Lessons learned from the ‘opening weekend’ from Jumbo-Visma, SD Worx dominance to Soudal Quick-Step misses

The classics 'opening weekend' delivered four races packed with action and taught us plenty at the start of the spring program.

Photo: David Pintens/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty

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The first cobbles of the season were cracked this weekend at the classics’ “opening weekend.”

Riders from the men’s and women’s pelotons ripped through the Belgian countryside, contesting four races across two days.

Both the men and women duked it out at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, before parting ways Sunday with the women riding Omloop van het Hageland and the men doing Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

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Dylan van Baarle and Lotte Kopecky topped the standings at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Lorena Wiebes and Tiesj Benoot won at Omloop van het Hageland and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne respectively.

The top women’s teams will continue to charge through the classics as the calendar ticks off a string of one-day races. Meanwhile, the cobbles big hitters in the men’s peloton will steer clear of the pavé for a few weeks before returning to Belgium toward the end of March for some more top racing.

The opening weekend gave us a brief insight into who is going well and who has more to do for later in the spring. VeloNews takes a look at some of the lessons learned on the cobbles this weekend.

Double trouble

Lotte Kopecky wins Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

One team dominated each of the men’s and women’s races this weekend. Jumbo-Visma took a firm grip over the men’s races while SD Worx did the same in the women’s events, both teams doing it with different riders.

For SD Worx, Kopecky got the team up and running at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with an impressive solo victory. Last season, Kopecky found herself distanced over the Muur van Geraardsbergen and she wasn’t going to suffer the same fate in 2023. She attacked over the iconic climb, holding a gap all the way to the finish.

Wiebes won the sprint behind Kopecky and she would go one better the following day at Omloop van het Hageland. The team controlled the race throughout and had big numbers in the small front group with just five kilometers remaining.

Also read: SD Worx completes perfect ‘opening weekend’ with Lorena Wiebes victory at Omloop van het Hageland

The sheer dominance was a warning shot to the rest of the peloton that SD Worx is not ready to give up its title as the top team in the bunch. The team is going to be tough to beat this spring.

Jumbo-Visma went into the opening weekend without its top classics star Wout van Aert, who won last year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The team didn’t look like they were missing him too much as they tore through the racing at the weekend.

Van Baarle showed that he’s not a one-trick pony and he’s slotted into his new team very nicely. Benoot ensured a clean sweep with his Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne win, with Nathan Van Hooydonck joining him on the podium and Christophe Laporte also getting into the top 10 after the team exploded the race with over 80km to go.

With Van Aert set to slot into the classics squad later in the spring, Jumbo-Visma is going to be a formidable force again this spring.

Audrey Cordon-Ragot back to her best

Audrey Cordon-Ragot is racing for Zaaf this season
Audrey Cordon-Ragot is racing for Zaaf this season (Photo: Tim de Waele / Getty Images)

Audrey Cordon-Ragot has been through a lot over the last six months, but the French champion looks to be in a good place right now. Cordon-Ragot suffered a stroke ahead of the world championships in Australia, just days after finishing second overall at the Simac Ladies Tour. It was a shocking moment for the rider who had just been competing against the world’s top riders.

Also read: ‘I have a career to finish’: Audrey Cordon-Ragot sets sights on comeback after suffering a stroke

She was able to start riding her bike soon enough and could start thinking about continuing her racing career. However, the bad luck was not over, and she was caught up in the demise of the B&B Hotels squad.

Fortunately for Cordon-Ragot, the Spanish Zaaf team came along and ensured she stayed in the peloton for at least another year. Since then, she hasn’t looked back and her third place at Omloop van het Hageland is her second podium of the season.

It can’t be understated just how amazing it is for her to be performing like this.

Soudal Quick-Step misses the mark

Florian Senechal tries to pull the breakaway back at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne
Florian Senechal tries to pull the breakaway back at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

There will be a few furrowed brows at the Soudal Quick-Step camp this week after it struggled to match the brute force of Jumbo-Visma over the weekend. The Belgian squad has got used to blitzing the classics over the last 20 years but it had a beating handed to it Saturday and Sunday.

The team found itself in similar circumstances last year, but it was able to save face with Fabio Jakobsen storming to Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne success. It couldn’t do that this time out Jumbo-Visma ripping the race apart early on and keeping the sprint pack at bay.

There was some early misfortune for Soudal Quick-Step with Kasper Asgreen being forced out of Omloop due to illness, but that shouldn’t have caused too much damage if the rest of the team was on point.

Davide Ballerini was the best-placed finisher for the team at Omloop in sixth place with Casper Pedersen the next best rider in 59th. Over at Kuurne, Jakobsen was beaten in the sprint from the chasing group and could only manage ninth.

There’ll be some concerned faces at Soudal Quick-Step after another poor opening weekend and they’ll be hoping that it’s possible to turn fortunes around.

It’s not all going Annemiek van Vleuten’s way

Annemiek van Vleuten's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was spoiled by a puncture
Annemiek van Vleuten’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was spoiled by a puncture (Photo: Tom Goyvaerts/Belga/AFP via Getty Images)

At this point last season, Annemiek van Vleuten had a 100 percent win record with two dominant wins. This year, she finds herself not even making the podium yet after finishing fourth in Valencia earlier in the month and finishing way down the pack at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the weekend.

No, this isn’t a sign that Van Vleuten has taken her foot off the gas in her final season as a professional but fortune is creating extra obstacles for her. In cycling, luck is an important factor in success — or indeed the absence of bad luck.

Also read: Annemiek van Vleuten: Women’s cycling is more than just trying to beat Annemiek van Vleuten

Van Vleuten did suffer some bad luck last year, like the stomach bug she had at the Tour de France Femmes and the broken elbow she picked up just ahead of her world championships victory. She was able to overcome them to take two of the biggest wins of her career, but it could also be said that her rivals didn’t make the most of the situation either.

That didn’t happen at the weekend when Van Vleuten suffered a puncture on the approach to the Muur van Geraardsbergen. She wasn’t able to get back to the group before Kopecky launched her stinging attack over the climb. Once Kopecky was gone, it was game over for Van Vleuten and any chance of making the podium.

It’s a trickier start to the season than she might have hoped for but she’s still got plenty of racing left to hit it big this year.

Arnaud De Lie’s star continues to rise

Arnaud De Lie celebrates his second place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Arnaud De Lie celebrates his second place at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images)

Arnaud De Lie really highlighted himself as a star in the making last year last year with his blitz of the lower-ranked one-day races as he tried, almost single-handedly, to keep Lotto-Soudal (now Lotto Dstny) in the WorldTour.

While he and the team couldn’t stay up, there’s been plenty of excitement around the young Belgian ever since. This year marked his first tilt at the opening weekend and he showed that he can bring his big performances in the smaller races right up into the top-tier events.

De Lie won the sprint behind Van Baarle at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to score his first WorldTour podium. At Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, he was distanced when Jumbo-Visma lit up the race early on and never made it back to the front.

However, he still delivered a respectable seventh-place finish into Kuurne. At 20, he’s still got plenty of experience to gain and it will be interesting to see how he develops over the course of this spring. A win at races like Brugge-De Panne or Scheldeprijs wouldn’t be a surprise, and maybe there could be more.

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