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HET NIEUWSBLAD & KUURNE: The PEZ Breakdown

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Race Breakdown: Spencer Martin has been glued to the TV to make his PEZ Monday race breakdown on the first Classics weekend of 2021. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne were both edge-of-the-seat viewing – Spencer looks at the action.

– This article is an excerpt from the Beyond the Peloton newsletter. Sign up here for full access. –

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Those cobbles!

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
The first cobbled Classic of the year has come and gone and Davide Ballerini has put us all on notice that he is more than a sprinter and an emerging legitimate threat in the Northern Classics. The Italian on Deceuninck – Quick-Step won out of an extremely rare bunch sprint finish with the young British rider on Groupama-FDJ, Jake Stewart, coming in second and the veteran Belgian Sep Vanmarcke on Israel Start-Up rounding out the podium in third.

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Big win for Ballerini

While a large group rolled into the finish together, the race did break up, with Matteo Trentin ripping an elite group off the front of the peloton with 43-kilometers to go. Julian Alaphilippe would decamp from this group with a solo move, but was brought to heel before the Muur van Geraardsbergen with 18-kilometers to go. After being reeled in, the Frenchman slotted right in at the front to assist his teammate Ballerini to stay upfront and in a position to win the sprint. The Belgian squad once again proved why they are the team to beat anytime the peloton hits the cobbles.

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Alaphilippe – Stunning

Takeaways:
The Good

● Ballerini gets the biggest win of his career with a hugely impressive ride. He wasn’t on my riders to watch list, but he should have been after he showed at Tour de La Provence that he was in great shape, can handle difficult courses, and has a blazing-fast sprint.

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Declerq was a Deceuninck power house

● Deceuninck – Quick-Step put on a one-day clinic once again and proved once again that team strength and coordination wins these races.

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Tom Pidcock – Mixing it with the big guys

● The young Briton Tom Pidcock showed great potential by bridging up to the ultimately doomed break, but Jake Stewart should be the British revelation of the day. Stewart was essentially unknown before Saturday despite being the same age as Pidcock (21-years-old) and showing natural skills for one-day Classics.

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Jake Stewart – The British revelation on the podium

● The old guys, Haussler in 4th and Vanmarcke in 3rd, had fantastic races and got results in a sprint finish that didn’t really suit them. Keep an eye on them in the longer Classics later in the spring that will reward their diesel engines.

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Alaphilippe – Impressive

● Alaphilippe put on one of the most impressive non-winning performances I’ve ever seen. He was either on or off the front of the race from 54km until a few kilometers to go. This shows he is really rounding into form and needs to be considered a favorite for Strade-Bianche, Milano-Sanremo and despite his slight build, the Tour of Flanders.

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5th for Gilbert

● With a fifth place in a sprint that didn’t suit him, Gilbert shows he is incredibly fit and ready to attempt the Monument Sweep at Milano-Sanremo.

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Too many crashes

The Bad
● Despite this massive front group, the Trek-Segafredo team failed to get a single rider in it. Their best-placed rider was Alex Kirsch in 63rd place. A horrible result for a team that won the race last year.

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Trek-Segafredo missed the boat

● The majority of the peloton seemed to struggle with corners. There were an unusual amount of crashes going into and coming out of corners. Perhaps this is a symptom of the lack of racing most riders have under their belts at this time of the year relative to past years.

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Corners – Too tricky

The Facts
The sprint finish was incredibly unusual. The last time the race was won out of a 15+ rider peloton was Thor Hushovd in 2008 and the 45-rider front group that crossed the finish line on the same time was the biggest front group I could find in the race’s history, with only the 1992 edition, when Johan Capiot winning out of a 43-rider peloton, coming close.

This race should be a great example of why the Monuments’ length makes them truly blue-ribbon racers. The 50-kilometer delta from Omloop to Flanders might seem meaningless at first glance, but a group this large would never come to the finish line at Flanders and the pool of potential winners is significantly smaller.

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Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne
Recovering from their dismal performance the day prior, Trek-Segafredo rallied and delivered Mads Pedersen to a picture-perfect sprint win, with Anthony Turgis and Tom Pidcock rounding out the podium.

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While the race ended up in a sprint finish, the action was non-stop from the 83-kilometer mark when Mathieu van der Poel launched a completely unexpected, and slightly ill-advised attack, bridged up to the early breakaway, and was only brought back inside the final 2-kilometers after a thrilling chase in the final kilometers. He may not have won, but Van der Poel put everyone on notice that he has to be considered the most dominant cobbled Classics rider in the modern peloton.

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Mathieu van der Poel – The hero of the day

Takeaways:
The Good

● This was a great ride by Mads Pedersen. At only 25-years-old, he is improving every year and is emerging as a real Classics star. He is a rider to watch out for later this Spring when the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix rolls around.

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Pedersen rode a clever race

● Pedersen’s Trek team redeemed itself after a dismal performance on Saturday at Omloop. They were one of the only teams with two options in the finale with Pedersen and Stuyven present in the lead group.

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Euro U23 champion Iversby Hvideberg and Erik Nordsaeter Resell rode well for the Uno-X team

● The small Norweigan Uno-X team was super impressive and ended up getting three riders inside the top-20. Iversby Hvideberg was in the break all day and was working quite a bit to drive the move, jumps into the peloton to help his two teammates present at the front after being reeled in with 1.5km-to-go.

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Narvaez and Pidcock showed a different INEOS team

● Ineos, a team that normally struggles in the cobbled Classics, had a great day. Pidcock’s third-place bodes well for his future in these one-day races and Jhonatan Narvaez, the 23-years-old Ecuadorian who won Stage 12 of the 2020 Giro, threw down an incredibly impressive ride. He was the only rider who had the legs/brains/guts to go with Van der Poel and looked very comfortable on the cobbles for a rider who has only been racing in Europe for four years. But it is worth noting his first year in Europe, 2018, was with the cobbled-specialists Deceuninck – Quick-Step squad. Ineos should pat itself on the back today after apparently pulling a Classics ace out of thin air.

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Classics flash in the pan for Trek?

The Bad
● While Pedersen looked great with his win today, one thing that slightly concerns me is that he has never finished inside the top-30 in either opening weekend race and I hope this win isn’t at the expense of results later in the Classics. The last rider to win Kuurne and Flanders in the same season was Andrei Tchmil in 2000.

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Andrei Tchmil in Flanders

● If Deceuninck – Quick-Step put on a clinic on Saturday, they skipped class on Sunday. They only had a single rider in the lead group at the finish, with Bert Van Lerberghe coming in 9th place and while Asgreen put in a strong move with 4km remaining, the same wasn’t able to put him in a position to truly challenge for the win.

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Asgreen was strong in the Kuurne finalé

● One of their leaders, Zdeněk Štybar was nowhere to be seen today after a mechanical took him out of contention at Omloop. He needs to be better in the coming weeks if the team is going to challenge at Flanders and Roubaix.

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Maybe not surprising that Zdeněk Štybar wasn’t too sharp after driving from Calpe in Spain to the Czech Republic due to his grandfather passing away and then to Belgium

● Greg van Avermaet and Oliver Naesen from AG2R were both incredibly active at both Omloop and Kuurne, but came away with only a single top-ten on the weekend (Van Avermaet’s 8th at Kuurne). The lack of result doesn’t merit hitting the panic button, but Van Avermaet seemed to fall back into his worst habit of expending a huge amount of energy attacking, missing the move, and working to weld the race back together to the benefit of his rivals. This type of riding has cost him numerous results over the years and could continue to haunt him at the bigger races in the coming weeks.

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Van Avermaet coming into form?

The Sublime
● I’m not sure there is anything left to say about Mathieu van der Poel. He is truly an absurdly talented rider and has the highly unique ability to make any race he enters must-watch TV. I said yesterday that Alaphilippe might have had the most impressive non-winning ride I’ve ever seen at Omloop, but Van der Poel might have topped him today. He bridged over a three-minute gap in 20-kilometers and proceeded to be essentially the sole driver of a breakaway that held off the peloton until 1.5km-to-go.

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Mathieu van der Poel – most impressive non-winning ride

● In just the last week, he won the opening stage of the UAE Tour, was kicked out of the race due to a COVID case on his team, flew back to Europe, entered a race he never intended to start at the last minute, and then decide that even though he probably could have won the race in the sprint, to attempt a breakaway from 83km out that had little to no chance of success and came close to making it work. He entered the race with the express goal of “helping his teammates,” but let’s be honest, no other rider on his Alpecin-Fenix team had a shot to win the race, so Van der Poel was always their best option for success.

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Van der Poel – Just training?

● His tactics today made little sense, but that isn’t unique for Van der Poel. And it is possible there is a method to his madness today. He likely cares little about actually winning a race like Kuurne, and his hard effort gave him a chance to build long-distance fitness before the more important (and more difficult) classics later in the spring. It feels strange to bring up any negatives about his absurdly impressive ride today, but his sublime form is perhaps a signal that he is coming into this road season riding high on his Cyclocross form that will fall away in a few weeks. But, of course, if anyone can prove the theory that nobody can stay in peak form forever, it is Van der Poel.

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A hell of a weekend!

With the youngest spring Classic, Strade Bianche, running next weekend, I will be watching closely to see if these trends solidify or fall away and prove to be aberrations.

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Strade Bianche up next


# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

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