The last Sunday in February has special significance in The Wattmeister’s busy calendar. Following on from bike racing in sunny climes, e.g The Tour Down Under & The Tour of Dubai, it heralds the start of the Belgian Classics season kicking off with the Omloop het Nieuwsblad, an undulating title to match an otherwise pan flat race which includes some infamous cobbled hills.
In the past this race has been won by some of the sport’s biggest names…Eddy Merckx, Roger de Vlaeminck, Freddy Maertens and Peter van Petegem to name but a few. This year’s edition will include favourites such as Greg van Avermaet, Edvald Boassen Hagen and Phillippe Gilbert.
Apart from the sheer thrill of watching these guys compete over the bleak Belgian landscape, often in rainy and sleety conditions which prevail in late February, this event renews our acquaintance, and tests our enunciation, with some of the crunchiest names in bike racing……Pieter van Speybrouck, Jonas van Genechten, Bram Tankink and Gillaume van Kiersbulck….names which announce the arrival of Spring every bit as much as the crocus or daffodil.
However, finding the winner of this event is not an easy task. If the weather conditions are bad, then the Belgians and Dutch will relish the challenge. Some riders have emerged from the earlier sunny races in great form…Sonny Colbrelli, Giacomo Nizzolo and Tim Wellens come to mind.
The Wattmeister likes to looks beyond the obvious choices, and one of his favourite riders is Jurgen Roelandts. He will no doubt be pressed into service for BMC team leader Greg van Avermaet, but this is his terrain and he has considerable form and experience over the cobbled hellingen. He is a tentative tip for the podium