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Race Preview: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2022

The first Belgian race for 2022

Race Preview: Saturday sees the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad kick off the ‘proper’ 2022 season with the first Belgian Classic race of the year. The Flemish race has everything we ever wanted from a Northern Classic – Short, stiff climbs, cobbles and race deciding weather conditions. Ed Hood gives us his Omloop preview.


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Het Nieuwsblad – A race for hard riders

PEZ soothsayer and mentor Vik reckons that all races thus far in 2022 are ‘irrelevant.’ Sorry, Wout Poels, Remco Evenepoel, Nairo Quintana, Alessandro Covi, Benjamin Thomas. . .

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Sorry Wout, it means nothing!

He has a point; sunshine and 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.

Gent - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - illustration - scenery - carte postal scenic shot - postcard sfeerfoto - sfeer - illustratie Muur van Geraardsbergen pictured during Omloop Het Volk 1984 - photo Cor Vos © 2018
Don’t expect any sunburn on Saturday

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, originally Omloop van Vlaanderen then Omloop Het Volk but ‘Gent–Gent’ or just plain old, ‘Omloop’ if you’re a Gentenaar. Parcours-wise we have no desert, beaches 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’.

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No World champ, but ‘Stybie’ will be there

The last two are tapped right into the nostalgia well – the savage Gerardsbergen Kapelmuur at 184 kilometres and the less severe but deceptively strength sapping Bosberg at 188 kilometres. This duo is straight out of the ‘pre finishing loop’ era of the Tour of Flanders.

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Parcours 2022

Let’s have some history.
The first fourteen editions were all won by Belgian hard men and since then they’ve added another 43 wins, unsurprisingly that makes Belgium record holder with 57 victories. To say that Italy and The Netherlands are ‘distant’ second and third place holders in an understatement – they’re on five and four respectively.

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Triple winner – Ernest Sterckx

The last Flatlands winner was big Japer Stuyven in 2020 before Covid changed everything. 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). Looking back at the winners over recent years it came as a bit of a shock to be reminded that Belgium’s ‘Phil Gil’ first won this race 15 editions ago, way back in 2006 clad in the white of F des J.

Philippe Gilbert in 2006

The next edition went to now retired Italian ‘Pippo’ Pozzato – leaving ex-pro Chris Peers’ bar, where we watched the finalé, in stunned silence. 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 moored in the fjord these days but he took the honours in 2009 – no complaints there, he was a hard man for a hard race.

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Juan Antonio Flecha – Solo in 2010

Another, ‘hard as,’ 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. Dutchman Seb Langeveld was a surprise but worthy winner in 2011, he’s still racing with EF but isn’t in the team for 2022. There was another quiet bar in 2012 when big, genial Belgian – but not Tommeke – Sep Vanmarcke spoiled Boonen’s best ever chance of winning and took the honours in a sprint which appeared to be a formality for the Quick-Step Hero. Sep rides and has been top 10 here on six 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 naive enough to let him head up the road on his own.

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Sep Vanmarcke – No stranger to Het Nieuwsblad

A year later in Arctic conditions it was genial but troubled Italian, Luca Paolini taking the flowers – no one grudged him that win on a bitter, grey day with ice on the puddles. The following two years, 2014 and ‘15 it was bestial, now retired Englishman Ian Stannard who won, the latter victory inflicting a crushing and embarrassing defeat on a trio of Quick-Steps – cue another funereally silent bar.

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Another top ten for Van Avermaet?

GVA pulled off the ‘double’ trick in 2016/17 – the man has also been twice second and has made the top 10 on eight occasions. With Gilbert he’s one of two double winners of this ‘mini Ronde’ on the start sheet but it’s unlikely either can make it a treble. 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, his form doesn’t suggest a repeat to us.

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No ‘double’ for Michael Valgren?

In 2019 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? In 2020 it was big, strong Jasper Stuyven who took the honours and again a ‘double’ is certainly possible for last year’s Primavera winner. It should be remembered that Vik’s ‘irrelevant’ mantra does apply to results scored thus far in 2022, Stuyven hasn’t raced yet but make no mistake – he’ll be ready.

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2021 winner Jasper Stuyven

The big hitter ‘Classicers’ are all focussed on this ‘Opening Weekend’ and what’s to come in April rather than southern stage wins which will soon be forgotten. Last year it was Quick-Step man Davide Ballerini on top of the podium but he’s not in the blue line-up for 2022. We have previous winners then – but who else?

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Ballerini not in blue on the 2022 start line

Patrick Lefevere’s Quick-Step ‘Blue Train’ has a perhaps another four potential winners as well as ‘Stybie,’ in home boy, Yves Lampaert, [my amigo Dave’s choice] Danes Kasper Asgreen and Mikkel Honore and big French bear, Florian Senechal.

Yves Lampaert
Yves Lampaert knows the Omloop

Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo Visma & Belgium) at 27 years-of-age, should be in his best years now and always has to be considered – but will he be brilliant, or invisible?
His chance could come with most of the field marking team mate, compatriot and hot favourite, Wout van Aert who sacrificed an almost certain cyclo-cross rainbow jersey to focus 100% on the Northern Classics. Jumbo’s line up is a strong one with Christophe Laporte and Mike Teunissen also quality riders.

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Top favourite – Wout van Aert

Lotto Soudal have up and coming, young Paris-Roubaix runner-up, Florian Vermeersch backed by a strong squad which includes previous winner, Gilbert and ‘bull in a china shop,’ Victor Campanaerts.

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The Omloop is made for Florian Vermeersch

On the subject of young Belgians on the ‘up,’ AG2R Citroen’s Stan Dewulf is a man who’s a man we believe to be destined for better things; wily foxes GVA and Oliver Naesen are on hand to give guidance on the French équipe.

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Stan Dewulf for the French team

Small but perfectly formed World Cyclo-cross champion, Tom Pidcock [INEOS Grenadiers & GB] is a ‘special’ one and he’ll be there or thereabouts for sure.
It will be interesting to see his young US team mate, junior 3,000 metre record holder and Ruta stage winner, Magnus Sheffield in his debut Northern race.

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Pidcock could add the Omloop to his palmarès

Paris-Roubaix winner Sonny Colbrelli [Bahrain Victorious & Italy] can’t be over looked nor can another technical parcours specialist, Alexey Lutsenko [Astana & Kazakhstan], a man who thrives on bad road surfaces – witnessed by his recent win in the Clásica Jaén. But I think if I’d been picking the Astana team, I’d have included Gianni Moscon. . . Although La Gazzetta dello Sport thinks the Italian will be on the start line.

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Lutsenko is in form

The last minute entry of Alexander Kristoff could be a sign of his early season form. His Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux team announced the Norwegian’s addition to their start list on Friday morning, although Viktor had wind of the ride on Wednesday. Kristoff said: “Last season I was in a good position to start the final kilometre of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, until my bike was damaged because of a crash and I could participate in the sprint. The headwind in the final made it possible for a larger group to sprint for the victory and I hope that these conditions will be repeated this Saturday, as this is probably the scenario in which my chances on the victory are the highest. My feeling in my previous races was good and my form is building as planned. So I’m looking forward to meet the Belgian classics again. I’ll do the recon of the final with Sven Erik Bystrøm and the sport directors this Friday to finish the last details in my preparation.”

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Kristoff has been training hard in Spain

And watch for ProTeam with WorldTour aspirations, Norway’s Uno X with five UCi wins this year already, they’ll want to cause a stir. There will be a surprise in the results – there always is – but come late afternoon Saturday the season will be officially off and running for real.

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Look out for Uno-X – Tobias Halland Johannessen could be their man

Beer of the day?
Trust me on this one; Aldi’s, the budget supermarket chain, offer a Belgian ‘abbey’ beer called St. Pierre – it’s the real deal.

St. Pierre
Ed’s tipple for Saturday

# Stay PEZ for the race report on Saturday and more news in EUROTRASH Monday. Live action on GCN+ (subscription) and more on SteepHillTV. #

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The ‘kasseien’ and the ‘hellingen’

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