Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2024 Preview

The first of the spring Classics, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, takes place in Belgium on Saturday 24th February, and constitutes the fourth round of the Women’s World Tour in 2024. Traditionally known as the first day of ‘opening weekend’, this one-day classic represents the unofficial beginning of the women’s racing season in Northern Europe.

Like the men’s race, the women will start in Ghent and finish in Ninove, tackling a selection of the famous bergs and cobbled sectors unique to the Flandrian classics along the route, including the iconic Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg.

This will be the 20th edition of the race, and reigning champion Lotte Kopecky will line up at the start in the rainbow bands of World Champion, as favourite to regain her title. Alongside her, an impressive start list of the finest classics riders in the women’s peloton will hope to challenge the Belgian all-rounder’s supremacy.

The Route

The route is almost identical to that of the 2023 edition. While the first 65km or so do feature some ups and downs, the bulk of the action takes place along the final 60km of the parcours, as the peloton arrives in Oudenaarde and takes on the first of the bergs and cobbled sectors, the Edelareberg, Holleweg, and Wolvenberg.

From there, two more cobbled sectors, the Kerkgate and Jagerij, lead the bunch to the formidable Molenberg, from where many race-splitting moves have been launched in the past. Several more challenges follow ahead of the final iconic duo, the Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg, which will surely see a raft of attacks, and potentially a race-winning move. Following the Bosberg, a 12km final push to the line is all that stands between the leading women, and victory.

Riders to Watch

It’s hardly surprising that SD Worx-Protime began their season in winning form, but the way they did so was remarkable. Not only did World Champion Lotte Kopecky lead out teammate Lorena Wiebes to two sprint victories, she also conquered the Queen Stage, winning on the summit of Jebel Hafeet to secure the general classification in the process. Let’s not forget, Kopecky is also a World Champion on the track; she is really proving she can do it all this season.

For all the talk about her diversification, however, Kopecky’s bread and butter is the Classics. She’s at her strongest on the cobbles and it’s beyond a shadow of a doubt that she will come into the race as favourite. Arguably, her strongest competition may come from within her own camp, as the intriguing narrative of Vollering versus Kopecky will open with its first chapter on the streets of Flanders next week, and though it seems likely on paper that Vollering will support Kopecky, there are no guarantees where these two champions are concerned. More likely, given her second place finish in 2023’s edition, Lorena Wiebes will provide the back-up option for the team, particularly if the race comes down to a sprint.

The question on everyone’s lips then, is who can mount a serious challenge to the team of superstars?

As they will in most races this season, Lidl-Trek potentially pose the greatest challenge to the Dutch supremacy. They will arrive in Ghent with a strong squad, and a number of leadership options. Elisa Balsamo will be in attendance in the event of a sprint finish, and Elisa Longo Borghini and Lizzie Deignan will provide a wealth of experience and both pose a serious threat if a strong selection can get away from the bunch.

Though the start list is currently not finalised, a few assumptions can be made regarding team selections, in terms of who else might challenge for the win in Ninove. Canyon//SRAM and FDJ-SUEZ are always capable of mounting a serious challenge, and it’s likely that Kasia Niewiadoma and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig will be among the leaders for those teams, though with excellent strength in depth Canyon will undoubtedly have several options, and FDJ-SUEZ will look to the likes of Grace Brown for a chance at a late breakaway victory.

Visma-Lease A Bike are already looking like a stronger unit this season. Whilst Anna Henderson is out due to a broken left collarbone sustained on the opening stage of Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, Marianne Vos is looking to regain her top form with two 2nd places in the Spanish stage race. The Dutch team could be dark horses to spring a surprise. Liv-Alula-Jayco bring several options for a result that could try and challenge the bigger teams, whilst Movistar have Emma Norsgaard for the Spanish team along with former French Champion, Aude Biannic; a dynamic duo both are strong on the cobbles and Emma has a fast finish. The Italian duo of Sofia Bertizzolo and Eleonora Gasparrini give UAE Team ADQ options as well as an inform Chiara Consonni, and Pfeiffer Georgi has already proven herself a hardy classics specialist, and could challenge for Team dsm-firmenich PostNL.

Off the back of the cyclo-cross season, there’s no rest for Puck Pieterse of Fenix Deceuninck, the Dutchwoman showed last year she can thrive in a technical one day race when she finished 5th Strade Bianche and the 21 year old has a strong support team around her.

While the bigger teams have strong riders and a network of support around them, evidence would suggest that the best way to beat SD Worx-Protime is from a long-range breakaway. Last year, breakaway riders were able to win Paris-Roubaix, and two stages of the Tour de France, and this year has already seen the Dutch superpower defeated at the hands of a bold baroudeur (Amber Kraak at the UAE Tour). Teams such as EF Education-Cannondale and AG Insurance-Soudal, both of whom have tasted success already this season, will be hoping they can continue their strong start to the season, and may be in with a shot of mounting such an attack – whether or not they can make it stick in the face of such serious competition, remains to be seen.

Riders to watch

5-stars Lotte Kopecky

4-stars Lorena Wiebes

3-stars Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig

2-stars Pfeiffer Georgi

1-star Sofia Bertizzolo

Summary

When – Saturday 24 February 2024

Where – Belgium

What – One-day race

TV Coverage: Discovery+, Eurosport

 

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