Consternation in Belgium as nation’s “Toppers” shut out of “Openingsweekend” once more
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Monday, February 28, 2011

Consternation in Belgium as nation’s “Toppers” shut out of “Openingsweekend” once more

by Ben Atkins at 9:28 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics
No Belgian winner at Het Nieuwsblad or Kuurne for second straight year

het nieuwsbladFor the second year in succession the Belgians have found themselves shut out of their “Openingsweekend” of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. The host nation had to sit and watch as Dutchman Sebastian Langeveld of Rabobank broke away to take Saturday’s Het Nieuwsblad, outsprinting last year’s Spanish winner Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) in the process; the following day Australian CJ Sutton (Team Sky) took the bunch sprint in Kuurne.

The best Belgian finishers were Jürgen Roelandts (OmegaPharma-Lotto) taking ninth on Saturday, and Jonas Vangenechten (Wallonie Bruxelles-Crédit Agricole) sprinting to fifth on Sunday.

According to Michel Wuyts and José De Cauwer, summarisers on Belgian sports TV channel Sporza, the fact that the host nation’s “Toppers” failed to perform is not good news.

“Just like last year the Belgians didn’t win in the ‘Openingsweekend’, should we cry?” asked Wuyts. “Here you would be allowed to cry,” responded De Cauwer.

With Dutch and British teams taking the victories, fingers are being pointed at the two big Belgian ones. “When the performances of Quick Step and OmegaPharma-Lotto are judged,” said Wuyts, “terms such as 'failure' quickly come to mind.”

De Cauwer noted though, that it is the international nature of the early spring races, which used to very much be domestic affairs, that is costing the Belgians.

“I think that it is already widening,” he said. “It’s not just the Flemish and the Dutch who participate in the ‘Openingsweekend’. There are other teams, like Team Sky, starting with ambition; so then you get this phenomen.”

The two races in the weekend are very different; Het Nieuwsblad, despite its last climb coming 35km from the finish, more often than not ends with a breakaway of one or more riders; Kuurne on the other hand, with its flat finishing circuit is almost certain to end in a sprint.

Strong foreigners, bad luck, and lack of radios play their part

The problem for Belgium on Saturday was that the strongest breakaway rider was a Dutchman, and on Sunday Belgium's best sprinter chose to try a solo break inside the last 5km.

“Sutton was a surprise,” said De Cauwer, “but Langeveld was tipped by the riders themselves. That in itself is an important clue; then you are not really surprised any more.”

For Belgian champion Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM), the two races were ones that he wants to put behind him. “All weekend I’ve done nothing but try to close gaps,” he told Sporza. “It’s a weekend to forget as soon as possible.”

With the radio ban to the forefront in the build up to the races, it’s not surprising that at least one rider had communication issues to blame for much of his misfortune.

‘In the Omloop I had problems with my gears,” Devolder told Het Nieuwsblad, “but because I had no earpiece I couldn’t change bikes until 20km later.

“On Sunday I was held back by a crash on the Oude Kwaremont. I managed to close the gap but by then I’d spent too many arrows to still play a role.”

Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) was also involved in the crash at the foot of the Oude Kwaremont, but also blamed his own decisions for his poor results.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” he told Het Laatste Nieuws. “I had good legs both days but I have nothing to show for it.

“In the Omloop I decided to watch [Quick Step’s Tom] Boonen and [OmegaPharma-Lotto’s Philippe] Gilbert,” he explained. “That turned out to be the wrong decision.

“In Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne I definitely wanted to put things right, but I crashed on the approach to the Oude Kwaremont. I waited a long time for a new bike; then you know that it’s over and out.”

Two teams come out on top and neither of them Belgian

Team Sky and Rabobank were the teams of the weekend, Wuyts and De Cauwer agreed, with many of the big riders not daring to have too much form at this stage of the season as they save themselves for the bigger races in April.

“You need courage to dare so early in the season,” said De Cauwer. “If you don’t have guts you won’t win here, so hats off to those two teams.”

The fact that Boonen, who is on paper the only Belgian currently able to contest the big bunch sprints, chose to put all his efforts into a lone attack in the closing stages came into particular criticism from both summarisers.

“Must we consider the Boonen’s breakaway as a desperate attempt?” Wuyts asked.

“Tom would have thought that the sprint would have been difficult and dangerous,” De Cauwer speculated.

“But you can’t convince anyone that Boonen would not have a chance against Sutton and [FDJ’s Yauheni] Hutarovich,” replied Wuyts.

“Maybe Boonen himself didn’t believe it,” replied De Cauwer. “Perhaps Tom was afraid of the confrontation and so he has chosen a different solution, but staying a step ahead of a hunting peloton in the final was impossible and Boonen did not succeed.”

The closest the Belgians got to the podium on either day was OmegaPharma-Lotto’s German sprinter André Greipel’s third place in Kuurne. The team had a lead out all planned for the “Gorilla”, but it all went awry in the closing stages.

“I lost the wheel of my lead out Marcel Sieberg,” Greipel told the Belgian media. “I had a lot of places to make up on my own and when the sprint started I was dead.

“I can’t be satisfied with third place,” he added. “It’s entirely my fault that the team was left empty-handed.”

With most of the top Belgians saving their legs for the big targets of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix in April, time will only tell if missing out in the ‘Openingsweekend’ really matters.


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