Deceuninck – Quick-Step as imperious as ever
In 2018, Quick-Step Floors (as they were then known) enjoyed the kind of spring that feels like it can only come by once in a generation, as they dominated and won almost every Classic they competed in.
With some key riders (most notably Fernando Gaviria and Niki Terpstra) departed, it seemed like a tall order to maintain those standards, but somehow the squad have actually got off to an even better start than last year.
First Zdenk Stybar became the first rider from the team to win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad since 2005, attentively covering the main selection when it was formed, then proving to be among its strongest on the key cobbled climbs, and the canniest when he chose the perfect moment to breakaway for victory in the finale.
Then Bob Jungels repaid the faith shown by his teammates to win Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne with a sterling ride.
Despite having a considerable numerical advantage in the group of chasers, Deceuninck – Quick-Step chose not to chase when Jungels went clear with another four riders, and amassed intimidatingly towards the front of the group and marked a flurry of late attacks while Jungels powered his way to a solo victory having boldly struck out alone 16km from the line.
Underlining the team’s dominance was the number of their riders rounding off the highest places in both races – they places three riders in the top eight at Het Nieuwsblad, and three in the top six at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
If they keep this up, Deceuninck might just be in for an even more fruitful spring than last year.
A promising start for Team Sky
Despite losing Luke Rowe to illness, Team Sky enjoyed an impressive start to the spring Classics, and played a visible role in both races.
The MVP was Owain Doull, who followed up an impressive supporting role in Het Nieuwsblad with a watershed performance at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
He was spotted at the front of the race at several key moments early on in the day, including in a quality selection made on the Oude Kwaremont, and still had the energy to take off from the front of the peloton in the final kilometres to take second place.
Ian Stannard also looked something like his former self, spending some time in both races setting a damaging pace at the front of the peloton, while 23-year old Chris Lawless also rode well in support of a strong-looking Dylan Van Baarle at Het Nieuwsblad.
With Rowe and Gianni Moscon to join them, plus the occasional cameo from Michal Kwiatkowski, Sky will be one of the strongest squads this spring.
Greg Van Avermaet misses out on win but shows great form
Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) has won a whole load of races throughout his career, but in no major event has he enjoyed such a consistent level of success than at Het Nieuwsblad.
By failing to respond to Stybar’s definitive move (probably due to fatigue at having taken it upon himself to close down the other attacks), he missed out on what would have been a record-equalling third victory here, by winning the sprint for second place the Belgian sealed an eighth career top six finish, and fourth on the podium.
He and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan (who took the weekend off) are still considered the best Classics men in the peloton, and Van Avermaet’s ride – which also featured several powerful attacks on the most fearsome bergs – proved he still has the legs to maintain that status even as his 34th birthday approaches.
Expect Van Avermaet to be mix through the spring.
Unfamiliar names impress
One characteristic of opening weekend was high placings from riders not usually associated with the cobbled Classics.
Jungels’ victory at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne was the standout case. The Luxembourger has erstwhile been known for his time trialling and top ten finishes at the Giro d’Italia, as well as landing the hilly monument Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but proved himself to be even more of an all-rounder in his first races since accommodating the cobbled Classics into his schedule.
The key selection and eventual top five of Het Nieuwsblad also featured several talented riders who haven’t before competed much in the cobbled classics – Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), who usually focuses on the Ardennes Classics, was third; Alexey Lutsenko, who has ever committed to a full program of cobbled Classics despite finishing on the podium of Dwars door Vlaanderen in 2017, was fourth; and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida), hitherto known for his rapid uphill sprint and success in stage race, was fifth.
It remains to be seen whether any will target the cobbled Classics later in the spring, but they will all have been encouraged by their showings this weekend.
Blaak and Boels-Dolmans strike first blow in women’s race
The women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad may not be a part of the WorldTour, but still marks the beginning of the northern European Classics season.
Boels-Dolmans typically dominate these races, and got off to a perfect start as Chantal Blaak broke clear from a select group that had formed on the Muur van Geraardsbergen to ride the final 16km alone for victory.
She ultimately finished over a minute ahead of the chasers, which had swelled into a much larger group by the finish, and from which Marta Bastianelli (Virtu Cycling) sprinted for second place (before going one better to win Omloop van het Hageland the day after).
The early signs are that Blaak and Van der Breggen (who played a watchful role in the chasing group), as well as the likes of Jolien d’Hoore and Amy Pieters, will make for a formidable lineup this spring.