There was heated debate over the use of sidewalks and bike paths on the cobbled sections of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, something that has been done in the past but that race organisers and the UCI specifically targeted to eliminate this year.
Riders were threatened with disqualification if caught, even following the race with the use of TV. However, a number of riders in the front groups including race winner Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) and Sep Vanmarcke (Cannondale-Drapac) could be seen riding on the footpath alongside the cobbled section at Karel Martelstraat with 49 kilometres left to race. This was despite riders being told before the race that it was forbidden to ride on the paths.
“For two kilometres they rode on the sidewalk,” Trek-Segafredo DS Dirk Demol told Cyclingnews. “Two days ago, there was a meeting with the UCI and they explicitly said that from now on they would enforce the rule. Yesterday they repeated their message again, adding that they would act when checking the TV images after the race. During the race today Philippe Mariën said explicitly that at kilometre 148 it was forbidden to use the sidewalk, that it was obliged to ride on the cobbles. The first riders rode on the sidewalk and our riders rode on the cobbles.”
“Something was said about it,” race winner Greg Van Avermaet said at the post-race press conference. “They tried the same thing four, five years ago in Kuurne at the Varentstraat. The lead group rode on the path and the peloton rode on the cobbles. In Flanders it’s just impossible to apply the rules. They have to do it like in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, then nobody is able to ride on it. This way … Everybody is on their limit. Nobody would reach the finish in Ghent. You would have to take out everybody from the race.”
— Edward Theuns (@EdwardTheuns) 25 februarie 2017