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!

What a weekend!!! Belgium hits the spot with excitement on both days

Without even touching on the Giro D’Italia starting this weekend saw the best racing of 2020 by far.

Saturday

After a stop start race with a missed day and re-route thanks to the new Netherlands Covid protocol, Mads Pedersen looked to be in a good place to win the Binck-Bank Tour.

However with 2 full and 1 partial ascent of the fearsome Muur to go (see my attempt below!) Mathieu Van der Poel took flight.

The Dutch champion was a bit more rapid over the 17% cobbles than I was and soloed away.

A select group of chasers formed behind but still VdP pressed on getting all of the maximum bonus seconds in the golden kilometer, an innovation that this race has stuck with over the years.

Soren Kragh Andersen got himself in prime position to win the race overall but only if Van der Poel was caught.

As the race headed in Geraardsbergen for the final time and a finish just above the market square it was clear that wasn’t going to happen and the boy wonder hung on for the final metres and took the overall race win along with the stage.

It was a really exciting finish and shows that wind, rain and cobbles makes for the best racing. Full Stop.

Sunday

After Marc Hirschi winning Fleche Walloone in the week the man of the summer (c) was part of the key break in Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

So much happened though that I had to make notes and here they are showing my disbelief as the race unfolded.

  • Not too far after halfway a crash takes out Greg Van Avermaet, he looks badly injured. Maybe no Flanders? The likes of Sep Vanmarkce and GvA won’t ever win it.
  • La Redoute is the big climb of the race but its fairly neutral with Quick Step setting the pace.
  • Julian Alaphillippe crashes.
  • Alaphillippe attacks on the Roche aux Faucons climb. Only Michal Kwiatkowski, Hircshi, Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar can go with him.
  • Van der Poel is leading the chase behind… he couldn’t get across could he?
  • Kwiatkowski is dropped.
  • Into the last KM and they are playing a few games with each other. Matej Mohoric is flying across from the group behind.
  • Mohoric goes past and opens up the sprint. Alaphillippe and Hirschi collide and the Swiss pulls his foot out ending his chances.
  • Alaphillippe throws his hands in the air but Roglic goes past him to win!!!
  • Van der Poel wins the bunch sprint for 5th.

First up, I am sure some of you will be surprised that there are notes written ahead of blog posts!

Secondly, it was a terrible mistake by Alaphillippe in sight of the line but with him relegated for his wonky sprint into Hirschi it didn’t affect the outcome of the race as Roglic would have won anyway.

Thirdly, after the manner of his defeat in the Tour de France, no-one could begrudge Primoz his win in this race and I have to admit that despite having nothing against Alaphillippe I did punch the air and cheer when it was clear the Slovenian had got the win.

Right Flemish semi classics this coming week… beat that!