What can we take away from a great weekend of racing in Belgium?
Peter Sagan is the man to beat…
Such is Peter Sagan‘s place at the top of cycling right now that he could have rolled home in 138th place in both races this weekend and he still would have been a stand-out favourite for the major Classics coming next month.
As it was he came second in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, always being close to the front of affairs despite an almost complete lack of team support (the next highest-placed Bora-Hansgrohe rider was Marcus Burghardt’s 17th place – nearly three minutes down – at Het Nieuwsblad).
Throughout both races Sagan look comfortable, cleverly catching a lot of riders off-guard on Saturday by instigating the crucial selection on what looked like a fairly innocuous piece of road, and then, on Sunday, picking exactly the right moment to chase down Jasper Stuyven, only taking Matteo Trentin along with him.
The only thing we haven’t seen is the sort of solo effort that saw him win Ghent-Wevelgem in 2013 and the Tour of Flanders in 2016, although surely that can’t be too far around the corner
… and Greg Van Avermaet is the man to beat him
As much as we love Peter Sagan, it would have been a pretty boring Classics season if there had been no one able to challenge him – so thank goodness for Greg Van Avermaet.
Speaking at a pre-season training camp in December, Van Avermaet said that he had taken great confidence from beating Sagan in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2016, and that confidence was easy to see as Van Avermaet sprinted past his Slovakian rival to become the rider to win the race twice in succession since, err, Ian Stannard in 2015.
With three team-mates alongside him in the front group at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Van Avermaet would have been frustrated to see the group of Sagan, Stuyven and co. ride away
But the disappointment from Sunday will certainly be out-weighed by the excellent performance on Saturday, which has set up a nice little Van Avermaet vs Sagan melodrama that we hope will continue all the way through to Paris-Roubaix.
Quick-Step miss out yet again
Twelve months ago we wrote about how the men in blue messed things up at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and now we’re here again
At Omloop Het Nieuwsblad the team were unfortunate to lose Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra in a large crash with 60km to go, but there then wasn’t anyone in a good enough position to respond to Jasper Stuyven’s acceleration on the Taaienberg, so often a scene of Boonen’s first attack of the Classics.
Eventually a chase group formed with a number of Quick-Step Floors riders, but even with help from other teams they were unable to chase down Van Avermaet, Sagan, and Vanmarcke.
Watch: Cobbled Classics essential guide
At Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne the team were able to get four riders into the first selection on the Oude Kwaremont, but only Trentin was quick enough to jump on the wheel of Sagan when he went after Stuyven in the final 20km.
Trentin then found himself poorly positioned at the front of the group for the final sprint, rolling in as the last man of the front group to round out a disappointing weekend for Quick-Step.
Jasper Stuyven is the real deal
After taking a sensational solo victory last year, Jasper Stuyven’s second place in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne certainly wasn’t a surprise, but that’s no reason for us to be any less impressed.
Last year Stuyven was riding Kuurne as race leader, but in the knowledge that Fabian Cancellara would step in to take over leadership of the team for the higher profile races later in March.
Stuyven was bold in both races, attacking on the Taaienberg to force the first selection on Saturday, then seizing the initiative to attack on Sunday at a point where it looked as if the leading group would be caught by the peloton.
If he keeps riding like this through to the start of April then Degenkolb could find himself consigned to a supporting role.
Cobbles > Deserts
Ok this one we knew already, but in case anyone wasn’t sure, racing on cobbles, in the wind, in Belgium, is far more interesting than racing around a desert.
While all of the action in the final stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour was condensed into the final 400m, both of this weekend’s cobbled races required you to watch from 90km from the finish so you didn’t miss any important action, and then kept you glued to the TV for the next two-and-a-half hours.
That’s the sort of racing we love, and we can’t wait for more of it over the coming weeks.