Well, we’re here again. This weekend sees the beginning of the ‘proper’ racing in Europe with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad starting in a few hours time, and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne being run on Sunday afternoon.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (25-02-2012)
Sebastian Langeveld returns to defend his Het Nieuwsblad crown, and many of the major cobbled contenders will be there too. Tom Boonen has to be considered a major favourite for the win, if not the major favourite. BMC will be putting out a strong squad, with Gilbert, Hushovd and Ballan leading the line. Other contenders include Juan Antonio Flecha of Sky, Lars Boom and Matti Breschel of Rabobank, and also Heinrich Haussler and Johan Van Summeren of Garmin-Barracuda and Björn Leukemans and Stijn Devolder of Vacansoleil.
There will, of course, be other riders that I haven’t mentioned, but they are all listed in the startlist linked above.
There will be no race coverage on British Eurosport, or any English-speaking television channel as far as I know, but as ever there will be Sporza feeds available on the internet for those wishing to watch live coverage.
Onto the parcours, Het Nieuwsblad is much more similar to the big Flemish race of the year, De Ronde Van Vlaanderen, with the riders getting their first competitive taste of the cobbles and bergs in 2012. The Taaienberg, Eikenberg and Molenberg are the 3 climbs that this year’s race shares with the 2012 Ronde. Coming early on in the Ronde, but later in the route in Het Nieuwsblad, this gives us a pointer idea of why this can be considered a ‘mini-Ronde’ of sorts.
Kuurne is traditionally a race more for those sprint-inclined riders than Het Nieuwsblad is and as such tends to throw up less excitement racing-wise. The route is flatter than Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but does include such climbs as the Kruisberg, Oude Kwaremont and Nokereberg. The latter is actually the first climb of this year’s Ronde, while Oude Kwaremont is in the circuit and will be ridden over three times by the peloton in April.
There is no doubt André Greipel will be looking to continue his strong early season form on Sunday, and he is my pick for the win. Last year’s winner Christopher Sutton of Sky will be back, but it come down to the day to see whether he or #1 Mark Cavendish leads the team. Other contenders include the aforementioned Tom Boonen, Tyler Farrar of Garmin, and Mark Renshaw of Rabobank. The full startlist can be found here. The major names you’ll notice are absent from the startlists of these races are Fabian Cancellara (absent from these races since 2008) and Filippo Pozzato, who broke his collarbone in Qatar.
For both races, the weather is expected to be cool and damp, so a repeat of the epic Kuurne of 2010 or last year’s Omloop shouldn’t be expected.
The races will ultimately give us a nice taster of what is to come in April, but are too early on to give us an true indication of what might happen then.