It is time for the opening weekend in Belgium. We have a slight change in the route which means we have fewer cobbles but more climbing to be done.
The route is fairly similar to last year.
We have a lot of important climbs in Omloop. The finale starts 100 km out with constant accelerations to the bottom of the hills, sprints up the hills and more accelerations after the hills. Overall, I think the race will be decided by the wind and the last 50 km which are very hard.
It will be quite cold, but without rain and heavy winds. The wind will blow from the SE with 3 m/s. It means crosswinds for the Muur and Bosberg to the finish. It means it is neither good or bad for the sprinters or the attackers.
How will the race unfold?
We have a lot of strong teams here. From what I have read in interviews, it does not seem like we have a clear favorite. There are teams that have made improvements in their squad over the winter too which will change the dynamic in the cobbled season.
It is important to notice MvdP is not starting. That rules out a relentless attack far out that only a few can follow. Quick-Step are here with depth, but they do not seem to be in peak-shape.
To me, it seems like we have a very open race.
Since it is the first cobbled classic of the season, it is difficult to say which riders are in shape. Most of the favorites have not even raced this year.
Wout van Aert is the man to beat. He is difficult to drop and perhaps even more difficult to beat in a reduced bunch sprint. Jumbo-Visma have improved their team this season. I think a lot of people will look at them and at Wout van Aert.
Quick-Step have a very strong team. But which of them are in good shape? Asgreen had covid which means he is not in top-shape. Stybar gave me very mixed signals in Ruta del Sol. Both Senechal and Lampaert has not looked very good either, I guess they are hiding something.
Wellens is in very good shape. If anyone attacks, he will either be the one following or the one attacking! Only once has he been in the podium, he would have loved a tailwind home from Bosberg. Lotto-Soudal has a very good team around him too.
Stuyven should be the man to watch for Trek-Segafredo. He has won here before but this year he does not have any racedays in his legs. He is a big joker for me.
Capiot was 12th here last year. I think he will improve due to the weather circumstances. He is very fast after a tough day.
UAE have to options. Trentin and Covi. Trentin is a very consistent but seems to lack just a little bit. He will be the sprinting option. Covi is in attack-mode. I can see a group with he and Wellens trying to spoil the chances of the sprinters.
Lutsenko is in good shape too. It was either fatigue or bad tactics that made him look poor in Ruta del Sol. He has good legs at the moment and the last 50 km are very hard, very good terrain for him. In a sprint, it will be difficult.
Colbrelli can both sprint and climb. He has the right qualities for this type of race. He wish to sprint from a small group but I think alot of other riders are quicker than him and I do not think he can solo.
INEOS bring Hayter and Pidcock. Hayter is the biggest spring-classics joker for me this season. He improved in Algarve after catching Covid this winter. Pidcock is more likely the safe pick but did not look very sharp in Algarve. They are both punchy and quick. I hope they do well.
Who will win?
I think Jumbo-Visma will cease control in the last 50 km. They have a very strong team and they want a sprint. Finally, it looks like they have a team to match the skill of Wout van Aert.