Deceuninck – Quick-Step renew superiority
They may have fallen just short of repeating last year’s feat of triumphing in both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, but make no mistake – Deceuninck – Quick-Step were again the best team of Opening Weekend.
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In Saturday’s Het Nieuwsblad, they made the most of their strength in depth to gain a numerical advantage, placing two riders (Tim Declercq and Yves Lampaert) in the race-winning move of seven. In that group, workhorse Declercq did some huge turns to ensure the group’s survival, and, although Lampaert ultimately could not quite get the better of Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) in the sprint, second place was a good result.
Then on Sunday, everything came together perfectly at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Despite having the on-form Fabio Jakobsen to rely on in a sprint, they sent Kasper Asgreen up the road 30km from the finish, hoping to replicate teammate Bob Jungels’ victory from a long-range attack in last year’s edition.
Jakobsen and his lead-out domestiques remained poised in the peloton ready for a sprint, but they were never called upon as Asgreen held on for victory. It was another example of expert Deceuninck – Quick-Step have become at playing all the cards available to them, and how they more often than not end up winning however a classic plays out.
Jasper Stuyven poised for leap into the elite
It could be a big season for Jasper Stuyven. For several years now he has been a regular feature of the spring classics, registering top ten finishes at the Tour of Flanders and Milan-San Remo plus top fives at Paris-Roubaix, but has yet to make the leap to the peloton’s very elite.
His ride to win Het Nieuwsblad suggests that he might be about to do so. After impressively making the final selection, he waited patiently for the finale, confident in the knowledge that he had the beating of the others in the sprint. That turned out to indeed be the case as, even after Lampaert got an initial jump on him, Stuyven’s final acceleration was enough to seal victory.
The win was Stuyven’s biggest in a one-day classic, and a sign that, now aged 27, he is entering the pinnacle of his career.
It was a considerable effort, with the select move being made so early from the finish, but the Belgian remained fresh enough to finish fifth the following day at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne – making him the only rider to feature in the top ten of both races.
This may not be the last time we see Stuyven at the top of a podium this spring.
Kasper Asgreen could be one of the stars of the spring
Kasper Asgreen began this year’s Belgian classics campaign where he ended the last one – with another powerful demonstration of his young talent.
The only significant difference with his ride to finish second at last year’s Tour of Flanders and his 2020 opener at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, however, was that this time his efforts resulted not in a runner-up finish, but victory.
Like at last year’s Ronde, he showed remarkable endurance to remain fresh in the closing kilometres when chasing victory even after working as a domestique earlier in the day. At Flanders, he attacked early and remained in contention even after the favourites made their moves; this time he attacked 30km from the finish, and never faltered despite having his nose to the wind virtually the entire time.
Given Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s equal-opportunities tactics, it wouldn’t be quite right to speak of Asgreen now playing a leading role, but in light of this victory you can’t imagine he’ll be expected to contribute quite as much riding as a domestique as he has. Don’t rule him out from being one of the stars of the spring, and potentially even winning the Tour of Flanders / Paris-Roubaix.
Annemiek van Vleuten set to flourish in the rainbow jersey
Prior to the start of her season, Annemiek pledged to ‘be a contender in every race at the start of the season’, starting with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
She delivered on that promise and then some with an outstanding ride in Belgium. With 17km to go, at the bottom of the legendary Muur van Geraardsbergen, she made her move, and was not seen again until the finish.
It was a performance that was, at least to some degree, reminiscent of her lasting outing on a bike at the Yorkshire Worlds last September, which she memorably won via a sensational solo attack.
This was her first race wearing the iconic rainbow stripes, and, though we can’t expect every performance to result in spectacular victories, the Dutchwoman does look set to be a fantastic ambassador of the jersey.
Big names take a back seat
As often pointed out, no rider has ever won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the Tour of Flanders in the same season.
Some of the top classics stars appear to have taken account of this, as, perhaps wary of peaking too soon, they took more of a back seat than usual at both this race and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), by contrast, was much more visible during the race, often moving to the front and going out on the attack, but ultimately it was his teammate Mike Teunissen who made the select break and finished sixth
Finishing further down were Niki Terpstra (Total Direct Energie), Sep Vanmarcke (EF Pro Cycling) and Zdenek Štybar (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), all riders who we’re used to seeing do well at this time of the spring, but all of whom were off the pace this weekend.
Are they not as strong as previous years, or are they holding back in the hope of peaking later in the spring? Time will tell, but the latter looks likely.