2021 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Six Dark Horse Picks For Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Six Dark Horse Picks For Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Many of the classics stars will be in attendance, but early season races can often bring surprises.

Feb 25, 2021 by Rebecca Reza
Can Anyone Beat Alaphilippe, Van Vleuten?

The 2021 Flemish Classics opening weekend is just hours away. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is the first of the spring classics for the men, and the first race in Europe for the majority of the women's WorldTour peloton.

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Many of the classics stars will be in attendance, but early season races can often bring surprises. As the riders prepare for their cobbled debut this Saturday, February 27th, FloBikes have chosen a few dark horses to watch out for. 

Zdenêk Štybar (Deceuninck – Quick Step)

All eyes will be on the rainbow stripes of Julian Alaphilippe on Saturday, but the curse of the rainbow jersey has not been kind to the Frenchman. At the Tour de Provence, Alaphilippe crashed not far from the finishing stretch, fighting in a breakaway for the win. Luckily he was fine, though his chances for victory had slipped away that day. 

Should the Frenchman find himself in a tough spot Saturday, the Deceuninck – Quick Step squad will have a strong second option in Zdenek Štybar, the 2019 winner of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. 

He plays more of a supporting role these days, but the 35-year-old is more than capable of stepping up and taking leadership when the time is right. His two second-place finishes at Paris-Roubaix speaks to that.

Michael Valgren (EF Education – Nippo)

Winner of the 2018 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Michael Valgren had a hiccup to his season debut with EF Education – Nippo.  

The Dane was a late signing to the team after the uncertainty with NTT Pro Cycling last fall. He crashed during the first stage at Etoile de Bessèges – Tour du Gard in France earlier this month, breaking two bones in his hand and placing his participation in the Classics in question. 

Valgren is on the provisional start list, alongside his teammate Jens Keukeleire. EF Education lost Classics strongman, Sep Vanmarcke to Israel Start-Up Nation this season, but stands a chance at upsetting the favorites if Valgren has recovered. 

Tiesj Benoot (Team DSM)

Tiesj Benoot was on fire at the start of the 2020 season. He produced head-turning rides en route to a second place overall finish at Paris-Nice. He ending the season with top-ten finishes at both Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour of Flanders. 

The young Belgian has been an active force in the classics, but continues to hunt his first win Flemish win.

Romain Bardet will join him on the start line, making his debut with the team after racing his entire career up to this point with AG2R La Mondiale. They will have the powerful engine of Søren Kragh Anderson joining them, giving the squad another strong option in their bid for victory.  

Marta Bastianelli (Alé BTC Ljubljana)

Marta Bastianelli finished second in last season’s Classics opener trying to chase down world champion Annemiek Van Vleuten.  

The 2007 World Champion will like her chances after many years of success in the classics. She has already notched a win for 2021, earning a victory at a Dubai invitational earlier this month. 

The 2019 Tour of Flanders champion will be leading a mix of both veterans and young riders on Alé BTC Ljubljana, and Spain’s Mavi García may prove to be a useful ally.

Chantal Van Den Broek-Blaak (SD Worx)

On any other squad Chantal Van Den Broek-Blaak would not be considered an underdog as a past World Champion on the road and last season’s winner of the Tour of Flanders. 

Broek-Blaak won the season opener in 2019. Racing alongside her countrywoman and current double World Champion, Anna Van Der Breggen. It’s difficult to say who will take the lead in the first test of the season. 

The team recently held their team presentation in Belgium ahead of the race with the new branding under SD Worx. Their roster for Saturday’s start is formidable to say the least. Amy Pieters and Jolien D’hoore are more than capable in their own right and will flank the two Dutch world champions this Saturday.

Canyon SRAM Racing

It was too tough to pick just one possible victor from this squad. Tiffany Cromwell won the race in 2013, proving a rider does not need to be a pure Classics threat on paper to emerge victorious. 

The team is bringing a heavy sprinting squad, including Hannah Barnes and Alexis Ryan who both have plenty of Classics experience. Climbing extraordinaire, Katarzyna Niewiadoma, has also chosen to launch her 2021 campaign in Belgium on Saturday.