5 conclusions from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne

Van Avermaet shows how to swap placings and beat Sagan with perfect finishing surge

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) proved that you don’t always need to be a good sprinter to win big races with his victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday.

The Belgian had clearly studied the new finish used for this year’s race, which had changed due to the fun fair occupying Ghent’s Sint-Pietersplein square. He had seen how the curves in the road and the rising gradient would turn the sprint into a drag race and realised that it would be difficult for anyone, including Peter Sagan, to have the speed to get past him if he jumped first, took the best line and used his power to drive all the way to the finish. It was a perfect lesson in how to beat a sprinter. It left Sagan looking for excuses and gave Van Avermaet a huge boost for the rest of the spring.

The first race of the Belgian season is always an aperitif to the April Classics but showed that Van Avermaet is on form and on track for further success in a few weeks’ time.

He said he was happy to swap his many placings in the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Oman for victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. No doubt come April, he will be happy to swap his win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad for victory at the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix. (SF)


What can be done about motorbikes in bike races?

The discussion surrounding motorbikes, cars and their presence in the peloton has been a persistent one over the past 12 months. Just as the issue seemed to have died down, there is another incident to spark up the debate again. There were two this weekend, with Danilo Wyss colliding with one during La Drome Classic and Stig Broeckx being taken down by a medical motorbike at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. The irony would have been lost on Broeckx as he tumbled down the asphalt and broke his collarbone and a rib.

Broeckx’s incident was more public and once again raised questions as to how cycling races utilize motorbikes during their events. There are mitigating factors for the motorbike in question, who would understandably have thought that there was sufficient space to pass. However, the movement of Broeckx, who was looking over his left shoulder as the bike came up the right, put the two on a collision course.

However, the question of why the motorbike was passing the peloton in the first place remains. Aside from the one it caused, there was no medical emergency for it to attend to. When riding in a peloton, riders have plenty enough to think about without having to consider a motorbike coming up behind them. More regulations are needed around vehicles in bike races, when they can pass, what speed and what they should do as they pass. (SO)

Stuyven ready to take over from Cancellara?

With Fabian Cancellara due to retire at the end of this season, the hunt will be on for Trek to find a suitable replacement. He’s still only 23, but Jasper Stuyven may have signalled his intention to fill that soon-to-be vacant spot.

Stuyven had not been one of the pre-race favourites but he threw the form book out when he made his attack with 30-kilometres to go, a move Cancellara would have been proud of. At 23, it is still far too early to make an exact prognosis on what Stuyven is capable of, but it proved his mental fortitude. The Belgian showed a cool head as he dealt with attacks from no less a figure than world champion Peter Sagan and several other key contenders to eventually win by 17 seconds.

His result will get tongues wagging in Belgium, too, as the search continues for a replacement for their Classics superstar Tom Boonen. It’s a lot of pressure for a young rider to take on but he may have to get used to it after his performance in Kuurne. (SO)

Positives and negatives for Sagan

After flexing his muscles with a prodigious show of force on the cobbles at Lange Munte, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) was the obvious favourite when the five-man leading group arrived in Ghent to sprint it out for victory at the end of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

As has been the case for Sagan on Flemish roads before, however, his strength seemed to desert him at the crucial moment. He lacked the power to match Greg Van Avermaet’s acceleration in the final 200 metres and had to settle for second place behind the eternal second himself.

On this occasion, there was ample mitigation for Sagan. The Slovak was making his return to racing after a three-week stint of altitude training in Sierra Nevada, after all, and so heavy legs in the final sprint were perhaps only to be expected.

With Milan-San Remo still three weeks away, Sagan will feel his positives outweighed the negatives over Belgium’s Opening Weekend. He bridged stylishly to the winning move on the Taaienberg on Saturday, for instance, and he impressed, too, on the Oude Kwaremont at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne the following afternoon.

And yet the manner of his defeat at Omloop still leaves lingering questions about his tactical acumen. When Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale) drifted across the road with 250 metres remaining, Sagan found himself manoeuvred onto the front of the group before the sprint had begun at all. He then compounded the situation by leaving enough of a gap for Van Avermaet to squeeze between him and the barriers on the curving finishing straight to launch his winning effort.

No matter how much stronger Sagan is in a month’s time – and the signs suggest that he will be very strong indeed – he won’t be able to afford any tactical missteps against Cancellara, Kristoff et al in April. (BR)

Etixx-QuickStep empire still to strike back

As our own Brecht Decaluwé pointed out, one of the great traditions of Belgium’s Opening Weekend is Etixx-QuickStep falling short at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and then redeeming themselves the following day at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

Etixx-QuickStep, who haven’t won Omloop since a young Nick Nuyens triumphed back in 2005, fell short again on Saturday, when none of their riders were on the scene when the decisive move began to take shape on the Taaienberg, traditionally the site of a testing Tom Boonen acceleration. Boonen would be their highest finisher in Ghent, albeit in a discreet 11th.

In the past two years, QuickStep responded to such disappointment at Omloop by winning at Kuurne the following day in dominant fashion, but the expected call to arms did not have its usual outcome on Sunday. While QuickStep’s forcing helped to create the winning move, young Jasper Stuyven stole a march on Boonen by soloing to victory in the finale, while Lukasz Wisniowski was the team’s highest finisher in 5th place.

It’s far too early to signal the alarm for a team with such pedigree on the cobbles and such strength in depth, especially when Boonen is still feeling his way back after suffering a head injury last October and Tony Martin is still finding his feet as an addition to the Classics unit. But while the quality remains at Etixx-QuickStep, the sheen of invincibility is not what it once was. Only events on the first two Sundays in April, of course, will confirm or dispel that impression. (BR)

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