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Cobbles Weekend (!) Primer

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Happy Start to the Cycling Season!

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne Photo by Michael Steele - Velo/Getty Images

Almost as exciting to the start of the FSA Directeur Sportif season is the moment it’s built around, the official agreed-upon* Real Start to the Cycling Season!

[* Commence hand-fighting now]

I have an elaborate celebration planned. I plan to stuff all of my proximate belongings into a single bag which I will pay someone to mind, sit belted into a small chair with my family, and do nothing at all while people occasionally come by to offer me coffee and soda. Yes, as you all soak in the madness and majesty of the Classics Season getting going, I will be on a bloody plane, meaning that with luck, as you watch the peloton climb the Muur to its legendary conclusion, I will be living vicariously through your comments. I live an accursed life.

On the plus side, I will be wide awake for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne Sunday. Locked and... ah, let’s see if we can go the season without using gun-related cliches. We sure do have a lot of them in English. I’m sure in the days of little more than the odd aristocratic fox hunt it seemed like an acceptable way to make conversation.

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne Mini-Preview

Since you’ve heard a few things about the Omloop (and Greg Van Avermaet’s impending victory, I’m going to focus this grab bag on KBK thoughts. First, it may be the lesser of the two races this weekend, but its marketing department bows to nobody. They’ve been crushing it for years. Here’s the latest poster:

Kuurne Brussels Kuurne 2018 poster

No words needed.

The course hasn’t changed all that much, but there are a couple tweaks. The first climb of the day is no longer the Edelareberg but the slightly more fearsome Wolvenberg. I can’t recall whether I’ve been on that one, but it tops out at 17%, so while it is in the first hour of the race, it’ll be sure to open up some capillaries. The other change is the insertion of the Côte de Trieu (Knokteberg) into the middle of a Greater Ronse battery of climbs including the Kanarieberg, Kruisberg, Hotond and Oude Kwaremont. KBK is the race most likely to set hearts aflutter among the Editors who gathered last year in Ronse, and rode around the southern edge of the Vlaamse Ardennen from Geraardsbergen to Kwaremont. And if you like, I can go on and on for several hours about how great it is there, but I suspect the audience for that discussion is roughly the size and shape of the group that did the riding, so I’ll stay off that for now. Just know that it’s fun and bumpy, climbs in close succession, and goes better with an occasional waffle stop.

KBK map

The race, though, won’t spare any time for waffles. They’ll also wrap up that portion of the race with 80km remaining and summit the final climb, the Nokereberg, with 50k to go. Then they get into a couple local loops from Kuurne down to Kortrijk, across the Leie River, then up to Harelbeke, and back across to Kuurne, with little to stop them apart from maybe weather. But the forecast is sunny and chilly with a bit of a breeze, slightly reduced from Saturday’s call for stiffer winds, so you can expect a sprint, albeit a tough one and maybe into a head- or cross-wind as the race changes direction. It’s safer to say that there will be a threat of a sprint, but some people will use that as a prompt to attack, and maybe succeed.

Weekend Notes

Some bit points...

  • Since 2010 the race has ended in three big bunch finishes, two six-rider sprints, two solo or two-man successes, and one snowstorm. That’s probably not a bad approximation of the odds of a bunch sprint, if not a snowstorm, meaning it’s the single most likely scenario but is still no better and maybe slightly less than a 50% chance.
  • By contrast, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad seems immune to big bunch finishes, with the last one happening in 2009. You could make a case that KBK is as good or better than the Omloop in terms of fun and excitement, and you might even try to do so if you were, say, foolish enough to schedule an all-day plane trip on Saturday. But you’d be kinda sorta wrong. Unless the new Omloop course to Ninove blows up in their faces.
  • One tragic note for KBK: Tom Boonen holds the lifetime record of three wins (shocking, I know) but there are a host of double winners in the race’s history, including Walter Planckaert, Roger De Vlaeminck and Jan Raas. Another is Mark Cavendish, the only active rider with a pair of Donkey trophies, but a mistake in the feed zone of Abu Dhabi stage 1 cost him a concussion (and stuck it to 84 FSA DS teams).
  • Another reason to love the Omloop: they will host a women’s race, a 1.1 rated event and the first truly big European race of the season for the Ladies. Not that everyone is on hand, but the startlist includes World Champion Chantal Blaak, defending winner Lucinda Brand, and a murderer’s row of talent featuring Coryn Rivera, Annemiek Van Vleuten, Elena Cecchini and Elisa Longo Borghini. Not everyone (can Boels Dolmans ever bring everyone to a single event?) but a strong field.
  • The Omloop is a World Tour race, so all 17 teams are there, but KBK is a mere 1.HC race, which means they only took on... 16 World Tour teams. Sunweb are the absentees, which is too bad because I was enjoying snacking on delicious, delicious points scored by Phil Bauhaus earlier today. Greg Van Avermaet comes in as the big favorite, after two straight Omloop wins and the further accomplishment of being awesome in April after winning in February. Team EF sport two former winners in Sep Vanmarcke and Sebastian Langeveld, and Quick Step are loaded as ever. Alexander Kristoff isn’t coming to either race, which is a bummer. Lots of usual suspects.
  • Personally the most interesting team to me this weekend is Lotto-Soudal. Tiesj Benoot is the captain all weekend, which probably means Saturday, but you never know. He’ll have Keukeleire, the younger Naesen brother (Lawrence), Wallays and Wellens with him for the Omloop, but then the team wisely switches in Nikolas Maes, Jens Debusschere, Tosh Van Der Sande and Moreno Hofland for Sunday. Contrast that with Trek, who I also like, but who have nearly the same squad (featuring Stuyven, Nizzolo, Felline, Mullen and van Poppel) both days. Lotto are tacitly acknowledging that Saturday is a long shot but that they have a real chance to win Sunday if they make it an equal priority. They are also deeper than Trek, so not to pick on Trek. Anyway, choices...
  • Wind is slated to be a difference-maker Saturday maybe. The Omloop is hard enough as it is, and if I read my wind direction forecast correctly, it’ll be a stiff wind from the right side as the race runs through Geraardsbergen to the finish. To me that means the strategy will be to survive the Muur, be in the splits afterward, and make a decisive move on the Bosberg. But it also means anything is possible heading into the final stretch.

Enjoy! Let me know how it goes!