Opening Weekend will be a one-race show at the 1.Pro Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, held on February 27 in Belgium, after its counterpart Omloop van het Hageland was cancelled due to COVID-19.
It's always been the bigger of the two races and, although it's still not part of the Women’s WorldTour, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad may have gained importance this year because it's the first 'big' race of the season for the women’s peloton.
Annemiek van Vleuten is putting every effort into smashing Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and she even brought her new Movistar Team Women squad to Mount Teide, a volcano on Tenerife in the Canary Islands to train specifically the one-day race. She won Omloop in dominant fashion last spring before the calendar shut down due to COVID-19.
To recap how the 2020 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad unfolded, Van Vleuten lined up in what was her debut as the world champion after an audacious 100km solo attack netted her the world title at the 2019 World Championships in Yorkshire. Van Vleuten attacked on the Muur-Kapelmuur to take a solo victory in Ninove.
The season shut down due to COVID-19 shortly after Omloop, but when the racing resumed in July, she won three one-day races in Spain, and the opening round of the Women’s WorldTour at Strade Bianche, in what was a thrilling five-race winning streak.
Relive Van Vleuten's solo victory at 2020 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Riders to watch
Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar): The defending champion is champing at the bit to get the racing season underway. She will be looking to open her season with a victory, like last year, to impress her new squad Movistar Team Women.
Lotte Kopecky (Liv Racing): The Belgian champion enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2020 with a stage victory at the Giro Rosa and podium finishes at Le Samyn des Dames, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Brugge-De Panne. Watch for her in the Spring Classics before she turns her attention to the Madison at the summer Olympic Games.
Marta Bastianelli (Ale BTC Ljubljana): Italian all-rounder has twice placed second at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to Chantal van den Broek-Black in 2019 and Annemiek van Vleuten in 2020, and she will no doubt want to open her 2021 campaign with a victory. The team also have newcomer and 2020 revelation Marlen Reusser to watch.
Anna van der Breggen and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx): Van den Broek-Blaak is a four-time podium finisher in the one-day opener that includes her victory in the 2019 edition, and she is a master of the one-day races and never one to discount for the win in the Spring Classics. SD Worx have a series of winners, too, that include the reigning double world champion Anna van der Breggen, along with Demi Vollering and Jolien D'hoore.
Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo): Deignan is a three-time podium finisher and won the 2016 edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Deignan has a specific goal of racing full-tilt through the Spring Classics from now until Paris-Roubaix, before looking further ahead to the Olympic Games and World Championships. Trek-Segafredo have multiple options, too, with new-signing Chloe Hosking and one-day specialist Ellen van Dijk.
Lizzy Banks (Ceratizit-WNT): Banks will start Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with her new team after Equipe Paule Ka folded abruptly in October last year. She is one of the dark horses to watch in the one-day races as she aims make the Team GB selection for the Olympic Games.
Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange): She had a standout season in 2020 with a victory at Brabantse Pijl and second place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and has become a contender for the Spring Classics.
Cyclingnews' full list of riders to watch.
Flanders Classics have not published the exact route details for the 2021 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad but the Movistar Team posted the map and profile, which is similar to previous editions. It's a notoriously tough race held under the colder, and often rainy, conditions of northern Europe.
The 126km route starts in Gent and includes five cobbled sectors and ten climbs, three of which are cobbled; the Molenberg and the final two ascents over the Muur-Kapelmuur (17km to go) and the Bosberg (13km to go) before the finish in Ninove.
- Haaghoek, km 42 - 2000m
- Ruiterstraat, km 57 - 800m
- Kerkgate, km 60 - 1030m
- Jagerij, km 63 - 800m
- Paddestraat, km 74 - 2300m
- Leberg, km. 45
- Wolvenberg, km. 57
- Molenberg, km. 69
- Rekelberg, km. 83
- Berendries, km. 87
- Elverenberg-Vossenhol, km. 89
- Tenbosse, km. 94
- Eikenmolen, km. 97
- Muur-Kapelmuur, km. 109
- Bosberg, km. 113
What to expect
Early-spring weather can be unpredictable in Belgium, and although the race is notorious for cold, windy and wet condition, this Saturday is expected to be roughly 12 Celsius and partly sunny.
We can expect a little bit of normal pre-racing nervousness and excitement in the peloton. This will also be one of the first races of the season for most riders and teams, since many early-season races have been either cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19.
Some teams, such as Canyon-SRAM have built on a core roster who know each other so well, while other teams such as Jumbo-Visma are still learning how to read one another in the races.
Teams have, more or less, been able to unite at pre-season training camps and will be well-prepared to race Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. We can expect aggressive racing over the route's more punchy terrain, and the fact that the race is on the shorter side at 127km will add to the likeliness that teams will want to come out swinging straight from the start in Gent.
There is still some uncertainty as to how many races will continue during COVID-19, and racing completely shut down after opening weekend last year, and so riders and teams will probably want to make the most of every event on the calendar this year.
Flanders Classics have announced the 24 teams that have been invited to participate in the 16th edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, including nine Women's WorldTeams and 15 Women's Continental Teams.
- Movistar Team
- SD Worx
- Trek-Segafredo Women
- Alé BTC Ljubljana
- Canyon SRAM Racing
- Liv Racing
- FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope
- Team BikeExchange
- Team DSM
- Team Jumbo-Visma Women
- Bingoal Casino - Chevalmeire Cycling Team
- Doltcini - Van Eyck Sport
- Lotto Soudal Ladies
- Team Arkéa
- Women Cycling Team
- Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling
- Hitec Products
- NXTG Racing
- Parkhotel Valkenburg
- Team Rupelcleaning
- Team TIBCO - SVB
- Multum Accountants LSK Ladies Cycling Team
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