Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The “opening weekend” of the classics continues with the sprinter-friendly Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
A flat 50km into the finish line in Kuurne makes Sunday’s race one for the fast-finishers, and the startline Sunday saw a whole swathe of speedsters.
VeloNews is there on the ground and caught up with sprint stars Caleb Ewan and Sonny Colbrelli as well as rising American ace Magnus Sheffield. Here’s what the stars said from a bright but windy startline in Kuurne:
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal)
Aussie speedster Caleb Ewan was a relatively late call-up for Sunday’s race but has all the makings of a king of Kuurne. Ewan has a lightning sprint and is climbing better than ever before in his quest to win Milano-Sanremo next month. Can Caleb add Kuurne to his list of grand tour stage victories and classics conquests?
“I haven’t raced in Belgium so much, so my knowledge isn’t so good. A few days ago, I did the final 100k of the course so I go to see a lot of the important climbs today.
“I’ve got a really good team around me and I’ll be relying on them a lot to have me in a good position for all the important points. This race can go either way and it sometimes goes into a big bunch sprint. There are probably three sprinters that can win from the bunch and that’s [Fabio] Jakobsen, [Tim] Merlier, and I. So, there’s a lot of other teams that won’t want it to go to a sprint so I think they’ll race aggressively through that middle bit. It’ll be really hard for a while, but hopefully, it will come together.”
Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers)
American ace Magnus Sheffield started his first season with Ineos Grenadiers on a tear. He won a stage at the Ruta del Sol earlier the month and wasn’t shy in making the moves at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday. Sheffield has Tom Pidcock and Ethan Hayter for company in a gaggle of Gen-Z greats riding for Ineos in Kuurne.
“I felt really good yesterday and I wanted to give it a go. I wanted a few more guys to go with me but there was a bit of hesitation so I tried to go across but I ended up coming back. I think it’s a sign that I have good legs and I’m ready for more today.
“The course is quite a bit different from past years. It’s quite a bit hillier and also there are small sections where it’s quite exposed. It’s not too windy now, but I can see it ramping up later. I think the most important thing is to put pressure on the other teams by riding up the front. They’re going to try and block the road but you have to ride aggressively.”
Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl)
Yves Lampaert and his “wolfpack” wingmen will be wanting to put an off-par performance at Omloop in the rear-view mirror Sunday. Lampaert is a part of a typically deep Quick-Step crew, with the usual bunch of cobbles-bashers reinforced by sprint star Fabio Jakobsen. Patrick Lefevere will be expecting excellence.
“It wasn’t the best race that we’ve done, there wasn’t a specific reason for that. It’s strange for us not to be able to show our power but hopefully today we can get some revenge. I think we were not in full force yesterday, but hopefully today we are recovered and we can show our power.
“For me, it’s a much harder course. It’s not more climbs but they’re harder and I think it will be possible to go from far with attacks.”
Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious)
Reigning Paris-Roubaix champ Sonny Colbrelli is an A-star favorite for Kuurne. The European champ won the bunch-kick for second in Omloop on Saturday and has an all-swinging Bahrain-Victorious crew to take him into the final in Kuurne. Colbrelli has three top-7 finishes to his name in Kuurne, with third the best to date. Don’t be surprised to see him go better Sunday.
“I’m happy with my result from yesterday and for the condition. The first race is always hard in Belgium, but I’m happy with my condition. I have to say, congratulations to Wout van Aert, he was super strong.
“Today is another day, but it is a very different course to last year. Without the Kwaremont it’s not so hard, but Belgium is Belgium and it is possible that there are crosswinds. For sure, I will try for a good result but we also have Phil Bauhaus.”
Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert)
Never write off old dog Alexander Kristoff. The Norweigan veteran is a master of sprint-styled classics and has already opened his account for his new Wanty team. Kristoff was well out of the frame in Omloop on Saturday, but with wins in the Tour of Flanders, Milano-Sanremo, and Gent-Wevelgem in his palmarès, the 34-year old is not to be ignored.
“I think it’s going to be a sprint, but you never know what can happen in this race. With the wind, the forecast looks like it’s going to pick up later. There are also some new climbs, which will be hard, but usually it comes together in the local laps. I have sprinted a lot with Jakobsen earlier on and I’ve lost but it’s a little harder racing today than we did in Algarve and Valencia so that usually suits be a bit better. I believe it’s possible to beat him but I need a bit of luck.”
Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroën)
The Belgian rider took a surprise third place in Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with his teammate Oliver Naesen taking fourth. The Ag2r-Citroën team does not have a big sprinter for “KBK” so will be looking to break the race up and stop the fast men from getting a chance.
“Always in the first race of the classics you never really know where you stand and I think that this result for us to have third and fourth is great to have in the pocket. It’s something that we can build on.
“We have a lot of different teams also today. In the past, we have not had such differences between Omloop and Kuurne. In the last few years, we are teams have been making different set-ups with more sprinters. This doesn’t help the classics and the attackers to make a good result. We still have a chance but in a race like Kuurne you have to ride smart.”
Ryan Gibbons (UAE Team Emirates)
With Fernando Gaviria out of action with a broken collarbone following a crash Saturday, the UAE Team Emirates squad has had to reassess their tactics. The Colombian would have been a good bet for a bunch gallop but the team does not want to take the likes of Fabio Jakobsen to the line.
Typically, this is more of a sprinter’s classic, and Fernando [Gaviria] would have been our main guy today. Without him, we are definitely going to have to roll the dice, make things a little bit harder a little earlier. Quick-Step is here with a really strong team with Jakobsen, who has been really good this year, so we can’t really wait for a sprint. I think a lot of teams are thinking like that so hopefully, we can leverage that.”