Omloop Het Nieuwsblad signals the start of the cobbled season as the peloton will get their first taste of the harsh Belgium terrain in what is gearing up to be another exciting spring time of racing.
The early part of the cycling calendar is always dominated by the big one-day races and Het Nieuwsblad will kick things off this Saturday as the likes of Greg Van Avermaet (Team BMC), Tom Boonen (Quickstep Floors), and Ian Stannard (Team Sky) will battle for the win.
The early season races are always special, and with the big one-day monuments like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders to come later in the spring; Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, with the later taking place on Sunday are a good indication of who has had a good preparation in the close season.
With 13 steep cobbled bergs sections; including the famous Taaienberg and then ten flat pave sectors for the riders to deal with, entertainment is always promised when it comes to the Het Nieuwsblad race.
Van Avermaet and Boonen will look to take home the crown
The Olympic champion, Van Avermaet won the event last year and although a broken ankle affected some of his close season preparation the 31-year-old should be there or thereabouts in the final reckoning.
The Belgium is one of the most accomplished riders in the pro-peloton, and this year it looks as though his main targets will be Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders instead of his usual forays in the Grand Tours. But producing another good performance here will do Avermaet a world of good as he steps up his preparation.
When Boonen comes into the conversation, people automatically assume the 36-year-old has won Het Nieuwsblad, but in-fact it’s a race that Boonen has failed to add to his rather impressive collection.
A victory on the cobbles of Belgium should certainly set him up nicely for one last tilt at Roubaix and Flanders before the legendary Quickstep Floors riding hangs up his bike after this season.
Although Sagan is eyeing Roubaix and Flanders this year the imperious Slovak cannot be underestimated
Last year was a breakthrough for Peter Sagan in regards to the cobbled Classics, he won Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem last year, and this year the World Champion will be looking to add the Roubaix crown to his already glittering palmares.
Out of the all the riders in the pro-peloton, the enigmatic Slovak is by far one of the most explosive riders. What sets Sagan apart is that he has the capabilities to target multiple events, ranging from Grand Tour stages to tricky and unpredictable one-day races.
Although Sagan has admitted that he is not in the best shape at the moment, as it is so early in the season, the 27-year-old certainly cannot be underestimated out on the roads this weekend.
Sky look to repeat previous successes
Unlike other big one-day races, Sky tends to do well in the season’s curtain raiser.
In 2011 and 2012 Mark Cavendish and Christopher Sutton won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Then two years later Stannard started his impressive record at the event. He won in 2014, and then followed that up in 2015. The Briton is back this year after missing the event last year to try and go for a third win.
Sky has an embarrassment of riches much to the annoyance of the rest of peloton; and this year they have made winning one of the big monuments a priority, as well as guiding Chris Froome to a fourth Tour de France title in July.
But with Luke Rowe and Stannard they have two riders that are well capable of tasting success at either Roubaix or Flanders.
Last year at Roubaix Stannard came desperately close to winning, only for former Sky rider Mat Hayman (Orica-Scott) to claim an unlikely victory. But if certain riders are on form and at the peak of their powers this year Sky could finally be a reckoning in the spring Classics.
Whatever happens this weekend, Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne signals the start of the early season racing which is good news for all cycling fans around the globe.