Even though I was at the UAE Tour with Tudor Pro Cycling Team last week, I was still able to find a way to watch Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Funnily enough, I actually didn’t ride Opening Weekend very much in my career – only twice, in fact – because I preferred to get in another full week of training before Strade Bianche and the Italian races, but I still knew all about the old belief that the rider who wins Omloop can’t win the Tour of Flanders.
I don’t know if that’s really the case anymore, because a lot has changed in terms of training and conditioning in recent years, and the ‘new’ route of Omloop, with the Muur and Bosberg, makes it even more like the Tour of Flanders. In any case, at Omloop and again at Kuurne, Jumbo-Visma were the dominant team, winning with Dylan van Baarle on Saturday and then with Tiesj Benoot the following day.
I was pleased for Tiesj, because that was his first ever win in Belgium, which is remarkable when you think of how good he is, and on both days, Jumbo-Visma raced a really smart race. Winning bike races today isn’t just about having good legs. Sure, they had strength in numbers, but the key thing was that they used that advantage well, and in slightly different ways in each race.
At Omloop, they were really controlling the bunch and then Van Baarle was dominant in the finale. At Kuurne, they went into attack mode and they went early, putting Tiesj and Nathan Van Hooydonck in the break. They came straight from a training camp to these races, which is a different approach to when I was racing, but maybe I would do the same if I was still a rider now, because things have moved on and evolved a lot in the last few years.
Either way, they clearly showed that they were ready. Their condition already had to be really good to do what they did, and so that brings up that traditional Opening Weekend question – how long can they hold that condition? Only time will tell.
The other question, of course, is how does everybody else try to beat Jumbo-Visma? The first thing to say is that not everybody was racing at Opening Weekend, including Jumbo’s most important rider, Wout van Aert. We’ll also have to wait and see what happens when Mathieu van der Poel, Tadej Pogačar and Julian Alaphilippe are all in the same race too, that would change things, and it’s worth remembering that Stefan Küng had the flu before Opening Weekend too.
But even at the weekend, things could have played out…
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