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Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2022: Who are the men’s favourites?

Will Strickson
22 Feb 2022

All you need to know about the first Classic of the year: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday 26th February 2022

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad marks the traditional start of the pro cycling season and the first race of Spring Classics ‘Opening Weekend’ alongside Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

This year will see the 77th edition for the men and the 14th edition for the women of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad semi-Classic that is best considered as Tour of Flanders-lite with a mixture of cobbled climbs and winding farm roads taking both pelotons from Gent to Ninove.

We can expect the usual fireworks with the finish provided by the Muur van Geraardsbergen – also known as Kapelmuur – and the Bosberg before a 13km run-in to the line.

The Kapelmuur is among Flanders’ most feared climbs, with cramp-inducing ramps of 20% on the climb’s uncompromising cobbled surface. Formerly the penultimate climb at the Tour of Flanders, its slopes have provided a stage for some of cycling’s most dramatic plays.

The final climb, the Bosberg, is not as hard as Geraardsbergen but is just as exciting considering it is the last platform of attack before the race's end.

Here's a look at some of the pre-race favourites.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad men’s race 2022: Favourites

While teams haven’t confirmed their start lists and some are being hit by illness and Covid at other races, there’s still a fair amount of speculation involved here but we’ll update this page once we have more info.

The big guns

The first truly big race of the season is always going to interest the top classics riders and especially the Belgian ones. Having skipped the cyclocross season, Wout van Aert enters Opening Weekend fresher than he’s ever been and looks likely to have a strong Jumbo-Visma squad to support him, including Tiesj Benoot and Tosh Van der Sande, who could get results themselves if it comes down to it.

Similarly, Belgian giants QuickStep Alpha Vinyl always bring a stacked team to Omloop and Kuurne with Davide Ballerini winning in 2021. Ballerini won't be there for some unknown reason – neither will Julian Alaphilippe – but they will have a selection of the best classics riders in the world including Yves Lampaert, Iljo Keisse, Kasper Asgreen, Zdeněk Štybar and Florian Sénéchal.

Elsewhere, expect a heavy presence from past winners Greg Van Avermaet, Jasper Stuyven, Sep Vanmarcke and Michael Valgren as well as specialists like Peter Sagan, Matteo Trentin, Nils Politt, Sonny Colbrelli and Oliver Naesen. UAE Team Emirates's Alessandro Covi is also on hot form to start the season.

British hopes

There will be a pretty sizeable British contingent in the race and plenty of them with a shot of coming away with a result. Of course the biggest contender of the lot is newly crowned Cyclocross World Champion Tom Pidcock and you certainly can't write him off making his mark here, especially if it comes to a two-up sprint with Wout van Aert. He's unbeaten in those situations.

Pidcock is joined in the Ineos Grenadiers ranks by British National Champion Ben Swift – who probably won't be competing for the win unless there’s a big bunch but absolutely has the ability to be there at the business end – fellow cyclocrosser Ben Turner – who will be on domestique duty – and Ethan Hayter. Hayter could well be in play providing his recovery from Covid has continued to go well.

There’s also Jake Stewart, who came second in 2021 (pictured above), proving his capability of beating most of the riders in this field. He's joined on Groupama-FDJ by neo-pro Lewis Askey, who can definitely do a job in one-day races but is a virtual unknown at this level of competition.

Former Ineos man and new EF Education-EasyPost signing Owain Doull has some unfinished business on Opening Weekend, having finished second to Bob Jungels in a strong showing in 2019, though he may find himself working for teammates Valgren and Łukasz Wiśniowski. Similarly, Bahrain Victorious’s Fred Wright – should he ride – will be in a support role for a strong squad headed up by Colbrelli, especially considering he suffered a broken collarbone at a training camp in December.

Then there’s Connor Swift, who is climbing well at the Volta ao Algarve currently and will definitely be afforded the opportunity to go for glory by his team Arkéa Samsic. One to watch. Also on the French side is Dan McLay, the sprinter who will be sure to have a go if it comes down to a big group like last year.

Finally there's TotalEnergies' Chris Lawless, who showed well in the punchy finales at Étoiles des Bessèges, but will most likely be working for Peter Sagan.

Relegation battles

Some extra spice for 2022 comes in the form of a relegation battle. With the current deal up at the end of the year, there are several teams fighting for their WorldTour place.

Expect Connor Swift and co. to go extra hard, as well as: Lotto Soudal, with potential riders including Paris-Roubaix runner-up Florian Vermeersch, Hour Record holder Victor Campenaerts and breakaway beast Brent Van Moer; Cofidis, with Bryan Coquard; Israel-Premier Tech, with Sep Vanmarcke, Simon Clarke and Guillaume Boivin; and Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, with a lean-looking Alexander Kristoff.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad men’s race 2022: prediction

It’s hard to look beyond Van Aert if he’s in the front group but Omloop is not a race that will follow the pattern of the rest of the season, given riders are looking to peak for later in the spring.

There’s also no fun in safe predictions so I’m going to take a punt and say Matej Mohorič takes the win. He had solid legs in the Volta a la Communitat Valenciana earlier this month and Bahrain Victorious teammate Colbrelli hasn’t started his 2022 season yet.

It might be a bit flat for the situation to fall perfectly for him but he’s a strong enough rider to hold off a group if he gets up the Bosberg first.

Outside shots

I’m also going to give a shout to Simon Clarke. The Australian got himself a contract at the last minute with Israel-Premier Tech but in his six race days in Mallorca and Andalucia has finished no lower than 12th (at the time of writing).

With relegation looming and Sep Vanmarcke struggling for luck – although he finished third in this race in 2021 – Clarke could be the key to their season.

Images: Chris Auld

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