CYCLING Preview: European season starts with Omloop Het Niewsblad Elite in Belgium

Olympic road race champion Greg van Avermaet (BEL)

The UCI World Tour has been contested in Australia and the UAE Tour is still going on, but the real cycling season is about to start in the Belgian town of Ghent for the 74th edition of the Omloop Het Niewsblad Elite race.

Started back in 1945, it was originally known as the Omloop van Flanderen or “Circuit of Flanders.” This will be the third year that the race will be part of the UCI World Tour.

As the first of the “Cobbled Classics,” it has drawn a strong field, including six former champions and six more former medalists:

● Greg van Avermaet (BEL) ~ Winner in 2016 and 2017
● Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) ~ Winner in 2012; third in 2017 and 2018
● Philippe Gilbert (BEL) ~ Winner in 2006 and 2008
● Ian Stannard (GBR) ~ Winner in 2014 and 2015
● Michael Valgren (DEN) ~ Defending Champion
● Sebastien Langeveld (NED) ~ Winner in 2011

● Niki Terpstra (NED) ~ Second in 2015
● Stijn Vandenbergh (BEL) ~ Second in 2013
● Lukasz Wisniowski (POL) ~ Second in 2018
● Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) ~ Third in 2014
● Kevyn Ista (BEL) ~ Second in 2009

The record for individual wins in this race is three, with van Avermaet, Vanmarcke, Gilbert and Stannard all trying to reach that level. It’s been done three times, by Ernest Sterckx (BEL: 1952-53-56), Joseph Bruyere (BEL: 1974-75-80) and Peter van Petegem (BEL: 1997-98-2002).

The race is 200 km, with multiple hills, but with climbs of not more than 100 m, and finishes in Ninove. Look for results here.