|Photo credit Bram Souffreau.|
After a full weekend of Flemish food, Flemish ales, and Flemish racing, we gather our thoughts and impressions from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (OHN) and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (KBK) while we munch on Liège waffles.
There were much #Angryeurohandwave, #Belgianwoofshrug and #Facepalm while we watched OmegaPharma-QuickStep's Tom Boonen pull all the way to the finish of OHN only to be denied the win at the final sprint. "That's not the way to win," was a komentaar heard all over the InterWebs. We read his race a bit differently and think that Dries Devenyns was really the protected rider in the OHN break while Boonen was simply putting in a hard training ride. After 2x Ronde van Vlaanderen, 3x Paris-Roubaix and a World Championship, is it so unnatural for Boonen to approach OHN this way? Did many people actually remember his win in Gent-Wevelgem last year? There you go.
As Boonen put in his annual dig on the Boonenberg (Taaianberg), the tornado caused Lars Boom to crash while going uphill. When Devenyns didn't have it to follow winner Sep Vanmarcke's wheel, the race changed for Boonen. Further, with Team Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha and Matty Hayman in the break with him, everybody knows that at some point Flecha will let his arrow fly. Would Boonen rather chase from the front or from the back? Add to this Sylvain Chavanel's fitness in OHN and KBK, and the squad is looking very good as they go after bigger races.
Speaking of strong teams, Team Sky may have missed OHN, but in KBK they showed might, team unity, and a well-drilled sprint train to deliver Mark Cavendish to victory (and boxing Andre Greipel in while they were at it). Cavendish rightfully gave each of his teammates a big man-hug for the huge work they had put in the last hour and a half. For sure there is much gnashing of teeth in the camps of all other teams dreaming of glory in Milano-Sanremo.
All this argues for the effectiveness of Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman as preparation races for the early season cobbled classics. Woe to those teams whose budget and prestige leave them out of such high-quality preparations.
The non-contention of Philippe Gilbert following a mechanical in OHN, and Thor Hushovd's failure to follow winner Sep Vanmarcke's wheel when he attacked towards the finish, puts Team BMC in purgatory. The team showed itself here and there, with Greg Van Avermaet stealing fifth in OHN, but for such a star-studded team, one has to wonder if they should have allowed the likes of Van Avermaet and Manuel Quinziato to take their chances instead. Easy for us desk jockeys to say, but perhaps harder for a DS to make the call as both Gilbert and Hushovd are former winners of this race.
Gilbert conceded that he didn't have the legs. When he punctured, he didn't ask for a teammate to assist him. Hushovd probably thought he had a good shot until he and recovering Rabo Matty Breshel were dropped off the front group. If Hushovd indeed thought he was in good shape, this speaks more of the strength of Tom Boonen more than anything else, as up to that point he had driven the break single-handedly.
Similarly, Lotto-Belisol is under bad omen for non-performance and general bad luck. Sprinter Andre Greipel once again proved he's the best sprinter only when his is the only team in the finale. After a lot of teamwork, he barely figured in the finale of KBK, giving up as soon as he started to be swamped in the finale. Lars Bak had some bad luck in OHN. The pressure is on, and it will only increase as we approach bigger races in Belgium.
We had high hopes for team Rabobank's performance in the opening weekend only to be mostly disappointed. Designated leader Matty Breschel was dropped from the front group of OHN, while strong lieutenant Lars Boom once again committed a mistake only riders with the best bike-handling skillz commit. With all due respect and bearing in mind our general enthusiasm for Rabobank, they are missing out on their best chances for glory in the early season semi-classics.
Jonge Leeuwen (Young Lions)
Among the jonge leeuwen, the one that clearly impressed was Sep Vanmarcke, winner of OHN. As usual, The Inner Ring has an excellent post on his origins and how he came about. He had a very promising 2010 - he finished second in Gent-Wevelgem behind winner Bernhard Eisel - he had a quieter but consistent 2011 with several front-group finishes. It was great to see Vanmarcke rise up to the challenge, validating Garmin-Barracuda's investment in the youngster. Which brings another good news to the squad: Vanmarcke will be yet another potential race threat that other teams have to contend with. We don't think that his chances at the big classics are great, but other squads will be stupid to let him go. With Johan Van Summeren's win in Roubaix still fresh in mind - last year the team capitalized on Van Summeren even if he wasn't the designated leader - having Vanmarcke in Garmin-Barracuda is a great asset.
Another lion jeune is FdJ-BigMat's Frenchman Arnaud Démare, current U-23 champ who is barely 20 years old. He figured quite well in the finale of KBK to finish 4th while teammate Yauheni Hutarovich finished 2nd. Hutarovich was arguably the only one to challenge Cavendish at the finish, all the way to throwing his bike at the line. A graduate of the vaunted Roubaix-Lille Métropole junior squad that was run by Cyrille Guimard, he likes these early season races, having finished 2nd in KBK last year, in addition to 3rd in Grote Scheldeprijs. Hutarovich is not a youngster anymore, he is already 28 years old, but between Démare and Hutarovich FdJ-BigMat had good reason to form a sprint train in KBK, and most definitely again in further races such as Gent-Wevelgem, Grote Scheldeprijs, and we think races like Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen.
In addition to the comforts of racing on cobbles, further south we note Eros Capecchi's (Liquigas-Canonndale) win in GP Lugano and Andrea Guardini's (Farnese Vini -Selle Italia) multiple wins in Langkawi. Tour de Langkawi itself is becoming an established preparation races for many Italian teams, we think in a trend similar to that of Tours of Qatar and Oman. More than mere wins, Capecchi and Guardini are a new generation of Italian pocket-rocket sprinters that may take up the mantle of Paolo Bettini.
What did you think of last weekend's racing?