Flemish weekend whets the appetite

It was a brilliant weekend of racing in Belgium again this weekend.

With E3 on Friday and Gent-Wevelgem Sunday we got 2 classics in the truest sense of the word. Races fit to stand on their own merit as opposed to being just a practice before the Ronde.

Kasper Asgreen produced the best ride since he won in Kuurne in 2020 with a long lone attack taking in the Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont before looking cooked when the main favourites group reeled him back in.

However as Greg Van Avermaet and Mathieu van der Poel looked to have settled in for a sprint the Dane kicked again.

There was a bit of indecision in that main group. They had just seen Wout Van Aert fly off the front on on the last climb before being taken back and then shooting out the back.

Should they chase Asgreen hard and risk leaving the group disjointed and liable to slow letting Van Aert back on, or try and keep a reasonable tempo that stopped people getting on from behind giving them a better chance of catching the leader but with little wiggle room?

As it happens they kind of chose neither.

The 2nd group didnt get back on but they also managed to ship over 30 seconds to a man who had been out on his own over two of cyclings most hellish climbs.

It was brilliant from Asgreen. Cancellara or Boonenesque. He will now be a real threat in the Ronde at the weekend, no doubt.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 ASGREEN KasperDeceuninck – Quick Step4002254:42:56
2 SÉNÉCHAL FlorianDeceuninck – Quick Step3201500:32
3 VAN DER POEL MathieuAlpecin-Fenix260110,,
4 NAESEN OliverAG2R Citroën Team22090,,
5 ŠTYBAR ZdeněkDeceuninck – Quick Step18080,,
6 VAN AVERMAET GregAG2R Citroën Team14070,,
7 VAN BAARLE DylanINEOS Grenadiers12060,,
8 HOELGAARD MarkusUno-X Pro Cycling Team100501:28
9 VERMEERSCH GianniAlpecin-Fenix80461:30
10 HALLER MarcoBahrain – Victorious6842,
from procyclingstats.com

Gent-Wevelgem was a slightly more cagey and less attacking affair in the final.

The main group of favourites was away with around 70km to go and despite some forming and reforming of the peloton behind them that was about that.

It doesn’t mean there was no excitement however. Van Aert was keen to put E3 behind him and was key in driving the breakaway.

It was a sprinters paradise with Sam Bennett, Giacomo Nizzolo, Matteo Trentin, Sonny Colbrelli and Michael Matthews all present.

Lots of teams were covered and had no interest in chasing behind and that looked like it was that.

But.

Bennett had some issues with his last feed and was sick. He was dropped from the front group and shot back through the chasers with no strength to hang on.

Deceuninck now found themselves going from the position of close to 100% certain to winning the race if it came to a spring with Bennett to not having a rider up front.

Their fierce chase couldn’t reduce the gap so late in the race and Yves Lampaert was their top finisher in 14th place.

The riders up top had settled for a sprint and all looked really tired.

When it came to the finish Van Aert was a lot fresher and faster having had Nathan Van Hooydonck in the group with him to do some of his turns.

It was a great win and bodes well for this weekend.

Who’s your money on?

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 VAN AERT WoutTeam Jumbo-Visma5002255:45:11
2 NIZZOLO GiacomoTeam Qhubeka ASSOS400150,,
3 TRENTIN MatteoUAE-Team Emirates325110,,
4 COLBRELLI SonnyBahrain – Victorious27590,,
5 MATTHEWS MichaelTeam BikeExchange22580,,
6 KÜNG StefanGroupama – FDJ17570,,
7 VAN HOOYDONCK NathanTeam Jumbo-Visma150600:03
8 VAN BAARLE DylanINEOS Grenadiers125500:52
9 TURGIS AnthonyTeam Total Direct Energie100460:54
10 VERMEERSCH GianniAlpecin-Fenix85421:25
from procyclingstats.com

Opening weekend provides excitement (even with sprint finishes!)

Saturday 27th February – Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

The world champion Julian Alaphillippe almost pulled off a typcially swashbuckling move to take this one before getting caught on the Muur in Geraardsbergen.

He had, however, taken enough sting out of the legs of his opponents leaving the man of the early season, Davide Ballerini to easily take the sprint finish.

The perennial locally based classic contenders such as Oliver Naessen, Greg Van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke were left in his slipsteam and in my view look even less likely to land one of the big April races between them.

Having said all that, if you take the British sprinter Jake Stewart out of the top 10, the results could well have been from 2017 with Heinrich Haussler and Phillippe Gilbert rolling back the years.

It was so nice to see narrow Belgian farm tracks back on the menu and even from all the way over here in the UK, my fillings were clattering around my mouth remembering some of those crazy sectors that they had to ride over!

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 BALLERINI DavideDeceuninck – Quick Step3002004:43:03
2 STEWART JakeGroupama – FDJ250150,,
3 VANMARCKE SepIsrael Start-Up Nation215120,,
4 HAUSSLER HeinrichBahrain – Victorious175100,,
5 GILBERT PhilippeLotto Soudal12090,,
6 ARANBURU AlexAstana – Premier Tech11580,,
7 SÉNÉCHAL FlorianDeceuninck – Quick Step9570,,
8 TRENTIN MatteoUAE-Team Emirates7560,,
9 GENIETS KevinGroupama – FDJ6050,,
10 POLITT NilsBORA – hansgrohe5040,,
The top 10 from 2021 Omloop

Sunday 28th February – Kuurne/Brussels/Kuurne

Aka the Mathieu van der Poel show (again). There were over 80km left to ride when MvdP went surging out of the front of the peloton.

He attacked with further to go to the finish than Alaphillippe 24 hours before to start the pre-Tour of Flanders mind games.

Jhonathan Narvaez of Ineos was his unlikely co-contributor, a rider more suitable to the mountains than the bergs but both sped across the gap to the days no-hope breakaway making contact before we got our first glimpse of the Oude Kwaremont for 2021.

This cobbled beast has a special place in my heart, and not just because I enjoy the beer from the bar half way up!

After that we saw the race settle down a lot with a flatter run in and circuits around Kortrijk. A new group with some original breakaways and Van der Poel seemed to be living a charmed life off the front at about 17 seconds but with only 3km to go it looked enough.

However a long drag of crosswind was enough to let what was left of the peloton get back on.

The sprint finish saw former rainbow jersey Mads Pedersen of Trek win easily. Worthy of note was Tom Pidcock making his Flemish debut for Ineos getting up for for third place.

He will be a marked man now!

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 PEDERSEN MadsTrek – Segafredo2001254:37:04
2 TURGIS AnthonyTeam Total Direct Energie15085,,
3 PIDCOCK ThomasINEOS Grenadiers12560,,
4 TRENTIN MatteoUAE-Team Emirates10050,,
5 BIERMANS JentheIsrael Start-Up Nation8545,,
6 COLBRELLI SonnyBahrain – Victorious7040,,
7 POLITT NilsBORA – hansgrohe6035,,
8 VAN AVERMAET GregAG2R Citroën Team5030,,
9 VAN LERBERGHE BertDeceuninck – Quick Step4026,,
10 RESELL Erik NordsaeterUno-X Pro Cycling Team3522,,
2021 results from Kuurne.

In conclusion

There will be those who say that 2 sprint finishes and the mild weather will not make this a memorable opening weekend of classic racing but I thoroughly enjoyed it and now look forward to seeing Mark Cavendish in Le Samyn tomorrow.

This is a race which has a brutal finishing circuit and finishes in the town of Dour… which looks a bit bland!