The One-Day Classics season has officially started in the world of professional cycling with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium. This single-day race of 200 kilometers highlights the characteristics of the Classics with short, steep hills; many sections of flats; and brutal cobblestones, which are roads made with raised stone layers and are extremely bumpy.
To excel in a race like this takes riding characteristics very different from those of a stage-race rider.
At only 135 pounds, last week's Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer has the small, compact build of a stage-race rider, whose light weight allows him to climb up long, steep mountains with aplomb. The fact that he is an excellent time-triallist helps significantly in his quest for victory after a week-long race.
Today's Omloop winner, Thor Hushovd, is quite different: At 185 pounds, he's more suited to the nature of the cobbled Classics, which include short but very steep climbs that require massive amounts of muscle and power. One-day racers need the ability to power over rough, cobbled roads and the innate talent to produce over 1,500 watts of power in a sprint for the line.
The day was very hectic, with many breakaways trying to succeed but eventually losing their momentum on the climbs.
Finally, with 35 kilometers to go, a breakaway containing Cervelo's Heinrich Haussler and Rabobank's Sebastian Langeveld formed with the real chance of succeeding.
The duo outpaced the peloton, but in a hectic finale, they were caught just hundreds of meters from the line. This allowed Haussler's teammate, Thor Hushovd, to outsprint second-place Kevyn Ista (Agritrubel) and third-place Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) with ease.
A crash less than fifty meters from the line hurt the chances of Classics favourites Tom Boonen (QuickStep), who luckily came away uninjured; and Filippo Pozzato (Katusha), who was not so lucky and injured his left elbow.
Tomorrow's race of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, also in Belgium, is the second race in the two-race Classics opener of the 2009 season.