visma team announced that the ex-World cyclocross champion will start his 2020 season in Belgium and not in Italy just in case the Coronavirus stops all the racing. Mathieu van der Poel was down to ride, but pulled out due to the Flu.
Menu of the day
PEZ will be roadside – when we’re not in a bar or frituur – to bring you the gossip and pictures. Beer of the day? It can only be Jupiler. Live action at steephillTV.
There is always the road-side food wagons
Whilst it’s not the ‘Omloop’ it’s a nice race to have on your palmarès and despite the words of race director, Peter Debaveye; “Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne is traditionally a race for the sprinters. The pure sprinters are going to find a more complicated route beneath their wheels [for 2020].” the nature of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne isn’t really going to change.
There are 11 climbs which have been reshuffled and include two ‘new’ ascents (*) Volkegemberg, Eikenmolen, Bossenaarstraat*, Mont Saint-Laurent*, La Houppe, Kanarieberg, Kruisberg, Hotond, Knokteberg, Oude Kwaremont, Kluisberg, but with the ‘Kluis’ coming with 50K to go there’s still an hour of racing in which to haul breaks back albeit they only describe one lap of the big Kuurne finishing circuit, not two.
2019 Kuurne winner – Bob Jungels
Despite the ‘sprinters race’ tag, Bob Jungels won solo last year and Jasper Stuyven did the same in 2016. However it is indeed a race which favours the fast twitch men: Dylan Groenewegen, Peter Sagan, Cav, Tom Boonen (three times) and Chris Sutton all feature on the roll of honour in recent years. And going back a tad further there are big finishers like Jaan Kirsipuu and Fred Moncassin to be found.
Traskel in 2010 – Another surprise in 2020?
It’s a hard one to pick a favourite for; ‘surprises’ pop up regularly – Jungels (‘19) and Stuyven (‘16) holding off the peloton; Sutton (‘11) beating the likes of Greipel and Farrar to win a mass charge and Bobby Traksel (‘10) beating the Weather Gods in 2010. If it is a sprint we should mention: Cees Bol (Sunweb and The Netherlands) already a winner on the Algarve; Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck – Quick-Step and The Netherlands) who’s won on the Algarve and in Valencia already in 2020; just maybe Ben Swift (Ineos and GB); John Degenkolb (Lotto Soudal and Germany); Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) and, if he can handle the cold, treble Colombia stage winner Juan Sebastian Molano (UAE Team Emirates and Colombia).
Don’t forget the dried fish and Jupiler…
PEZ will be there too, roadside and holed up in our usual bar in Ronse for the finale – then trying not to think about the flight back to reality on Monday. Live action at steephillTV.
…and the famous Kuurne donkey
# More Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne news in EUROTRASH Thursday. #
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,800 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.