Professional road racing has been on since January, but Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne mark the true opening of “real” road racing. These back-to-back races give us a first look at the spring classics contenders and see who is on-form, who is out of shape and who might be a little fit a little too early.
Saturday’s Omloop is the harder race and better judge of things to come, while Kuurne tends to be one for the sprinters. While the route was modified this year to increase the difficulty, we still saw a large group go to the line together.
The Winners: Jasper Stuyven (Trek) at Omloop and Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck – Quick Step) at Kuurne. Both bagged the biggest wins of their careers this weekend with impressive performances.
Stuyven, 27, has been highly touted as a classics contender since he was at Bontrager Livestrong team way back in 2012, but he has struggled to convert this potential in actual results. We thought he had finally arrived when he won Kuurne with an impressive solo move back in 2016, but the next step never arrived. He looked incredibly strong and like a true classics star with his commanding performance on Saturday and even came back to finish 5th on Sunday at Kuurne, so don’t be surprised to see him on the podium next month at Flanders and/or Roubaix. One things to note, nobody has even won Omloop and Flanders in the same season, so its possible Stuyven is peaking too soon.
Asgreen, 25, displayed his massive talent when he finished second at the 2019 Tour of Flanders and bagged a third overall at the Tour of California later in the spring. His win on Sunday at Kuurne was ridiculously impressive, as he single-handedly turned a sprinters classics into an exhibition of his solo power. The Dane rode across the early breakaway with 28km remaining and then proceeded to ride them off his wheel one by one. His gap only maxed out at roughly 34 seconds with 20km remaining and was whittled down to 15 seconds with 6km to go. Despite this measly gap and large chasing group behind, he amazingly held on for a solo victory.
The win showed two big things, Asgreen’s massive potential and Deceuninck – Quick Step’s uncanny ability to turn near-misses into victories in the following race. After getting Yves Lampaert into the winning move only to be outsprinted by Stuyven on Saturday, they played the field perfectly on Sunday, with Fabio Jakobsen and his QS leadout sitting in the chasing group while Asgreen forced the rest of the teams to chase.
The Losers: While Deceuninck-Quick Step sent a rider up the road while their sprinter sat comfortably in the bunch at Kuurne, Sunweb and Lotto-Soudal did the majority of the work to chase Asgreen down. When the sprint finish came, their best results were John Degenkolb (Lotto) 18th and Cees Bol (Sunweb) 33rd. Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT) and Alexander Kristoff (UAE) went 1-2 in the bunch sprint and rounded off the podium thanks to this work (also, count these guys as mini-winners from the weekend). As the spring rolls on, Sunweb and Lotto might want to think about getting more creative and aggressive with their tactics and not pulling the race back together so their sub-par sprinters can fail to get results.
CCC got Matteo Trentin into the winning break on Saturday at Omloop, only to see him dropped on the Muur van Geraardsbergen. While it’s still early and we don’t want to read too much into these performances, it could be tough for Greg van Avermaet to trust his new co-leader later in the spring when he can’t trust him to not break the first rule of bike racing (don’t get dropped from the breakaway).
Should We Worry?: Last year’s Paris-Roubaix runner-up, Nils Politt, was minutes off the back at Omloop. You don’t want to peak too soon but it can be tough to make up for a complete lack of form in four weeks.
Current World Road Race Champion Mads Pedersen was close to ten minutes off the back at Omloop.
Sep Vanmarcke, Tim Wellens, Bob Jungels, and Niki Terpstra all failed to stay in the main chase group at Omloop.
Who to Keep an eye on: Philippe Gilbert was invisible on Saturday at Omloop, but the defending Roubaix champion had a secretly great race. He was minutes off the back at one point, only to claw his way back into the peloton and finished in the top ten. Gilbert appears to be in great form for the upcoming Milan San Remo (if it happens).
Wout van Aert looked like the strongest rider in the race at Omloop, but the Dutchman did too much too early and missed the winning move. The same thing plagued him at last year’s Tour of Flanders and he will have to start playing the waiting game more if he wants to convert a big one-day win.
Heinrich Haussler turned back the clock to 2010 and looked fantastic at both races. Watch for him to make a mark at Flanders or Roubaix.
Stefan Kung finished top ten at Omloop. After last year’s 3rd place at the World Road Race Championships, he is emerging an incredibly solid one-day rider.