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RACE PREVIEW: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

This Saturday’s sees the start of the European Classics campaign with the UCI 1.1 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad providing the first test of spring.

The Course

The 15th edition of OHN remains largely unchanged from the last two years and has a quintessential ‘Belgium Classics feel’. Starting in Ghent and finishing in Ninove, the 124km route in the Flemish Ardennes is a race of attrition, with a total of five cobble sectors and 10 hills to contend with. Narrow roads completes the ‘classics trinity’ and the usual dose of Belgian weather sets the scene for an exciting race.

The unrelenting nature of the course means the bunch will gradually whittle down and by the halfway point the Molenberg will significantly reduce the peloton’s numbers. The decisive moment of the race usually falls in the final 20km with the legendary Tour of Flanders-esque combination of the Kappelmuur-Bosberg.

At 109km, the Kapelmuur is arguably ‘the moment’ of the race. After gradually climbing up through Geraardsbergen, the riders will cross the cobbled market square before turning onto the notorious tree-shrouded ‘wall’. Here the smoother pavé of town morphs into medieval cobbles (more akin to rhythm-shattering, gnarly projections of rock) and the gradient pitches up to a brutal 20%. By the time the iconic chapel and hoards of beer-soaked Flandrian fans come into view some 400m later, riders are strewn across the ascent whilst those with the strongest legs are attempting to distance themselves from the pack.

A small technical descent and a few kilometers later riders face the Bosberg. At 1.35km in length with an average gradient of 5%, it’s not the most challenging of climbs, but after 113km of racing the one long straight line of ascent will be tough. For some it may act as a launchpad to victory whilst for others it could prove to be the final straw. From there its a flat 11km to the finish in Ninove.

How the race unfolded last year

Last year, the race made global news when Nicole Hanselmann’s (Bigla) solo breakaway threatened to catch the men’s peloton forcing organisers to neutralise the women. However, the real headline should have been the exciting final 20km which saw Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) attack over the top of the Kapelmuur. Only Anna van der Breggan (Boels-Dolmans) and Marta Bastianelli (Virtu Pro Cycling) could follow, but Blaak kept up the pressure and distanced her rivals on the descent. On the Bosberg she extended her lead on a chasing bunch before soloing to victory in impressive style. Bastianelli took the bunch sprint whilst Jip van den Bos (Boels-Dolmans) rounded out the podium.

7 riders to Watch in 2020

1) Marta Bastianelli

The undisputed queen of the classics in 2019, Marta Bastianelli’s will be hoping she can replicate her spring success once again this year. After finishing 2nd in last year’s OHN, the 32 year Italian will be hoping she can go one better in 2020. Having already started her season in winnings way with a victory at Vuelta CV Feminas she is certainly a pre-race favourite.

2) Anna van der Breggen

The 2018 world champion who rides in the colours of Boels-Dolmans rarely has an off day and always performs well in the Spring Classics. An incredibly versatile rider, with impressive strength, speed and race craft, Van der Breggen is always a name to watch. Two time winner of LBL, two time winner of the Tour of Flanders and five time winner of Flèche Wallonne, van der Breggen certainly knows how to win on Flemish roads. Having kicked off 2020 with an impressive victory at the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, she’ll be keen to make it 2 wins from 2 this weekend.

3) Chantal Blaak

Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans) has been on the podium 3 times in the past 4 years and as defending champion, she’ll be looking to repeat her impressive performance of 2019. The 2017 world champion, excels on the Flemish roads and her palmares full of ‘Classic’ wins reflects her notable skillset. No doubt Blaak will be looking to take victory in Ninove again this year as she builds towards her main spring goal of winning the Tour of Flanders.

4) Annemiek van Vleuten

No superlative could do justice to the season that Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) had last year. Solo victories in Strade Bianche, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the World Championship’s in Yorkshire, van Vleuten showed irrepressible strength. Having recently returned from a second block of altitude training in Columbia she’ll be looking to give her rainbow bands a winning debut ride this weekend.

5) Lorena Wiebes

The 20 year old burst onto the scene last year showing displays of strength, speed and tactical nous beyond her years. Winner of the UCI Women’s World Tour best young rider as well as the Dutch national championships to name a few, Wiebes (Parkhotel Valkenburg) will be looking to build upon her many successes of 2019. If she makes it to the finish with a leading group she’ll certainly be very hard to outsprint.

6) Ellen Van Dijk

Ellen Van Dijk (Trek-Segafredo) is another rider with an impressive list of results in Spring Classics. The time trial and breakaway specialist has notched up two wins at the Tour of Flanders as well as two wins Dwars door Vlaanderen so certainly knows how to win on the unforgiving roads of Belgium.

7) Lucinda Brand

Winner of OHN in 2017, Brand, will be looking to repeat her success this year as she makes her debut appearance for Trek-Segafredo. The 30 year old had a good cyclo-cross season over the winter with 3 World Cup wins and she’ll be looking to translate this form onto the roads and pave of Flanders.

Summary

When:

29th February

Where:

Belgium

What:

124km road race

Who to watch:

Chantal Blaak ****

Anna van der Breggen ****

Annemiek van Vleuten ****

Marta Bastianelli ****

Top Outsider:

Lucinda Brand

TV Coverage:

TBC

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