I'm going to take this weekend's course review in three parts, Omloop men, Omloop women, and KBK. But first a bit of backdrop.
Welcome to the official start of Cycling 2016!
Sure, some people raised the curtain of their mind in Australia, which is cool, and there may be a few holdouts who still think nothing matters before Paris-Nice (get off their lawns). But most fans would agree that by Saturday... it's on.
I do see that Cycling News has declared it Belgium Season already. That's a bit much even for me, since I don't know how much hoopla there will be for Le Samyn next week, with most people gearing up for either Strade Bianche or Paris-Nice. I'll save that bit of framing for a few more weeks, like ten seconds after Milano-Sanremo, when it's appropriate.
But it is most definitely an exciting weekend approaching! So without further ado, it's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad time!
This Year's Men's Omloop Course Changes
There are some definite differences between the 2015 Omloop route and this year's, namely the extent of climbing in the first 100km. Following 65km or so that proceeds along the usual route through the heart of East Flanders to Brakel and climbs of the Leberg and Berendries (right after the Haaghoek), the course dips south to catch the Tenbosse and Eikenmolen en route to its photogenic (if not decisive) ascent of the Muur van Geraardsbergen. By zooming in on the map it's clear they go all the way to the chapel, so there's that, for the early risers.
From there things settle into the familiar pattern, albeit a distinctly unsettling portion of parcours for the actual racers, as they'll hit the Valkenberg, Haaghoek (#2), and Kaperij in short succession. Then there's the Markedaal Massacre from km 133-143, where they'll meet the Kruisberg, Donderij (cobbles) and Taaienberg. And from there it's the Eikenberg/Wolvenberg duo, followed by the Four Horebekes of the Apocalypse: Pestilence (Ruiterstraat), War (Karel Martelstraat), Disease (Holleweg) and Death (Haaghoek again). All in about 12km.
The finale has been altered slightly, offering the usual Leberg, then the Boembekeberg in place of the Molenberg, before resuming the chore of bouncing over cobblestones until early concussion symptoms begin (Paddestraat, Lippenhovestraat, Lange Munte). No data seems readily available on Boom Beke Mountain, but the organizers insist it's difficult, if not exactly steep. We shall see about that.
Lastly, the finish area is now in the Citadelpark with a false flat up Emile Clauslaan to the line. In the past the race made it into Gent proper but with cycling, things always tend to move to the urban margins eventually, even venerable old Gent-Gent.
Two extra climbs and one more section of cobbles will more or less come out in the wash for these guys. The race will be affected by how stuff sets up in the last 50km, which is from the Four Horebekes onward. In that respect, the cobbles come a bit thicker and faster at what could be a key moment, but if the riders are slightly more drained of energy in the latter stages of the race, it won't be terribly apparent. In the end, we should expect about the same type of race as always, with selections happening from the Taaienberg onward, and an all-out brawl over the last cobbled stretches.
Weather? Dry and cool, which sounds bad, but following a wet week it means that whatever mud is in the cobbles will stay there. So it will be spring-like, even before we start asking about winds.