Why Omloop and Kuurne are the most important races some riders don’t mind losing

The 'opening weekend' double-header delivers huge kudos and a prize place on the palmarès – but beware, the road to Roubaix is long.

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They bring big bragging rights, a chance to tune up tactics, and a window into who’s hot and who’s not.

Winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne earns early kudos and a marquee slot in the palmarès.

But this weekend’s double-header includes races some pros don’t mind losing. Paris-Roubaix’s pavé is a long road away, and winning so early far from guarantees greatness later in the packed classics calendar.

“The ‘opening weekend’ gives an indication of the shape the riders are in, but it certainly doesn’t say it all,” said Lotto Soudal sport director Nikolas Maes. “For me, the ‘opening weekend’ and the following cobbled classics are two separate things.”

But that’s far from saying Omloop and Kuurne don’t matter.

In fact, they matter a lot.

Omloop’s trophy sits proudly in the cabinet of Belgian classics kings like Eddy Merckx, Johan Museeuw, and Philippe Gilbert.

The “opening weekend” are the two races that the burlier bunch in the pro peloton have been thinking about all winter. For “home” teams like Lotto-Soudal and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, Omloop and Kuurne offer an opportunity to deliver an early kick into the opposition’s kidneys.

“We are a Belgian team, so everybody looks at us and people [i.e., fans] want to see us perform,” Quick-Step director Rik van Slyke told VeloNews.

“For us, it’s the first confrontation with the cobblestones again, we can test materials, and try new things. There is an extra sort of importance to it [opening weekend], more than some of the other races. Winning Omloop or Kuurne is a special start to the season.”

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A winter of waiting for February’s big weekend and the unique status of one-dayers means Omloop and Kuurne are just as hard-fought as the bigger prizes to come.

“It’s like every spring classic, it doesn’t matter if it’s Omloop, or Harelbeke, or Flanders, it’s like the world championship every day,” former Omloop champ Zdenek Štybar told VeloNews.

But Omloop winners beware – the road to Flanders and Roubaix is long. Peaking too early is a perilous pursuit.

Davide Ballerini brought Quick-Step early honors when he sprinted to Omloop glory last year, but the young Italian only fizzled after his early-season fire.

That tightrope of early fitness and long-term form will be even more tricky in 2022.

The one-week delay to Paris-Roubaix means some top riders are turning away from the “opening weekend.” Mads Pedersen is skipping both races while Wout van Aert is cutting out of Kuurne as both pursue an early April peak.

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“The period from when riders have to start being OK to when they have to be at their highest peak is now longer [because of the late Roubaix], it makes a big difference,” van Slyke said. “You cannot hold that high kick needed for long. So it’s very difficult now in preparations.”

Both van Aert and Pedersen’s road to the monuments pass through Paris-Nice in the hope of being full-steam for Flanders and Roubaix.

This year more than ever, a week in the wheels at a stage-race can be an important stepping stone between Omloop, Kuurne, and April’s biggest events.

“Races like Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico can deliver a change of shape,” Lotto-Soudal manager Maes said. “Of course, I expect the team to put in a nice performance this weekend. But more important is that the riders are fully prepared for what’s still to come.”

Omloop and Kuurne matter a lot – all classics do. But if you’re going to get one wrong, get it wrong at “opening weekend.”

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