The chances of open, attacking racing at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2023 could be dented somewhat by the headwind predicted in the races’ finales.
Since 2018, the routes for the men’s and women’s edition of the Classics opener have used the Muur van Geraardsbergen and Bosberg as the final climbs before a 13km run-in to Ninove.
Tracking north west, this run-in looks set to be subject to a headwind, as it was in 2021, with winds of around 20kp/h set to blow from the north and north-north-east.
The direction of the wind can have a significant impact on the Omloop het Nieuwsblad, where the ‘new’ course is perhaps less demanding than before and places a great emphasis on the Muur and Bosberg.
A headwind usually stifles attacking intent and makes it more likely the race stays more bunched up, with Davide Ballerini winning from a peloton of 50 two years ago. By contrast, any gaps opened by attacks are harder to close down in a tailwind, tending towards a more open race.
Last year’s Omloop het Nieuwsblad saw a tailwind finale, with Wout Van Aert pressing home his advantage from the Bosberg in the men’s race, before Annemiek van Vleuten beat Demi Vollering in a two-up sprint in the women’s.
If it does come down to some sort of sprint, it’s worth noting that the new final stretch on Ninove’s wide Elisabethlaan is slightly uphill and should be into a near-direct headwind, meaning patience will be key in the final dash.
Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny) has been touted as the big favourite in the men’s race, as a rider who packs a punch but is more of a sprinter at this stage of his career.
The decisive factor, however, will always be how the race is actually raced. Just after Ballerini won the men’s race in 2021, Anna van der Breggen soloed home in the women’s race in the same headwind.
The outlook for the day as a whole is mild and calm for a race that has been struck by storms and snow in the not-too-distant past. Temperatures will hover around the 7 degrees Celsius mark, meaning arm and leg warmers for the start but some bare limbs when the racing heats up in the afternoon.
On Sunday, it’s more of the same for Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, with similar wind and slightly cooler temperatures. That race is always more likely to result in a bunch sprint after the loop around Kuurne, but it’s still worth pointing out that it would be a tailwind sprint.
In those situations, riders can afford to hit out from slightly further out.