Chris has already given us a rundown of all the essentials really, all that remains is actually picking the favorites. Obviously we're all focused on Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad but lets not forget little brother, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the Sunday race for the bums that fell asleep on the job in OHN and for the fastmen. After last years weather-cancelled race it will be great to see the donkey-race in Kuurne again. It has a less decisive course than Het Nieuwsblad but with the right weather or some teams willing to go on the offensive it can be a superb race. It also has the potential to be a bit of a snoozefest with it's finishing circuits if people are content to make it a sprint finish.
The third big event this weekend is the women's version of Het Nieuwsblad which is perhaps an even better course than the men's version. Certainly the best course the women have to tackle outside the World Cup. To start with it is 127 km which is fairly long. Secondly the finale is exactly the same as for the men, from the Molenberg in, via the decisive flat cobble sections. Before that the men have more kms and a few more hellingen in the legs of course but otoh the women ignore some of the sissy climbs and go up the Paterberg instead, just as the men would if they weren't so lazy. The action often starts for real at the Cote de Trieu and now that comes just 4 kms before the Paterberg. Count on the entire race to be blown to smithereens by then. It actually pisses me off that we won't be able to see this because it really is a brutal course. Like the men's race the startlist isn't as stacked as it will be for the April races but the riders who are here will be bringing their A-game.
So all that remains is to give you the definitive Podiumcafe Official Omloop Predictions (aka POOP). Please be advised that most betting sites will in all likelihood close the books on these races upon the publication of this as it may be seen as an unfair advantage to have access to this level of info before the races.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
1. Tom Boonen
Not terribly imaginative you say but please note that the bum hasn't bothered to win this race even once before (while winning E3 seven million times). But the guy is clearly fit, fitter than we're used to seeing in February and how much do you want to bet that he wants this race on his palmares before calls it quit? Perfect time to do it now. Yes he has a bunch of lieutenants that he wants to keep happy but this isn't the time for it. No gifts.
2. Thor Hushovd
He's old, he's Norwegian, he's been a dud for years BUT all these negatives aside he's also on the last year of his golden BMC rainbow-contract so he needs to show signs of life. And the Omloop has been good to him in the past. Time to bring the old guy back to life.
3. Jurgen Roelandts
This is a guy who has impressive results but he desperately wants to get a big win as well. He'll come close again but not make it all the way. Clearly right were he needs to be judging by the arabian adventures.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Vrouwen
1. Emma Johansson
A Swede? Yeah, that's right, so sue me. She is the Queen of Het Nieuwsblad, time to reclaim what is hers.Usurpers beware.
2. Lizzie Armitstead
An off-year last year but now looks sharp again. Boels Dolmans are stacked but the course should be perfect for Armitstead. She's ready for the top again.
3. Elisa Longho Borghini
ELB got her year ruined by injury but now looks ready to pick up where she left off. The course is hard enough that she could even shake off the competitors on a good day and win solo but I think a small group will come to the finish and she will have to see herself beaten by faster finishers.
1. Alexander Kristoff
When in doubt, pick a Norwegian. "It was about time for Kristoff to have luck on his side and win a big one."
2. Arnaud Demáre
"Pity about the miss-timed sprint. He was clearly fastest in the final 50 meters."
3. Edvald Boasson Hagen
"Maybe if he hadn't started his sprint 300 m too soon he wouldn't have been overtaken just before the line. Next time...."
Enjoy the weekend everyone and please show me your predictions in the comments. I dare you to beat the POOP.