Did you know? Nobody has ever won the Omloop and the Tour of Flanders in the same year. On three occasions -- 1973, 1996 and 2000 -- riders have won the Omloop and Paris-Roubaix. By contrast, the palmares of de Ronde and P-R are littered with Omloop winners Conclusion? If you can win the big monuments, you can certainly win the Omloop. The corollary is kinda sorta true, or at least if you're not a cobbled monument contender, you'll have to elbow some big names out of the way to win in Gent. But in any event, peaking for this weekend is a risky route to April glory.
That, however, is a problem for another day. For now, you've got a robust list of contenders expected to do battle.
Philippe Gilbert, Omega Pharma
The Skinny: the twice-winner is coming into a season where expectations have never been higher. Winning the Omloop isn't really a part of the program, but in his two wins he's had a decent number of races in his legs, and that's the case again this year. His natural aggression serves him well over this course, with its long cobbled stretches and weather issues, though if it's a really nasty day, Gilbert might be thinking of April and decide not to dig quite so deep.
The Call: Keeps his powder dry.
Keep an eye on: Jurgen Roelandts, second to Greipel in a sprint last week and something of a protege to Gilbert for these races.
More... on the flip:
Manuel Quinziato, Liquigas
The Skinny: Solid hammerhead, but he tends not to start off too quickly in winter. Might actually wind up working for Bennati, if the weather is conducive to a big bunch sprint.
The Call: Not his day. He won't care.
Keep an eye on: Bennati.
Tom Boonen, Quick Step
The skinny: One of the big favorites, as is pretty much always the case when he rides in Belgium. Tommeke has a couple podiums here, and from the looks of things he's geared up for a huge spring, or at least that's the plan. And peaking early shouldn't be an issue, as we've seen him win KBK and Paris-Roubaix just last year, and he comes out flying in the desert on an annual basis.
The call: If he's not top five, I'll eat my hat.
Keep an eye on: Sylvain Chavanel. Quick Step always has one of their big weapons geared up to buffer Boonen in the early going, and no qualms about sending them after the win. Everyone will see Chavanel as a potential winner, an honest threat, and panic will rule the peloton once again.
Nick Nuyens, Rabobank
The skinny: Cagey vet, knows how to get himself into the finale of just about any Flemish race. Doesn't actually win many of them though. Four-man team attack, anyone?
The call: Prime dark horse material, but only if Quick Step sleep on him. But Nuyens will give it a go.
Keey an eye on: Lars Boom! But I've said too much...
Edvald Boasson Hagen, Team Sky
The skinny: red hot, great finisher, seemingly strong enough for everything this race can dish out. The way he won Gent-Wevelgem last year proves conclusively that he's a rider for cobbled races without decisive hills or ridiculous length... though there's no reason to think he can't conquer those obstacles either. The, er, Sky is the limit. Just a question of when, and his plans.
The call: my pick to win.
Keep an eye on: Juan Antonio Flecha. Ordinarily I would make him the team captain, except that Boasson Hagen is showing himself at the front more, whereas the Spanish Flandrian has been quieter. But he has a couple podiums at the Omloop, including third last year. Great 1-2 punch for Sky, who seem intent on making an early splash.
Martijn Maaskant, Garmin-Transitions
The skinny: Not an early starter in the past, Maaskant is the Gar-Man best suited to a Ronde dress rehearsal. By contrast, Johan Van Summeren shows a clear lean toward Paris-Roubaix and its steady, hard clip, while Tyler Farrar is a favorite for KBK the next day. For an excellent cobbles team, they're biding their time. So Maaskant is the nominal favorite.
The call: patience...
Keep an eye on: Farrar. He's been sniffing around for an early win, and might not be willing to hold back for KBK. If it holds together, he's the guy from their Cobbles troika with the most to prove.
Filippo Pozzato, Katusha
The skinny: past winner, elite Flandrian, more than enough ego to go for the win. But the only year he won, he was on fire leading into it, and that's not currently the case. Pippo strikes me as a streaky guy. Last year when he was on, he could be seen at the front of everything, even beating Boonen in the E3. Anyway...
The call: vediamo. In April.
Niki Terpstra, Milram
The skinny: Top ten last year (9th) and he looked good in Oman, with a strong ITT. No team needs a win more than the milkmen.
The call: dark horse. Maybe he, Nuyens and Flecha can work something out.
Keep an eye on: some other team.
Marcus Burghardt, BMC
The skinny: Burghardt often gets lost in the classics shuffle, thanks to missed time and his tendency to surround himself with star riders. This year is worse, if anything, as he is presumed to carry water for Ballan and Hincapie. So not true, at least early on. He was fifth here last year (before finishing 7th in de Ronde) so he likes him some hellingen. Meanwhile, I can't even think of a HTC guy worth mentioning here. WTF?
The call: If they sleep on him in the last 10k, he's a pick to win.
Keep an eye on: the shiny candy. Yep, just stay stuck on Ballan's wheel. Or Hincapie's. Sucker...
[UPDATE] Thor Hushovd, Cervelo Test Team
The Skinny: Wasn't listed when I started writing this last night, but he's there today, as is Haussler. Thor can still sprint, though he doesn't often beat Boonen and I wouldn't pick him over Boasson Hagen right now. So he can close it out if it's in the right group... like, say, the remnants of a crash-shattered peloton. But he's not the favorite, even on his own team. That would be Haussler.
The call: Meh.
Keey an eye on: So Haussler has knee pain? Is that why they didn't have him on the startlist til this morning? This is the worst kind of sandbagging, particularly after the guy rang up seven top-tens in the last month. The kind of aggression we saw from Haussler last year is sure to be on display again, if he's healthy.
Obvy, this is a short list of contenders. Please add more, and let's see who ya got for the win. Poll going up in the sidebar.