And so it begins. Classics season is underway, and we jump start the season with a few predictions, a little insight and a video of this weekend’s two big races, Omloop and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Thanks to Shimano, fans can see the reconning mission of pro racers just before the race. For one team, this is huge opportunity to make a name for their new outfit. It may have taken the signing of German phenom John Degenkolb to get them some well deserved attention, but new team 1t4i is bound to play a factor in a number of races this year. In Degenkolb, they have a sprinter for the future with enough talent now to be a real danger, even in the Classics. The team will also send the likes of Dominic Klemme and Tom Stamsnijder, two strong riders that will serve as other options late in the race.
With Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Saturday and Kurne-Brussels-Kurne Sunday, 1t4i spent some time on the road looking over sections of both courses. Like all the other teams, 1t4i spent a lot of time surveying tactical parts of the course to determine where they need to be near the front and where they need to be wary of attacks from the bigger teams and riders. Popular wisdom for cobbles says that riders with a chance need to be near the front when the race hits the cobbles to avoid being gapped or trapped behind crashes. The trouble is, everybody knows it, and there isn’t much room to move up or stay near the front when the racing suface is as about as wide a golf cart path. The sections of pavement heading onto the pave become min-sprints themselves, and suits racers that can hit the limit and stay in the red over the cobbles for long periods of time.
It’s Friday, so that means week-end predictions. These are not easy races to pick because of the strong fields and the unpredictable conditions. You can only go by recent form, and nobody in this race is as strong as Tom Boonen. He won the Tour of Qatar, and this race suits him more than those flat, smooth pure sprints. I’ll take Juan Antonio Flecha and Phillipe Gilbert to round out the podium. For KBK, I’ll take former Belgian national champion Stijn Devolder on a hunch that, with some of the BMC favorites skipping KBK, focus will be on the sprinters like Mark Cavendish and John Degenkolb. Look for Devolder to sneak away in a small group and stay off the front for the win. With a less selective finale, however, the sprinters may end up with a shot. Chris Sutton, pictured above, won last year out of a large group. If Cavendish is there, he may be very tough to beat.