There may still be a few days left of February, but cycling’s spring classics begin this weekend with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday.

All the main characteristics associated with the spring classics are here – cobblestones, Belgian setting, short steep climbs and cold temperatures. Weather forecasts also indicate the possibility of rainfall, which would give the race the full gruelling, mud-drenched spring classics experience.

That was the case last year, when Team Sky’s Ian Stannard overcame tough conditions to win the first classic of his career; the image of him grimacing as he crossed the line with a mud-caked jersey and arm and leg warmers covering all his flesh goes some way to showing what that day’s racing was like.

Stannard rides again this year, although it remains to be seen whether he’ll lead Team Sky with Bradley Wiggins also selected. But with Wiggins’ main target – Paris-Roubaix – still over a month away, the world time-trial champion may adopt more of a support role in order to build up his form.

>>> Bradley Wiggins to ride Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Another factor in Stannard’s favour is that Het Nieuwsblad is more similar to the Tour of Flanders than it is Paris-Roubaix, and Wiggins is aiming to only win the latter. Whereas Paris-Roubaix is flat, many of the climbs that feature at the Tour of Flanders are also included in Het Nieuwsblad, such as the Taaienberg, Valkenberg and the Molenberg. Then there’s the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen, which used to be the highlight of the Tour of Flanders before being removed in 2012, and continues to enliven Het Nieuwsblad.

The frequency of climbs usually ensures that only a small group of riders are left to contest the finish, making Het Nieuwsblad one of the most competitive races in spring. Here’s some of the riders we expect to be up there.

Ian Stannard wins 2014 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Ian Stannard wins 2014 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Ones to Watch

Niki Terpstra, Etixx-QuickStep

Etixx-QuickStep possesses the resources and talent for the spring classics that no other team can come close to, yet it hasn’t managed to win Het Nieuwsblad since 2005. Plenty of its A-listers such as Tom Boonen and Zdenek Stybar are set to attempt to put that right, but last year’s Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra looks its best bet, following his overall victory at the Tour of Qatar earlier this month.

Greg Van Avermaet, BMC

Second place in last year’s edition kicked off an impressive season for Van Avermaet that saw him go on to finish second at the Tour of Flanders and fifth at the World Championships, but that result also revealed the Belgian’s flaw for not winning as many races as he should – despite being a faster finisher than Ian Stannard, he lost out to the Briton in a two-man sprint. Victory this year would help eradicate doubts that he lacks a winning mentality.

Ian Stannard, Sky

What felt like a breakthrough victory for Stannard in last year’s edition was unfortunately followed by a crash that prevented him from competing the cobbled monuments. He’ll be hoping to start his 2015 classics campaign with a successful defence of his title, although it remains to be seen how much he will have to share leadership duties with Bradley Wiggins.

Sep Vanmarcke, LottoNL-Jumbo

It’s three years now since Vanmarcke’s surprise victory at the 2012 Het Nieuwsblad, and since then he has gradually developed into one of the very best classics riders. The Het Nieuwsblad is perfectly suited to his characteristics, and with frequent-antagonist Fabian Cancellara not riding he goes into the race as a major favourite.

Alexander Kristoff, Katusha

Perhaps the most on-form rider in the peloton is Alexander Kristoff, who has been racking up wins in the Middle-East at the Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman. Victory at Het Nieuwsblad may however be beyond him, as the race rarely comes down to a large-group sprint, and few will be willing to work with him in an attack due to his superior pace.

Taylor Phinney was active in the race as BMC continue to show well this season under their new management structure

Taylor Phinney takes on the damp cobbles during the 2014 edition of Het Nieuwsblad

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2015: Route

When: Saturday, February 28 2015
From: Ghent
To: Ghent
Distance: 200km

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2015: The teams

Ag2r
Androni Giocattoli
BMC
Bora-Argon 18
Bretagne-Seche Environnement
CCC Sprandi Polkowice
Cofidis
Cult Energy Pro Cycling
Etixx-QuickStep
Europcar
FDJ
Giant-Alpecin
IAM Cycling
Katusha
LottoNL-Jumbo
Lotto-Soudal
MTN Qhubeka
Nippo-Vini Fantini
Roompot
Sky
Southeast Pro Cycling
TopSport Vlaanderen
Wanty Groupe Gobert

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2015: TV Guide

No live TV coverage is scheduled.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2014 Ian Stannard podium

Ian Stannard topped the podium in the 2014 edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Recent Winners

2014: Ian Stannard
2013: Luca Paolini
2012: Sep Vanmarcke
2011: Sebastian Langeveld
2010: Juan Antonio Flecha
2009: Thor Hushovd
2008: Philippe Gilbert
2007: Filippo Pozzato
2006: Philippe Gilbert
2005: Nick Nuyens

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Last year’s top ten

1. Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky in 4-49-55
2. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing at same time
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky at 24 secs
4. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin
5. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at same time
6. Jempy Drucker (Lux) Wanty-Groupe Gobert at 1-34
7. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing
8. Dries Devenyns (Bel) Giant-Shimano
9. Egoitz Echeguibel (Spa) Cofidis
10. Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ at same time

  • Keyboard Worrier

    Why is there no TV coverage? This is why cycling is still not a mainstream sport in the UK. Despite its huge popularity, TV stations still don’t feel the need to fork out any time and effort and actually show it. I’d have thought that even the risible Carlton Kirby and his Eurosport despots would have made an effort on this one.

  • Alison Stannard

    Absolutely agree that Ian should be leader. So much tireless work on behalf of others, now should be his time to shine. But I am biased….
    (Stannard – Anglo-Saxon ‘stone hard’!)

  • Mike Fitch

    Totally agree with p norton Wiggins should be supporting Team Sky riders as he is only with them till he jumps ship.

  • p norton

    I am disappointed to read the following on Sky’s website “Sir Bradley Wiggins will commence his cobbled classics campaign by heading up a strong Team Sky line-up at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday.”Surely Stannard deserves and should be given the leadership for this race.