Belgian One Day Classics: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne

Flandrian cobbles
Flandrian cobbles

By “The Russian” Nikolai Razouvaev

With less than a month before the Belgian spring classics kick off the 2014 European professional road cycling season, our bike blog brings you an overview of all one day Belgian classic races. Today, we start with the double shot of Flandrian brew: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Race day 1 March 2014

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad used to be known as Omloop Het Volk or simply Het Volk until 2008. It was organised by the Het Volk newspaper. In 2009, after Het Nieuwsblad took over Het Volk, the name was changed to Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to reflect the new owner.

The race is held in Oost-Vlaanderen (East Flanders) on either the last Saturday of February or the first Saturday of March. The first edition was raced in 1945. If you know European history, the date should stand out for you -- the Second World War ended in May 1945 but the Flandrians couldn't wait for normal life to resume. Organising a new bike race was on a high priority list and the Omloop Het Volk was born (As a side note, it's worth mentioning that during the occupation, the Nazis allowed bike racing to continue in Flanders (but not in French speaking Wallonie). For example, Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) was run uninterrupted during the war. Apparently, the Germans thought that letting road racing to go on will help cultivate sympathy toward them among cycling crazy Flandrians.)

The Het Volk newspaper launched the race as a rival to Het Nieuwsblad’s Ronde van Vlaanderen. It starts and finishes in Gent. Between 1996 and 2007 the Omloop finished in Lokeren.

Because geographical locations of the Omloop and the Ronde are small and the courses interlace, both races share several climbs. Although Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is a full fledged Classic, it's not a Monument like Ronde van Vlaanderen. Because of its lower status, the Omloop is used by northern classics' specialists as a test race for the Ronde. For example, in 2013 Jürgen Roelandts finished 8th in the Omloop and 3rd in the Ronde.

Omloop, the first race of the Belgian road cycling calendar, is associated with foul weather. Often raced in cold rain or snow (or both), the short, steep cobbled climbs make Omloop Het Nieuwsblad one of the toughest races in professional cycling.

Facts of Interest

  • Belgians own the Omloop with 54 wins out of 65 editions;
  • Italians Franco Ballerini, Michele Bartoli, Filippo Pozzato, Luca Paolini, and Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha are the only non-northern Europeans who won this tough Flandrian classic;
  • The great Fausto Coppi won in 1948 but was disqualified for illegal wheel change;
  • No one won this race more than 3 times. The record holders are Ernest Sterckx (1952, 1953 and 1956), Joseph Bruyere (1974, 1975 and 1980), and Peter van Petegem (1997, 1998 and 2002). All Flandrians of course. Note too each of these winners had a back to back double before winning the Omloop for the 3rd and final time;
  • Joseph Bruyere (born in Maastricht in The Netherlands), the winner in 1974, 1975 and 1980 also won Liège - Bastogne - Liège in 1976 and 1978;
  • Peter Van Petegem (born in Brakel, Flanders), the winner in 1997, 1998 and 2002 also won Ronde van Vlaanderen in 1999 and 2003, and Paris - Roubaix in 2003;
  • The fastest Omloop was in 1975 at the speed of 43.35 km/h won by Joseph Bruyere;
  • Other notable winners of the Omloop:
    • Eddy Merckx (1971 and 1973)
    • Roger De Vlaeminck (1969 and 1979)
    • Freddy Maertens (1977 and 1978)
    • Eddy Planckaert (1984 and 1985)
    • Johan Museeuw (2000 and 2003);
    • The race was canceled in 1986 and 2004 because of heavy snow storms.

Climbs featured in 2014 edition

  • Leberg at 63 km (0.7 km, 5.6% average, 13% maximum);
  • Kasteeldreef at 68 km (0.52 km, 6.3% average, 6.3% maximum);
  • Muur at 84 km (1 km, 6.8% average, 20% maximum);
  • Valkenberg at 102 km (0.88 km, 6% average, 15% maximum);
  • Kruisberg at 132 km (1.8 km, 4.8% average, 9% maximum);
  • Taaienberg at 142 km (0.7 km, 5.6% average, 18% maximum);
  • Eikenberg at 147 km (1.17km, 5.6% average, 11% maximum)
  • Wolvenberg at 150 km (0.8 km, 6.3% average, 17% maximum);
  • Leberg at 160 km (0.7 km, 5.6% average, 13% maximum);
  • Molenberg at 166 km (0.6 km, 5.5% average, 11% maximum).

Last 5 winners of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

  • 2013 Luca Paolini (ITA);
  • 2012 Sep Vanmarcke (BEL);
  • 2011 Sebastian Langeveld (NED)
  • 2010 Juan Antonio Flecha (ESP)
  • 2009 Thor Hushovd (NOR)

Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne

Race day 2 March 2014

Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne always follows Omloop Het Nieuwsblad next day on Sunday. It too started in 1945. The race is not as brutal as the Omloop and therefore sprinters have a chance here from time to time. For example, Mark Cavendish won in 2012 and Jaan Kirsipuu in 2002.

To this day, no rider won both the Omloop and the KBK in the same year which shows how difficult it is to be on the roll two days on the row in Flandrian spring classics.

12 riders won Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne twice. Tom Boonen is the only rider still racing who can win it for the third time. His previous wins came in 2007 and 2009.

Belgians won this race 50 times out of 65 editions. Unlike Omloop, there is a variety of winners in KBK from different countries. Among atypical winners are Mark Cavendish from Great Britain in 2012, Australian Chris Sutton in 2011, American George Hincapie in 2005, Estonian Jaan Kirsipuu in 2002, Russian Andrei Tchmil in 1998 and 2000 (Tchmil took Belgian citizenship in 1998), Rolf Sørensen from Denmark in 1996, and Frédéric Moncassin from France in 1995. The Dutch had a good run too -- 8 wins in 68 years with Steven de Jongh the most successful among them with 2 wins in 2004 and 2008.

Facts of Interest

  • Despite its name, Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne does not reach Brussels. The race turns around near Galmaarden, about 25 km west of Brussels. Nothing unusual here -- Paris - Roubaix doesn't start in Paris either;
  • Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne was cancelled 3 times in its history because of cold and snow. Most recently the race was cancelled in 2013. In 2010, the weather was so awful the race was shortened by 20 km and only 26 riders out of 195 finished it. Dutch rider Bobbie Traksel, racing for Vacansoleil team, won that year;
  • Notable winners include:
    • Roger De Vlaeminck in 1970 and 1971
    • Edwig Van Hooydonck in 1989
    • Johan Museeuw in 1994 and 1997
    • Andrei Tchmil in 1998 and 2000
    • Peter Van Petegem in 2001
    • Tom Boonen in 2007 and 2009;
    • Last Belgian to win Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne was Tom Boonen in 2009;
    • 4 out of last 5 winners of Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne were non-Belgians.

Climbs featured in 2014 edition

  • Edelareberg (1.52 km, 4% average, 7% maximum);
  • La Houppe (2.77 km, 3.3% average, 8.5% maximum);
  • Kanarieberg (1.09 km, 9% average, 17% maximum);
  • Kruisberg (1.8 km, 4.8% average, 9% maximum);
  • Oude Kwaremont (2.21 km, 4.1% average, 11% maximum);
  • Knokteberg (1.1 km, 8% average, 13% maximum);
  • Tiegemberg (0.75 km, 5.6% average, 9% maximum);
  • Nokereberg (0.35 km, 5.7% average, 7% maximum).

Last 5 winners of Kuurne - Brussels - Kuurne

  • 2012 Mark Cavendish (GBR);
  • 2011 Chris Sutton (AUS);
  • 2010 Bobbie Traksel (NED);
  • 2009 Tom Boonen (BEL);
  • 2008 Steven de Jongh (NED).