Cobbles, wind and rain: the women’s European season is here!

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After a long wait it’s finally here! The European season officially kicks off in Belgium this weekend at the prestigious Omloop het Nieuwsblad. On the docket: cobbles, steep climbs,  rain and fierce competition –all the elements of a good early season race.

While the women’s race may not be a WorldTour event like the men’s race, the competition is no less tough. Now in its 12th years, this race marks the start of the road season for many, and everyone is eagerly looking forward to testing their legs after winter training. Twenty-eight teams will take to the start in Het Nieuwsblad for a total of 168 riders.

The 2017 edition

Riders will roll from the Flemish Cycling Centre Eddy Merckx in Ghent at 11.30 a.m. CET (2.30 a.m. PST, 5.30 a.m. EST, 9.30 p.m. AEDT) and complete a 124-kilometer course through Flanders.

There are no less than nine testing climbs and six cobble sections on the route of the 2017 Omloop het Nieuwsblad, with the first climb, the Nokereberg, coming after just 28 kilometers of racing. The peloton will take to the first cobble section at kilometer 79. The last climb on the course, the Molenberg, is at 89 kilometers, but the peloton still has three cobble sections to tackle after that. This part of the race has proved decisive in several editions of the race and might be again this year.

The Omloop het Nieuwsblad website offers a detailed overview of the route, with more information about all the climbs and cobble sections, which is really cool if it didn’t have photos of just male riders on it – don’t be thrown off by it, this is in fact the women’s route.

What happened in previous editions

While Lizzie Deignan (Boels-Dolmans) won last year’s event, historically it’s been the Dutch riders who have been most successful in Omloop het Nieuwsblad. Despite being held on Belgian soil, a Belgian rider has yet to win this race, and they’re always eager to give the homecrowd something to cheer for.

In the 2016 edition, the weather was mild and the startlist boasted almost 200 riders.  The first attacker of the day was Lotto-Soudal’s Jessie Daams, who got away until the Wolvenberg, where the peloton caught her back. The only one who took to the start in chilly Belgium without arm or leg warmers (or gloves), Deignan then took off with Orica-AIS’ Gracie Elvin. When it looked like the duo was going to be caught by a 25-rider chase group, Deignan decided not to wait and accelerated.

Deignan built her advantage, while her Boels-Dolmans team mates Chantal Blaak, Nikki Brammeier, Megan Guarnier and Romy Kasper controlled the chase group. With a lead of almost half a minute, Deignan arrived at the finish line solo. Pointing at her rainbow stripes, as if to say “no rainbow curse here!”, Deignan started her season with a win. Behind her, the chase group would sprint for the podium places. Blaak won the sprint and joined her teammate on the podium, together with Tiffany Cromwell of Canyon-SRAM in third.

Highlights of the 2016 women’s Omloop het Nieuwsblad by Sporza:

10 riders to watch for in 2017 OHN

Chantal Blaak and Amy Pieters
With Lizzie Deignan missing from the startlist, Boels-Dolman’s might go for Chantal Blaak. In last year’s race, she protected Deignan’s lead in the finale of the race and even won the sprint of the chase group. She followed this up with a podium-filled spring season. Boels-Dolmans also has the 2014 winner at the start, Amy Pieters, so there’s a second card they can play there. And finally, the world road champion Amalie Dideriksen will make her rainbow debut in Het Nieuwblad, so Boels-Dolmans will be the team to watch.

Lotte Kopecky
A strong, powerful rider, that can sprint and tackle the short and steep climbs of the Belgian classics, Belgian’s Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal) may be one of Belgian’s best bets for a homesoil win. She won the World Cup omnium in Cali, Colombia, last weekend, showing promising shape.

Annemiek van Vleuten
It seems like Annemiek van Vleuten’s (Orica-Scott) crash in the Rio Olympic road race didn’t cause any lingering harm physically or mentally – her performance up until that crash has even inspired her to continue developing. After the Olympic road race, she went on to win the Lotto Belgium Tour only one month later and finished fifth at the World ITT Championships. She also already took her first win of 2017 in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Always doing well in the spring classics, Van Vleuten will be eyeing a win in Het Nieuwsblad.

Tiffany Cromwell
A win in the 2013 edition, podium last year, top 5 in 2015 and seventh in 2014: it looks like Omloop het Nieuwsblad really suits Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM). With her participation in the races Down Under, she has the advantage of already having some race kilometers in her legs. She is the only non-European rider that has ever won this race and if there’s someone who can keep the Europeans off the win again this year, she’s definitely it.

Jolien D’Hoore and Elisa Longo Borghini
Wiggle-High5 takes a duo to Omloop het Nieuwsblad that can both win this race. Jolien D’Hoore will try to get into the books as the first Belgian rider ever to win this race, and if she is out of the running at some point,  Elisa Longo Borghini is a capable second choice, having finished in the top 20 in the past five editions of this race. With new recruit Claudia Lichtenberg also at their service, together with Audrey Cordon-Ragot and returning rider Emilia Fahlin, they have a strong team of helpers that can get them to the final with as little effort as possible.

Leah Kirchmann and Lucinda Brand
New teammates Leah Kirchmann and Lucinda Brand (Team Sunweb) both finished top 10 last year -Kirchmann just outside the podium in fourth-, having been part of the chase group that was after Deignan in the final. With a strong line-up in Het Nieuwsblad, Team Sunweb also has Ellen van Dijk, who finished second in 2015. All in all, great opportunities for the team to go after a good result in their first road race of the season.

Kasia Niewiadoma
WM3 Pro Cycling’s team leader Kasia Niewiadoma will get a chance to ride for herself in this event. With Marianne Vos absent from the start list, Niewiadoma will get full support from her team. She hasn’t been able to shine in this race in previous editions, but that could well change this year. Watch out for the Polish eagle in the peloton.

How to follow

There weren’t any live images of the women’s Omloop het Nieuwsblad last year, and with the upgrade of the men’s race to WorldTour status, we were already fearing this wouldn’t change now. But with the announcement that the women’s race doesn’t have any TV production, meaning there won’t be a highlights video after the race, we’re actually going a step back from where we came from.

Thus, it’s once again back to social media to follow updates from the race. The official hashtag of the race is #OHN, with #flandersclassics providing you with extra footage and images by the organisation. Be reminded though that these hashtags are being used for both the men’s and women’s races, so you’ll have to filter out information from the women’s race yourself.

Of course, we will provide you with all the info from the women’s race right here at Ella CyclingTips. So please come back after the race for a race report and photo gallery of the European season’s opener.

Official race accounts

More information on the race and can be found on the official Flanders Classics website of Omloop het Nieuwsblad. Also check out their social media accounts, where we can expect live updates from the race:

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Who do you think is this year’s top favourite for the win? 

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