Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
Naming Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish as two riders who could be in contention for wins this weekend, the Etixx-QuickStep team has made clear that it has the highest of ambitions for the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
The events mark the start of the push towards the top Classics, and are two highly-prestigious events in themselves.
Saturday’s 70th edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is 200.2 kilometres in length and features 11 steep climbs, or hellingen. These include many of the climbs currently or formerly featured in Ronde van Vlaanderen, and include the Muur, Kruisberg, Taaienberg, Mollenberg, and Leberg ascents as well as ten cobbled sections.
The team’s selection for that event are the Belgians Boonen, Iljo Keisse, Nikolas Maes, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Stijn Vandenbergh, the Czech rider Zdenek Stybar, Italy’s Matteo Trentin and Niki Terpstra (Netherlands).
Directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters said the parcours hasn’t changed much from previous editions and the finale remains the same.
“For all the riders it’s the first test to see where they are on this kind of parcours before the big Classics. The masks will fall off,” he predicted.
“We are at the start with a strong team, with riders in good condition that can be a part of the actions and play a part in the final. So we are pretty confident in our abilities to be a protagonist.
“The last time we won this race was ten years ago with Nick Nuyens, but the finish was still in Lokeren. Tom Boonen was second that day. Now we hope after ten years that we can do a good race and try to get a win.”
Boonen, Stybar, Maes, Trentin and Van Keirsbulck double up for Sunday’s 1.1-ranked Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne, with Britain’s Mark Cavendish, Belgium’s Yves Lampaert and the Pole Lukasz Wisniowski filling the remaining slots.
While there are nine hellingen in total, including the Kruisberg, Nokereberg, and Oude Kwaremont, the final climb is 53 kilometres from the finish and so it is considered more possible for the race to end in a big sprint.
If that happens, Peeters considers that Cavendish could be in the running.
“[It’s] a race where we have a tradition of success, including a victory last year with Tom,” he said.
“He’s won this race three times. As usual Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne will be an open race, with a lot of attacks. We have riders for any solution, whether out of a breakaway or a group arrival.
“If there is a bunch sprint, Mark Cavendish will be there. He raced in 2012 for the first time and he won, so his success rate is high. We will try to do our best for a good result on Sunday as well.”
Cavendish has had a superb start to the season, clocking up five wins thus far.