Cycling is back in Belgium! The opening weekend is done and dusted, so it's time to look back on the first races of the Classics season. Discover our five conclusions after Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and Le Samyn.
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team dominance will be questioned this Classics season
With a ninth place for Florian Sénéchal as their best result, Quick-Step missed the first Classic opportunity of the season at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The team started with four protected riders, being Yves Lampaert, Zdenek Stybar, Florian Senechal and 2021 Tour of Flanders winner Kasper Asgreen. Traditionally the audience and the team itself expects a lot of the Classics season opener, but the leaders didn't manage to meet the expectations this time. They missed almost every opportunity to attack and were nowhere to be seen at the decisive moment on the Bosberg. The collective offday caused a sermon by team manager Patrick Lefevere afterwards. He needed to wake up his team for the next chance, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
The wake-up call by Lefevere worked out well as we saw a completely different Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team on Sunday. Having won four races already this season, Fabio Jakobsen was the big leader of the day. The Dutchman is one of the best sprinters of the world, but Quick-Step didn't paralyze the race to ensure a bunch sprint. Instead, they showed grinta and fought back after the failure of the day before. Yves Lampaert had mechanical issues when the races exploded, but Kasper Asgreen showed himself at the front of the race. The Dane was part of an elite front group and proved he's on his way to his best level again. When the last men standing of the front group were caught at 200 metres from the finish line, Jakobsen ensured the win for his Belgian team.
Despite that win, the opening weekend showed us that Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team won't longer be the ultra dominant team as we've seen them the past years. They used to be more impressive the past years. Yes, Lampaert was unlucky, Asgreen bounced back and Jakobsen won on Sunday, but the competitors stepped up the game. Already before Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Jumbo-Visma said they'd be able to compete with Quick-Step. That was enough for Patrick Lefevere to challenge them to show they're at least as strong as his team and that's exactly what the Dutch team did.
INEOS Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma are the new Classics teams on the block
We knew it already before the start of the season, but this weekend INEOS Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma really showed they've build two of the best Classics teams of the peloton. They are the teams that will try to remove Quick-Step from the Classics throne this spring.
Let's start with Jumbo-Visma. After being alone at the front of the race too many times during the finals last year, Wout van Aert asked the team management to reinforce the Classics team around him and so it happened. Christophe Laporte, Tosh Van der Sande and Tiesj Benoot joined the team and proved their value immediately last weekend. Benoot attacked both Saturday and Sunday and showed himself as a loyal teammate on who Van Aert can count on. On Sunday, Benoot, Laporte and Van Hooydonck were part of the elite front group of nineteen riders. That really showed a numerical superiority for the team and the guess is we'll see that more often the coming weeks. On top of that, Laporte almost won Kuurne. Some thought the riders would need time to get to know each other during races, but Wout van Aert and Jumbo-Visma couldn't dream of a better start of the Classics season.
An attacking way of racing is the new standard, by order of the Peaky Blinders
INEOS Grenadiers is the second challenger. They announced themselves as the Peaky Blinders on their way to Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and they didn't disappoint. An attacking way of racing is the new standard this season, by order of the Peaky Blinders! Of course we agree with the proposition that Pidcock isn't on his best level yet, but the team was a delight to the eye last weekend. Thomas Pidcock, Ethan Hayter, Ben Turner, Jonathan Narvaez, Magnus Sheffield, ... It could've been the names of a five headed rock-'n-rollband. Pidcock and Narvaez showed the attacking mood of the team on Saturday, but lacked the perfect tactics so far. On Sunday, the two of them were once again part of the elite front group in the final. The team has a lot of young riders, but with some more experience the team is capable of doing big things. Especially Narvaez surprised the cycling world. Last year, he showed some good legs when attacking with Mathieu van der Poel. At that point you might 've thought he'd be a one hit wonder, but now he's shown himself two days in a row and he's surely not done yet for 2022.
Annemiek van Vleuten's recipe for succes: dare to lose
We've seen an outstanding Annemiek van Vleuten again last Saturday. That must be one of the most written sentences about women's cycling of the last years. Annemiek showed her class with a big attack on Muur van Geraardsbergen, bridging the gap to the front of the race together with Demi Vollering. On Bosberg, the last climb of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Van Vleuten decided to attack again. Demi Vollering was the only one who could follow the wheel, which was kind of a problem for Annemiek as Vollering normally is the fastest sprinter of the two. Anyway, Annemiek van Vleuten didn't panic and kept on riding, even when Vollering didn't want to take turns. With two kilometers to go, Van Vleuten had enough of the passive attitude of her breakaway companion. She encouraged Vollering to take turns, but the latter refused.
The win of Van Vleuten will gown down in history as an example for every cyclist who wants to win a race
A sprint between the two countrywomen seemed inevitable. On paper Demi Vollering should've been the fastest, but Annemiek van Vleuten wouldn't be Annemiek van Vleuten if she didn't have a plan. With more than 400 metres to go, she decided to make it a long sprint. Vollering was able to come next to her, but with a last huge effort Van Vleuten took the win. The second Omloop Het Nieuwsblad of her career will go down in history as an example for every cyclist out there who wants to win a race. Why? Because the recipe for this win was Annemiek's dare to lose. She rode to the finish with someone who's normally a faster sprinter and someone who didn't want to cooperate, taking the risk of driving herself into a second place. That's exactly why she deserved this win! Don't forget she broke her pelvis five months ago during Paris-Roubaix Femmes.
Victor Campenaerts changed the wind direction at Lotto Soudal
One of the most interesting transfers during the offseason was the return of Victor Campenaerts to Lotto Soudal. Campenaerts transformed himself last season into a more Classics oriented rider. At Team Qhubeka NextHash he showed his new attacking way of racing, which he took with him to Lotto. Youngsters as Brent Van Moer and Florian Vermeersch talked praisefully about the arrival of 'Vocsnor' at their team and it didn't just stop at words. Philippe Gilbert, Brent Van Moer, Florian Vermeersch, all of them went into the attack during Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
The only problem of Campenaerts will be the way he's able to win
Campenaerts himself had a lot of trouble before the final started, but even two flat tires, a bike change and a crash couldn't stop the Belgian. He kept on fighting and rose like a phoenix form the ashes. For a moment he seemed to be the only one able to follow Wout van Aert on Bosberg, but Campenaerts couldn't reach the backwheel of the Belgian champion. After such a race and repeating those attacking efforts during Le Samyn, it's safe to say Campenaerts put another step forward during the offseason. He clearly caused a new wave of motivation within Lotto Soudal. His only problem will be the way he's able to win. Campenaerts likes to attack and has a big engine, but the Belgian needs to finish solo to win as he doesn't have a fast sprint, which he proved at Le Samyn as well. The key to success will be to use his energy when he needs to.
You can always count on Matteo Trentin
One of the most consistent riders during the opening weekend was Matteo Trentin. The Italian of UAE Team Emirates finished seventh in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and ninth in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, leaving him as the only rider who finished top 10 in both races. On top of that he also won Le Samyn, but that's not where it ends. Trentin finished inside the top 10 in the last four editions of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and top 10 in the last two editions of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, which is a phenomenal statistic. Knowing that, it's easy to say you can always count on the Italian. He'll be in the mix at a lot of races this spring and most of all, he'll be an important teammate for Tadej Pogacar during Dwars door Vlaanderen and Tour of Flanders!