It’s been a while but we’re back! Omloop signals the start of the season proper for many of us and so it’s time to stop feigning interest in the Vuelta Valenciana or the Tour Down Under and get our teeth stuck in to some serious racing.
As you all know by now I tend to skip past any explanation of the route as there are much better places to find this information (see cyclingstages.com, mytwospokesworth.com) and go straight to some analysis. With it being the first race on the Belgian calendar it’s always the hardest one to call so bear with me if I’m a bit all over the place!
It tends to be a bit of a stab in the dark for the bookies at this time of year with little but early season racing to go on to assess form. Consequently Greg van Avermaet has been priced up as favourite and it’s as good a guess as any based on his strong pedigree in races like this and his solid form in both the Vuelta Valenciana and Tour of Oman. He is clearly capable of maintaining good position in the early going and has proven himself able to both initiate and follow attacks over the deciding ascents of the Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg. He’s won this race twice but it’s important to note that this was before the course change, he finished 50th last year.. This, combined with a weaker team than in previous years is enough for me to discount him as winner.
Matteo Trentin has been incredibly consistent in the early season and as the out and out leader of Mitchelton Scott offers more than he may have done racing for Quickstep in previous years. He has what it takes to get over the climbs within touching distance and even if he is distanced there’s 11km of flat for his team to drag him back into contention. He finished in the top 5 on no less than 5 occasions already this year, 3 of those being wins. These wins have come against high quality opposition and he’s shown impressive tactical nous to be positioned in the right place at the right time, a talent that must not be overlooked heading into the chaos Belgian racing. I think there is real value in the 16/1 you can currently get with Betway.
At the opposite end of the scale is Sep Vanmarcke. He’s an incredibly popular rider who has a host of podium finishes in the world’s hardest races but hasn’t won at this highest level since his breakthrough at this very race. He did win his first race in something like two years at Haut Var the other day and seemed incredibly happy to break his duck which could give him the confidence boost he needs to get back to winning ways. Probably another one I’ll be staying away from in the betting.
Behind these guys are a whole host of riders in with a shot. As always Quickstep won’t be messing about and bring a team of the highest calibre including potential winners Philip Gilbert, Zdenek Stybar, Yves Lampaert and Iljo Keisse. They will all look to go from distance as will team leaders Oli Naeson of AG2R, Tiejs Benoot of Lotto Soudal, Niki Terpstra of Direct Energie and cyclocross convert Wout van Aert of Jumbo Visma.
Although Valgren won solo last year this was from a late attack and he finished only very slightly up on a rampaging group behind. While it’s possible for a repeat of this scenario I think that teams will be far more wary of these kind of attacks this year and will looks to shut the 2km powerhouses like Valgren and Vanmarcke down in order to keep it together for something resembling a bunch sprint. This is where the likes of Arnaud Demare, Jasper Stuyven and Sonny Colbrelli come in. All three are strong enough climbers and pack a sprint strong enough to rival some of the best in the world. Demare is lightly raced so far this year but put in a strong showing at the Volta au Algarve where he was a feature in both sprints and in the individual TT. Stuyven is probably slightly less of a gamble as he has a great record at this race with top 10s in all 3 participations and crucially he was the winner of the bunch gallop last year picking up 4th overall. Unlike Demare, Stuyven is incredibly versatile and I would take him to win both solo and from a group, large or small. 16/1 across the board is good value here.
In a similar vein, and for a bit of fun, I’m also going to have a little punt on Magnus Cort Nielson. Astana are flying high at the moment and Magnus Cort is one of there best options. He’s had a pretty slow start to the year but at 100/1 I can’t say no!
I’ve going with three picks, all each way, all half a point. I don’t see a solo winner again this year and these three are some of the best staying sprinters in the world at the moment (bar Sagan but he doesn’t start). H2H bets will be posted over on twitter.
0.5pts Stuyven @ 20/1 each way with Betway.
0.5pts Trentin @ 10/1 each way with Unibet.
0.1pts Magnus Cort Nielson 100/1 each way with bet365.