The opening weekend of the classics campaign is one of my favourite times of year. The Inner Ring hit the nail on the head when describing the classics as like a fourth grand tour. For me the racing from now to end of April surpasses the majority of what we see the rest of the season. The unpredictable nature of the races makes them more exciting. At the start line of each race there are a multitude of riders capable of getting the win but ahead of them lie many variables. The cobbles, the punchy berg climbs, punctures, crashes, fans and much more can all play a massive role in the race.
For the punter these races often prove fruitful. Unlike a sprint stage or a grand tour there is rarely a very short priced favourite. Once you narrow down the start list to the potential winners you can then trail through the bookies odds on Oddschecker and often find a rider very overpriced. My favourite punt of recent years is Nick Nuyens at 50/1 for the 2011 Tour of Flanders. Those odds were far too large considering his form which saw him win Dwars Door Vlaanderen in the build-up to the race.
Fruitful odds for these races are a common occurrence as bookies knowledge of riders is often behind the punter at this stage in the classic season. The only qualifier I would add to that is rider form is still hard to judge. For some riders they have hardly ridden or tested themselves fully in a race. Sep Vanmarcke won Het Nieuwsblad last year after just five race days beforehand in which his highest finish was 19th place.
Omloop Het Nieuwsbald
A mini Tour of Flanders – this race has been won by many big classic stars. The forecast is set for a cold and windy race which should see the race pan out in the usual formula of riders being whittled down until a small group breaks away to contest the victory.
Riders such as Lars Boom, Roelandts and Pozzato lead the betting market due their recent good form. However if you look at the history of the race the winner does not necessarily have recent race wins going into the race. Instead it seems to be won by pedigree classic riders and in the last two years up and coming talented riders have prevailed. I have a shortlist of 25 riders who could win this race but with the odds the way they are three clearly stand out as great each way bets:
Bernie Eisel – 66/1 (Bet365 and SkyBet) Eisel has won a big classic before (Gent-Wevelgem in 2010). Back then in HTC colours he was given a free role to ride for himself in the classics and Sky are now going to support him in his attempt to win a big classic. Eisel will want to show that not going to Omega Pharma – QuickStep with Cavendish was not a mistake and winning races will do just that. He showed well in Qatar and is a very generous price at 66/1 especially with a strong Sky team to support him.
Luca Paolini – 50/1 (Ladbrokes) He has pedigree in the classics as his two second place finishes in Milan-San Remo (2003, 2006) and third in Flanders (2007) show. Back to back top five finishes in 2010 and 2011 here show he likes the race. With the Tour Down Under and Ruta del Sol in his legs he should be going well.
Daniel Oss – 80/1 (Ladbrokes) The BMC team is amazingly strong. As well as Oss they have Quinziato, Van Avermaet, Blythe, Phinney and Hushovd who all could get a result here. For me Oss stands out as a real dark horse. He has the make-up of a great classics rider but never focused on them during his time at Liquigas. Despite that his results improved each year. His 14 race days already this year will stand him in good stead and his third place on stage two of Tour du Haut Var to Lars Boom shows the potential is there.
A flatter course than Het Nieuwsblad this race has ended in a big bunch sprint in the last couple of years. If it rains it can become an epic battle as in 2010 when just 26 riders finished in freezing temperatures.
The recent reports that the climbs could be taken out due snow has put a spanner in the works. Only Bet365 have a market up at the moment and like many they see it as a sprint off between Greipel and Cavendish. I am going to hold off on any bets till after Saturday’s race. Look out for my tips on twitter. It is worth nothing that riders like Cavendish, Greipel, Henderson, Farrar, Howard, Demare and Veelers are only racing on Sunday so look out for them if it does come down to a sprint.
For the people not betting on these two races and saving their pennies for the major classics these races are still important. Try and watch them to spot riders in good form and putting in the attacks and testing their legs ahead of the big ones.