As mentioned in an earlier post, the “real” season begins this weekend. The Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (formerly “Het Volk”), officially opens the Northern season with over 200km of the finest stuff Belgium has to offer. While not possessing quite the prestige of its bigger brother, the Tour of Flanders, the Omloop is still nothing to sneer at. Any rider worth his salt is eager to add it to his palmares. Head to the great folks at Cyclingnews or Pez for some reports and previews chock full of facts and figures.
If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on three riders:
Gert Steegmans could profit from Filippo Pozzato’s presence on his Katusha team. Able to win in a break or a sprint, Steegmans could find himself in a move allowing him to sit-on and wait for his team to bring the race back together for his kopman. If the break fails, he’s fresh for whatever ensures. If it’s successful, he’s perfectly placed to cover attacks in the finale or win the sprint. If I’m completely wrong and he has no role in the race, look for him Sunday in Kuurne—a race with a much greater chance of ending with a bunch sprint.
Greg Van Avermaet is on the verge of something big. Winner of a stage and the points jersey in last year’s Vuelta, he’s primed for a breakout performance in one his country’s biggest events. Like Steegmans, perhaps his biggest asset is also his potentially biggest obstacle—his Silence-Lotto teammates. The defending champion and two-time winner, Philip Gilbert is now his teammate. Gilbert is eager to set himself alongside the race’s greatest legends with his third win. This could harm Van Avermaet’s chances, or, like Steegmans, help them immensely.
Bjorn Leukemans is a rider with something to prove. Winner of a stage in the Etoile de Bessèges earlier this year, Leukemans wants to prove that he has fully rebounded from the scandal that found him serving a 2-year suspension for le dopage. He’s a wild card for sure, with a team (Vacansoleil) that is certainly a step below some of the other squads on the starting line. However, with a smart, savy race he could find himself on the podium’s top step.