Thursday, February 21, 2013

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Favorites & Jokers

Sep Vanmarcke surprised many last year when he outsprinted Tom Boonen for the win and I wouldn’t be surprised if another outsider takes the win this time. Most of all because they aren’t any top top favorites on the start list. Tom Boonen is here, yes, but not in the shape he would have liked to be in, and therefore we have to look to Terpstra and Chavanel to find the team leaders of Quickstep this Saturday. 

Niki Terpstra has shown to be very strong right now and he is not afraid of attacking. If the weather conditions blow the race apart early my pick for winner will be Terpstra. It does require he attacks and gets away alone though. Despite not being slow on the line, I simply can’t see him beat other candidates like Jurgen Roelandts, Greg Van Avermaet or Filippo Pozzato in a sprint.

In this very moment, my own personal favorite is Filippo Pozzato. I think he will have a great spring season this year, winning a least one of the big classics. Last year he waited too long in Ronde van Vlaanderen and made a horrible tactical mistake in Paris-Roubaix - I doubt he will fail like that again. Pippo showed in Trofeo Laigueglia that he is in great shape already and being fast on the line and strong on the hills, it be very difficult to drop him.

Greg Van Avermaet too is very fast on the line - even faster than Pozzato - and he must be named as one of the favorites. The reason why he isn’t my first pick is because of the strong team BMC send to the race. With Hushovd, Oss, Phinney, Blythe and in-form Schar in addition to Van Avermaet, the chances of one of those getting into the final break and therefore not pulling for a sprint is quite high. I would imagine BMC have Van Avermaet set as their designated leader, but everything can happen in these races.

I think it will be an advantage only to have one captain this Saturday and that’s why I also name Jurgen Roelandts among the best winner candidates. Roelandts was very strong in Tour Méditerranéen and being the only team leader on Lotto-Belisol - who are winning as they please this season - I would be surprised not to see him in front on Saturday. He finished last season in a very strong way and this could be his chance finally to breakthrough in the classics. Roelandts is very fast and the way he won the stage to Grasse in Tour Med really showed he is one to take seriously for this race and the up-coming classics.

Other strong candidates for the win are Lars Boom and Juan-Antonio Flecha but like Terpstra these two need to get away alone or in a group without sprinters in order to win.

As always, I have a couple of jokers for you too and the first one is no stranger if you regularly visit this site. Oscar Gatto got a little breakthrough last year with strong attacks but the best has yet to come. Being the sole captain of Vini-Fantini in the classics, the responsibility is naturally bigger now and I think Gatto will prove to be worthy of it. Gatto is very fast on the line and very difficult to drop on the hills. He is not afraid to take initiative and attack from a far and with Strade Bianche coming up soon, this would be an excellent opportunity for Gatto to build some self-confidence and show he is rider to look out for in the Spring Classics this season.

My second joker is Zdenek Stybar. Few riders can match Stybar’s shape right now - thanks to cyclocross in the winter - and even though he is very inexperienced in these kind of races, he sure has the power to fight for the win. Stybar is good on these hills and fast too should it come to a sprint. As already mentioned, Quickstep have a lot of riders to play out this Saturday, but don’t be surprised if Stybar ends up being their man for the win.

For a super joker look to Martin Elmiger. The Swiss veteran has had a great start of the season for the new IAM Cycling team and even though Heinrich Haussler is the team captain here, I’m sure Elmiger will put in at least a couple of attacks. I will expect him to get into the big break of the day and that could very well prove to be important if the race splits up early. Elmiger is very strong and on a good day not too slow in a sprint either. I will be a big surprise should he take the win, but under the right circumstances he might just surprise and get on the podium.

* * *
Pozzato - Roelandts - Van Avermaet

* *
Boom - Flecha - Terpstra

Gatto - Stybar - Elmiger

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