Preview: The route and the favorites for the 2022 men’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

'Opening weekend' gets underway on Saturday in Belgium at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

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“Opening Weekend” of the Spring Classics is upon us as the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is set to get underway on Saturday, with Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne to follow on Sunday. As ever, plenty of big names will be in attendance to kick off their cobbled campaigns in Belgium.

The men’s Omloop is entering its sixth year at the WorldTour level and with the Muur van Geraardsbergen and other familiar Flemish climbs on tap for this weekend, it’s a great way to get into the mindset of one-day racing with the biggest Classics around the corner.

Here are the things you need to know – along with some predictions for what we think is going to happen – ahead of the men’s race at the 2022 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.

The Route

The parcours for Saturday’s Omloop is similar to the routes of the past few seasons. All told, riders will cover 204 km as they make their way from Ghent to Ninove along a course that winds through Flanders and loops back over itself at points. The race features a total of 13 official climbs, some of them cobbled, and nine other cobbled sectors.

The first half of the race will not feature too many challenges with only two cobbled sectors and one climb coming before the 100km mark. Things ramp up after that as the route becomes hillier and rougher, and the action should really pick up inside the last 60km of racing.

Attacks could fly as riders make a second trip of the day over the Holleweg cobbled sector and then the Wolvenberg climb, the Kerkgate cobbles, and the Jagerij cobbles. That stretch will be followed by a brief respite from serious climbs and cobbled sectors before things ramp up again with the Marlboroughstraat climb, the Biesestraat climb, the Haaghoek cobbles, the Leberg, the Berendries, and the Elverenberg-Vossenhol, after which point the peloton is likely to be whittled down considerably (if still intact at all).

A less difficult stretch without any major cobbles or climbs follows before the one-two punch of the iconic Muur-Kapelmuur and the Bosberg. The punchy, cobbled ascents will likely serve as springboards for decisive moves inside the last 20km. From the top of the Bosberg, it’s about 12km to the finish without any more major challenges to overcome, which could set up some intrigue as anyone who gets away late will have to hold on through to the finish line in Ninove.

The Favorites

On the one hand, the up-and-down parcours and the uncertainty surrounding riders’ form this early in the season should set up an entertaining, hard-to-predict race. Late attackers tend to thrive at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and I like the chances for a solo rider or small group to battle for victory this year too, although Davide Ballerini (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) won last year’s edition in a sprint, and that’s always a possibility as well, making this a pretty open race all things considered.

On the other hand, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad will also offer a first look at what could become a theme for a Classics season that seems to be taking shape as a question of Quick-Step vs. Wout van Aert vs. everyone else.

Ballerini won’t be in attendance this weekend, so it will be up to the rest of the Quick-Step squad to take up the reins. They certainly have the firepower to do so. I see a whopping four Quick-Step riders as potential contenders for the Omloop, with Tour of Flanders champ Kasper Asgreen leading the way. His huge engine makes him an ideal candidate for a big late attack on this terrain.

Kasper Asgreen on stage 16 of the Tour de France.

That said, Quick-Step has no shortage of big engines with Classics savvy, and the team could also look to launch former Omloop winner Zdenek Stybar or former Omloop runner-up Yves Lampaert from afar as well, or hold out for a selective sprint with a speedy Florian Sénéchal. The team has options, and it has proven more than capable of turning that advantage into results over the past few years, having long since put memories of being stunned by an outnumbered Ian Stannard in the rearview mirror.

Nevertheless, the single likeliest winner on the start list has to be Wout van Aert, who pairs a big engine and terrific climbing legs with a sprint that is wholly unmatched by his Classics rivals. It will be a tall order for Van Aert and Jumbo-Visma to counter every dangerous move that goes late in this race, but the likes of Tiesj Benoot and Mike Teunissen will come in handy for the Dutch WorldTour outfit in the finale.

Wout van Aert wins stage 8 of the Tour of Britain.

While I like the chances of the field over Van Aert, I like Van Aert better than anyone in the field.

The Ineos Grenadiers, Trek-Segafredo, and Bahrain-Victorious headline the “everyone else” category for the Omloop. For a prognosticator, it’s hard to know how to rate Tom Pidcock at this point; it just seems like we don’t have a clue just how great he can be, and nobody will be surprised if he starts picking up Classics wins in bunches starting now. The Omloop is a good race for him with its climber-friendly finale, and he showed last year that he can be in shape as early as February, riding to third at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. American fans will want to keep an eye on Magnus Sheffield, who just claimed his first pro win in a stage of the Ruta del Sol.

2020 Omloop winner Jasper Stuyven will lead the way for Trek in his first race of the 2022 campaign. Without any races under his belt, it’s hard to judge how he’s going, but the Belgian is very well suited for the Omloop parcours with a big engine and an underrated finishing kick.

Jasper Stuyven on his way to victory at Milan-San Remo.

Paris-Roubaix champ Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) is another obvious contender with his climbing ability and speedy finish. He counts only one Omloop top 10 on his palmares (he was eighth in 2018) but Colbrelli has quickly emerged as a force on the pavé and his skillset suggests that he can be in the mix here, while teammate Matej Mohorič will be a high-quality option for Bahrain to potentially send up the road.

Peter Sagan will be making his first Classics start for TotalEnergies at the Omloop, and he’s certainly one to watch, although his form is a question mark after a COVID-19 positive interrupted his offseason plans. Don’t be surprised if the team rides for Anthony Turgis instead. The Frenchman was second at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne last year.

Others on the long list of riders to watch include the Lotto Soudal trio of Philippe Gilbert, Tim Wellens, and Victor Campenaerts, the AG2R Citroën duo of Greg Van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen, Matteo Trentin and a flying Alessandro Covi at UAE Team Emirates, Gianni Moscon and Alexey Lutsenko of Astana Qazaqstan, Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Sep Vanmarcke (Israel Start-Up Nation) looking for his second Omloop win a decade after his first, 2018 champ Michael Valgren (EF Education-EasyPost), and 2020 podium finisher Søren Kragh Andersen (DSM).

The action kicks off in just two days, with more racing on the pavé to follow the very next day at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

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