The rattle of bikes over the cobbles, whirring of helicopter blades, rapturous applause from the excited legions of Belgian and foreign fans – just a few of the sounds and sounds that are synonymous with the classics and Opening Weekend – the weekend that many cycling enthusiasts count as the “proper” start of the season. But just how did these races come to be, and become so prominent on the European cycling calendar?
A race built out of rivalry and politics
Like a lot of historic races, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad came to be after a newspaper wanted to go toe-to-toe, or in this case cleat-to-cleat with a rival. The race now known as Omloop Het Nieuwsblad was originally, and for the majority of its 77 year history, called Omloop Het Volk. We think you can see where this is going…
Bingo, you’re correct! The Belgian newspapers Het Volk and Het Nieuwsblad were the rivals.
At the time in 1945, Het Volk wanted to start a race to rival Het Nieuwsblad’s Ronde van Vlaanderen, after they were disgruntled with their rivals’ political stance. They decided to name initially name their race Omloop van Vlaanderen, but after protestation from Het Nieuwsblad, the race ultimately took on the Omloop Het Volk title.
After many years of rivalry the newspapers merged and in 2009 the race was renamed to its now famous name of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. You can often tell when someone started watching the sport by what they call the race, with many fans still calling it Omloop Het Volk.
Not just a Sunday stroll
Opening Weekend is comprised of two races and alongside Omloop het Nieuwsblad we also have Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, which debuted in 1946. Traditionally, the race on Saturday takes on a parcours that leaves the eventually quite open, with Sunday’s “Kuurne” often lending itself to the sprinters. However, like a lot of races in the region and given the time of the year, it’s still winter after all, the race can split in the tough conditions and give the attackers an opportunity to take the spoils. In fact, the race has had to be cancelled on three occasions because of the bad weather, while it was also famously run in horrid conditions in 2010 when cyclone Xynthia battered the north of continental Europe; with strong winds and rain seeing only 20 riders finish the race. We’re sure plenty of coffee, tea and hot chocolate was needed for that one – for both the riders as well as the diehard fans out watching – that’s why we love this sport and everyone that follows it!
Opening Weekend, same but different
With the ever increasing prominence and growth of women’s racing, something we applaud, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad started a women’s event in 2006, while Omloop van het Hageland took the Sunday spot on the Women’s Opening Weekend calendar in 2007. Much like many of the men’s races, the women’s Nieuwsblad provides fantastic races and traditionally favours the attackers, seeing those who can handle the cobbled punchy climbs to the fore, while Hageland is often decided in a reduced bunch sprint to the line. But, as we’ve hammered home enough here, you never know with Belgian races at this time of year so with each edition, you sure can expect excitement and attacking racing.
Team DSM roll of honour
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Men: Søren Kragh Andersen – 3rd (2020)
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Women: Amy Pieters – 1st (2014), Lucinda Brand – 1st (2017), Floortje Mackaij – 3rd (2020), Lorena Wiebes – 3rd (2022)
Omloop van het Hageland: Sara Mustonen – 3rd (2015), Leah Kirchmann – 2nd (2016), Ellen van Dijk – 1st (2018), Leah Kirchmann – 3rd (2019), Floortje Mackaij – 3rd (2022)
With this year’s races now behind us, it marks the start of the classics calendar, something that we’re sure all of you reading this are incredibly excited for – so we’ll try and put on a show!