- Article published:
- February 22, 2013, 18:55
- Laura Weislo
Tucson driver being sought by police
It is a nightmare scenario, one which too many cyclists in the United States face: you’re pedaling along, minding your own business when an angry driver pulls alongside and starts screaming obscenities. It usually ends with the driver speeding away, but for the Jamis-Hagnes Berman team today’s incident ended up with riders on the ground and police being called in to find the hit-and-run driver.
Speaking to Cyclingnews, Ben Jacques-Maynes described the incident, which happened on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona, where the team is holding its training camp.
“We had just made it out of town onto some quieter roads and were getting ready to start our workout,” Jacques-Maynes said. “We were riding two by two, which is legal in Arizona, and were actually all on the right side of the white line, on the shoulder of the road, when a car drove up beside us and the driver started screaming obscenities at us.”
According to Jacques-Maynes, the driver swerved into the two riders who were on the front of the 15-man paceline, causing a crash. Tyler Wren was the rider most injured but appeared to escape without any broken bones.
It was a frightening incident for Jacques-Maynes, whose twin brother Andy was the victim of a hit-and-run in California earlier this year, resulting in a broken collarbone which, combined with his lack of a pro contract for 2013, ended his cycling career.
The Jamis-Hagens Berman team was fortunate to have its follow car behind it, with directeur Sebastian Alexandre at the wheel. He was able to chase after the angry driver, allowing the team’s photographer John Segesta to employ his zoom lens to get pictures of the license plate. Police are currently looking for the driver.
It is a rare incident for a city which is known as one of the most bike-friendly communities in the country, but one not uncommon in the United States, where drivers do not understand that cyclists have the right to occupy the lane of traffic.
- Article published:
- February 22, 2013, 19:30
- Cycling News
Denied having Fuentes as a doctor on ONCE, Liberty Seguros
If by this stage in the Operacion Puerto trial few people could doubt Eufemiano Fuentes ability as a doctor and administrator of all kinds of medicines, Friday's segment of the trial shed light on a previously hidden talent of the Canary Islands gynecologist: translating.
According to Liberty Seguros pro Marcos Serrano, who took to the witness stand on Friday, Fuentes was the doctor he chose to get his wife to call when he fell ill from what he claimed was a viral infection during the 2006 Giro. As the race moved on, Serrano was left convalescing in an Italian hospital in Tortona, and he told the court he asked his wife, in Spain, to text Fuentes, who he knew spoke Italian, to ask him to translate what the doctors were telling him - which Serrano, who did not speak the language, could not understand.
The message, on May 23, asking Fuentes "to comment something to do with Marcos" went to voice mail - where it was promptly picked up by the Civil Guard police force, who had just arrested the doctor as part of the Puerto anti-doping probe. Serrano finally checked himself out of the Italian hospital before spending a longer period in hospital in Vigo, Spain for further treatment.
Serrano told the court that he knew Fuentes from his period as a rider in Kelme, from 1994-1998, when Fuentes had extracted his blood, but only small amounts and for analytical purposes. He denied ever having had Fuentes as a doctor during his time with ONCE and Liberty, contradicting Manolo Saiz, his former director who is on trial alongside Fuentes, who claimed Serrano had been treated by Fuentes during that period.
Asked to identify his initials on a training plan and race plan allegedly drawn up by Saiz, Serrano said that after identifying RH as Roberto Heras, IG as Igor Gonzalez [de Galdeano] and AV as Angel Vicioso, ‘MS' was not him, but another former Liberty rider, Michele Scarponi. He also said that he would be willing ‘in principle' to hand over a sample of his DNA - which could then, should the judge finally permit it, be tested against the blood bags held in Barcelona - "but depending to whom and for what purpose."
Angel Vicioso, now racing with Katusha, was the other rider who declared on Friday - and said without any reservations that he would be willing to hand over his DNA if need be.
Vicioso, the only rider called to declare in Puerto who is still racing, said that he had had Fuentes as his team doctor at Kelme from 1999-2002 and then he occasionally consulted him about a knee injury after that period. Asked by the UCI's lawyer if Fuentes was a traumatologist, Vicioso said "he was a good doctor" and he thought he would get "a solution."
Vicioso denied that Fuentes had never extracted his blood or that he paid him any money during the 2004-2005 seasons, that he "did it [gave consultations] for free." He did admit paying former Kelme trainer Ignacio Labarta, like Vicioso from the region of Aragon, 5,000 euros a year to act as his trainer up until two years ago.
If Fuentes has been generous with riders with poorly knees, according to newspaper MARCA on Friday, it has emerged that the Canary Islands-born medic is not so forgiving about debts he considers should be paid. MARCA reported that Fuentes is owned 600,000 euros by the Comunitat Valenciana region for services rendered as medic of the Kelme-Comunitat Valenciana team.
Although the period from which the debts are actually outstanding is unclear, two court sentences have declared in Fuentes favour in 2009, but he has not yet received any money. As a result, Fuentes has successfully had embargo orders placed on Kelme's two team buses - one of which was originally bought from a scrap yard - several dozen bikes and some team tools.
- Article published:
- February 22, 2013, 22:04
- Pat Malach
Focus on NRC, major race invitations
The Jelly Belly-Kenda pro cycling team finished its two-week spring training camp in Southern California this week after a short trip to the Valley of the Sun Stage Race in Arizona, and director Danny Van Haute said he is pleased with what he saw from his 2013 roster.
“For a first race, it was just an indicator where everybody is at,” the Jelly Belly director said of the three-stage race in Phoenix. “In the time trial we put four guys in the top 12. In the road race we got second, eighth and ninth. In the crit we got second and fourth. Jamis-Hagens Berman was down there, too. [Ben] Jacques-Maynes won the overall, so it was a good battle, a really good battle, and it was an indication of where our guys are condition-wise. I'd say we're not too far off top condition.”
Van Haute's UCI Continental team is returning for its 14th season with the jellybean maker as its title sponsor – the longest-running title sponsorship among US cycling teams. The squad returns the majority of riders from last year along with some accomplished newcomers.
Back from 2013 are Alex Hagman, Nic Hamilton, Christian Kriek, Luis Lemus, Sean Mazic, Emerson Oronte, Ricardo Van Der Velde, Brad Huff and Jeremy Powers. New this season are Morgan Schmitt, who comes to the team following stints at UnitedHealthcare and most recently Team Exergy, Ian Burnett from Competitive Cyclist and promising 20-year-old neo pro Ben Wolfe from the Aetna amateur team.
Shifting focus to NRC success
A smaller National Race Calendar this year will allow Jelly Belly-Kenda to compete throughout the season-long series. The team finished 11th in the NRC rankings last year behind domestic elite amateur teams Elbowz Racing and California Giant-Specialized, but the number of events on past NRC schedules was prohibitive for smaller teams, Van Haute said, and marketing obligations for the sponsor drew Jelly Belly overseas, especially to Asia.
Although the NRC has never been a big concern for Jelly Belly, Van Haute said, in 2013 the team will cut back on the number of overseas trips it makes and try to win the six-race national series.
“We had a big meeting with the riders that were coming back for this year after our Japan Cup race in October, and we hashed things out about what the riders wanted to see and what I wanted to see,” Van Haute said. “I kind of knew that the NRC was going to be five or six races already at that point, so I talked it over with the riders and they wanted to follow [the NRC] too. I think we have a pretty solid team now that can go up against any of the US Continental teams.”
The team will race in Japan and possibly in China toward the end of the season in September and October, but it's focus until then will be on North America. Jelly Belly was invited to the first six editions of the Amgen Tour of California but missed out on the race for the first time last year. Jelly Belly also did not receive invitations to the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah or the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado. Van Haute hopes to reverse that trend this year.
“And there's another one in Alberta now, too,” he said of the new UCI race in Canada. “And with the Tour of the Gila, there are some big UCI races here in North American that I can attend and have a budget for, but you have to get the invitations. After a couple of these NRC races we'll see where we stand, and hopefully they'll recognize that and invite us again.”
Aside from the NRC success and gaining entry to the big North American UCI races, Jelly Belly will target the national criterium championships. Van Haute said the team will not focus on the National Criterium Calendar because of the number of events, but the team would hit select criteriums around the country.
“Again, I look at [the NCC schedule] and there are like 25 criteriums in there,” Van Haute said. “To win that you're going to have to do at least 15 of them, and I just don't have enough support to do all that. And the goal is not win that, the goal is to win the NRC stage race program. Of course we'll do some, but I'm not too concerned about the NCC.”
Familiar roster with key additions
A trio of seasoned riders will anchor the 2013 Jelly Belly roster. Van Haute said he'll look for leadership from Ricardo Van Der Velde, an eight-year Dutch pro who started with the Rabobank development team before signing with Garmin for two years. He joined Jelly Belly in 2012. Eight-year pro Brad Huff, a solid bunch sprinter, joined Jelly Belly in 2008 and has become a staple of the team over the past five years.
“And then there's Jeremy Powers,” Van Haute said of the nine year Jelly Belly veteran and top US cyclo-cross rider. “We'll give him a six-week rest. He was at camp for the first few days and then he had to go to Tokyo for some cyclo-cross races there. We'll give him six weeks off and his first race with us will be the Sea Otter Classic.”
Two of the trio of newcomers will add stage race firepower to the roster, while the third is a young development rider Van Haute said would be “learning the ropes.” Nineteen-year-old Ben Wolfe rode with the Aetna amateur club in 2012 and caught the eye of fellow Northeasterners Huff and Powers.
“They did some races with him and told me about him,” Van Haute said. “So we watched him all year long and we're going to give him the opportunity to do some races.”
Van Haute said he hopes the two other newcomers will boost the team's stage racing prowess. Schmitt is a seven-year pro who has raced all of over the world. Van Haute said Schmitt's ability to do well in prologues and shorter time trials, combined with his climbing skills, make him a threat in multi-day races. Burnett is a fourth-year rider who Van Haute says spent the past two seasons towing Competitive Cyclist team leader Francisco Mancebo around on his way to consecutive individual NRC crowns.
“What attracted me to him is that when he did do time trials on his own and he didn't have to work for anyone else he did pretty good,” Van Haute said of Burnett. “But if he's got to sit on the front all day long for Mancebo at the Gila and all these other races, well there's something there to be said about the guy. He has some power, so we'll give him the opportunity to win some races instead of sitting on the front.”
Van Haute is also looking for significant contributions from the rest of his returning riders, most of whom have been with the team at least two seasons. He saw encouraging signs during the weekend race in Arizona.
“I think their winter programs were pretty solid,” he said. “I think they all want to do well in the NRC, or they understand it's time to step up and move on, and I'm fine with that. I know a lot of the younger guys want to move on to the WorldTour or the Pro Continental level, and that's fine with me. But after three years it better start happening.”
Kicking off the season, literally
As in years past, the Jelly Belly-Kenda team wrapped up camp with some relatively unorthodox team-building sessions. Previosuly Van Haute has brought in a Navy Seal to put riders through the paces in the ocean and on the beach. The team has also tried paint ball, indoor go-karting and a handful of other activities. This year it was kickboxing.
“I have a friend who is a world champion kick boxer, so I asked him, 'Hey what would you think if I brought the team in for three one-hour sessions?” Van Haute said. “We did some core work and other things, and then he said, 'How about the last day we spar with the guys?'”
The riders squared off against one another and had their own informal tournament, Van Haute said, with Huff winning the imaginary most aggressive jersey.
“Emerson Oronte got a bloody nose sparring with Alex Hagman,” Van Haute said. “We had protective gear on but he got a jab in on his nose and made him bleed. These guys will talk about this kickboxing stuff for the rest of their lives. It was a fun thing. We were just laughing all the time. And then when Emerson got a bloody nose we laughed a little harder. Luckily we took the team photos before that event.”
Jelly Belly's first big block of racing as a team will include the Tour of Murrieta, the Tucson Bicycle Classic, the San Dimas Stage Race, the NRC-opening Redlands Bicycle Classic, the Sea Otter Classic, the Joe Martin Stage Race and then the Tour of the Gila.
- Article published:
- February 22, 2013, 23:22
- Alex Malone
Dutchman with fresh challenges at Tour de Langkawi and Asia Tour
Racing in the United States may not have completely suited the strengths of Thomas Rabou but working for the National Race Calendar's top-ranked rider Francisco 'Paco' Mancebo was certainly a good place to be. Rabou spent two seasons with Competitive Cyclist and thought he would remain in the US for 2013 until his former team merged with Kenda/5-Hour Energy, underwent budget cuts and the promise to keep him in the squad could not be fulfilled.
Signing for OCBC Singapore and racing the Tour de Langkawi was certainly not where Rabou had expected to be late last year but coming back to the Asia circuit after seven years could be what the Dutchman needs. The Asia Tour is set to provide Rabou with plenty of racing within a new environment and offers a leadership role that he has missed for a number of seasons.
The experience of Rabou means he will be challenged to seek out results for himself this season and it's a role he's more than willing to take up.
"In a normal situation I would have stayed [at Competitive Cyclist] sure because they told me I could stay," Rabou told Cyclingnews.
"But then when there is a big budget cut then Mancebo doesn't have the influence anymore. Eventually I had to look for a new team and out of that news there is always new opportunities on the horizon.
"Luckily this team came for me in the right moment. My [now] teammate Sea Keong Loh helped me to get on board with this team so here I am racing the Tour de Langkawi," he added.
The Asia Tour is something which Rabou hasn't been apart of since riding for Marco Polo in 2006 – before he spent three years making his way through the ranks of the Rabobank teams and believes the complete change in race style and surrounds may prove to be the best thing for his career.
"It's going to be a programme that I haven't done for quite some time," said Rabou. "I can go for my own results in this team compared to what I did on the Rabobank team and On the Rivet [Competitive Cyclist] over the last few years.
"There's going to be new goals for me, new kinds of racing. I'm really excited. In 2006 I was on Marco Polo, the Chinese-based cycling team so now after seven years I'm back in Asia with an entirely Asian schedule.
"After this it's going to be mostly 2.2 races in South-East Asia. Those are the races I'm looking forward to because they are the ones that I have to get results, as much for myself and also the sponsors.
"In Asia it's always a week long of racing and 160-180k with lots of hills. It's the racing that suits me a lot better than the racing I did over the past two years in America. It's good for me."
Rabou explained that staying in the United States would have been the best solution as he had become more than accustomed to the NRC circuit but getting involved with a small team like the one based in Singapore also presents some great opportunities. The 29-year-old is truly enthused to be involved in a growing project like OCBC and Langkawi is one of the first races where he believes the team can build its reputation.
"The last three years in American was really settled and it would have been very easy for me to just extend my contract there and work for Paco [Mancebo] and now this year turns out to be a totally new challenge for me. Maybe that's what my career needs. Just mentally it's going to be all new and a fresh start," he said.
"Maybe on paper this is a small team but OCBC is one of the strongest banks in the world. They want to grow every year so I think this could be a really good project. I just hope to be part of it and build a team that has a good reputation in Asia and maybe in Europe as well.
The team's goals at Langkawi may differ greatly from the ProTeam and Pro-Continental squads who's job it is to obtain stage wins but Rabou says the entire group is motivated to prove it has a place in one of Asia's biggest races. Success is as much about exposure as it is results and Rabou says the team won't be sitting back and remaining anonymous.
"I just try to motivate the guys to race our bikes as hard as possible. We are not going to beat the top sprinters here and we are not going to beat the top climbers either so I try to motivate the guys to be in the break everyday. That's how you build a reputation for the team. No one really knows us yet.
"There's many Continental teams that sit back in the bunch and think they are going to beat the top sprinters. We just want to send a message that we want to ride out bikes as hard as possible and just be out there."
- Article published:
- February 23, 2013, 09:01
- Barry Ryan
Investigation ongoing into Luis Leon Sanchez Puerto allegations
Blanco Pro Cycling’s search for a sponsor to ensure its survival beyond the end of 2013 is ongoing but team director Richard Plugge is hopeful that the squad’s strong opening to the season has stoked the interest of potential backers.
The Dutch squad was left without a title sponsor in October when Rabobank withdrew after 17 years in the professional peloton, citing cycling’s doping problem and in particular the ongoing fall-out from doping cases involving the Rabobank team between 1996 and 2007.
Plugge said that Tom Jelte Slagter’s overall victory at the Tour Down Under in January has helped to illustrate to possible backers the potential of both the Blanco team and cycling itself as a marketing investment.
“We knew what Tom Jelte could do from the Giro last year but it was a surprise that he won the Tour Down Under,” Plugge told Cyclingnews. “It was a really good surprise because it was something we needed in our search for sponsors. We’re talking with companies all over the world, and we could see that their interest in cycling got bigger because of his win in Australia.”
On taking over the reins as team director in late 2012, Plugge was careful to point out that a deal with a new sponsor would not be brokered in the opening months of the season, and he reiterated that point on Friday.
“We’re talking with a lot of companies who are interested in our team, but it’s still only talks,” he said. “It can be a ‘no’ one day and a ‘yes’ another day. So like I said in December, there will be no news on that one until at least the Amstel Gold Race.”
Luis Leon Sanchez
For all the positive vibrations coming from activities on the road, however, Blanco’s early months have not been entirely without their problems, although Plugge said that the steady stream of revelations regarding the doping programmes in place at the old Rabobank set-up have not affected morale.
“The things that are coming up now are things that happened before 2008, before Harold Knebel became manager, so these aren’t things that involve us and impact on our team,” he said
In early February, however, the team took action against current rider Luis Leon Sanchez, suspending him from racing pending an internal investigation into allegations that he was a client of blood doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes at the time of the Operacion Puerto investigation in 2006.
Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad published the allegation in January, linking Sanchez to the Puerto codename “Huerto.” The Spaniard, who joined Rabobank in 2011, was duly suspended by Blanco in early February.
“We are still investigating it and we want to do it very thoroughly,” Plugge said, when asked about the status of the internal investigation. “We have contact with him every couple of days by email because my Spanish is not so good and his English is not so good. But we have contact and we are working on it, and we’ll try to find as much as possible to have good security that there is nothing happening around him anymore. He was mentioned in papers in Holland and Spain, so we have to be very careful about it.”
While the allegations concerning Sanchez have been published in the press, he has not been named in the Operacion Puerto trial itself, which is currently ongoing in Madrid. “He’s not mentioned in the whole case, so that’s not really the problem, but he was mentioned in the newspapers, and there were links that he might have been in this Operacion Puerto case, and that’s why we’re looking at it,” said Plugge, whose Blanco team is looking for firsthand documentation from Spain.
“Sometimes people in Spain are not available right now because the Operacion Puerto case is going on at the moment,” he said.
- Article published:
- February 23, 2013, 10:26
- Barry Ryan
Belgian on life at Blanco Pro Cycling
Sep Vanmarcke lined up for last year's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad as an emerging Classics talent but one largely unfettered by undue external expectation. One cool disposal of Tom Boonen later, however, and Vanmarcke became the focus of sharper scrutiny from a home press always eager to probe the lines of succession to Belgium's Classics throne.
Twelve months on, as he returns to the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to defend his title, Vanmarcke's status as a potential king-in-waiting could be marked by the number of emissaries from the local media who gathered at the Blanco Pro Cycling team hotel on the outskirts of Ghent on Friday afternoon.
"I'm pretty much the same rider but for sure I'm more confident now," Vanmarcke told Cyclingnews. "I feel good, I feel strong and since last year, I know I can finish it too so that's given me a lot of confidence."
The off-season saw Vanmarcke make the switch from Garmin-Sharp to Blanco, and definitely step up to the status of a definitive team leader, a role he will share with Lars Boom during the cobbled Classics.
Boom has enjoyed a fine start to the campaign, winning stages at the Tour Mediterranéen and the Tour du Haut Var, but Vanmarcke insisted that the pair would have no problem in dovetailing their efforts this spring, starting on Saturday at Het Nieuwsblad.
"We're both in good shape. Lars has already shown it in his results and I know I'm in good shape myself," he said of his own efforts at the Volta ao Algarve. "It will depend on how we feel tomorrow and in the weeks to come. We'll see day by day, and during the race we can decide who should lead. And then if we're in the final with two, we take it in turns to attack.
"We shared a room in training camp so we talked about it then. I think everything will go well."
A Flemish soul
Indeed, after two years at Garmin, an American team with an international bent, Vanmarcke confessed that he was happy to have returned to a squad with a Dutch-speaking nucleus. "I felt confident with everybody straightaway; if I sat down for the table with anyone, I could talk with anyone," Vanmarcke said.
"With Garmin, it was nice that we had a lot of different nationalities but it also felt like there were more ‘islands' in the team. I just feel like it's a closer group here and a better bond, maybe because we all speak Dutch."
Not that there aren't some language barriers still to be negotiated. The peculiarities of Vanmarcke's Flemish dialect have been met with no small degree of mirth by his Dutch teammates, even if he says that he, too, is left perplexed by some of their expressions.
"I have to try and speak the ‘proper' language, but I'm getting used to it, and it will also be better for the Belgian press too," Vanmarcke joked. "There are some words that I think sound stupid when they say it, but the opposite is also true. Sometimes during a race it could be pretty hard to understand each other alright, so I'll need to enunciate really well…"
If Vanmarcke has made the effort to cross borders linguistically, his preparation remains resolutely Flemish. Virtually all roads around his Waregem home lead to the cobbles and hills of the Flemish Ardennes, to such an extent that a Christmas morning training ride with his brother morphed into a reconnaissance of the route of the Tour of Flanders, including the Koppenberg and Oude Kwaremont.
"I live in the area, just 10 kilometres away from Oude Kwaremont," Vanmarcke said, downplaying his yuletide workout. "It wasn't planned in advance, I just wanted to do some hills with cobblestones. I always train with my brother and we said ‘why not do a recon as well?' We picked Flanders and I guess people think it's special that I trained on Flanders on Christmas day. But really - I had to train, I had to do the hours and I had to do some hills, so why shouldn't I do a recon?"
Although he picked out Ian Stannard (Sky) as a young rider who could begin to carve out a niche for himself on the cobbles this spring, Vanmarcke limited himself to suggesting "the guys everyone writes about" when asked to name his possible rivals at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
Fittingly for a son of Flanders, Vanmarcke seems to feel it is rash to make any telling assessments before a pedal has been turned in anger at Opening Weekend. "You just can't compare these races to Algarve, Majorca, Qatar and Oman," he smiled.
- Article published:
- February 23, 2013, 10:45
- Cycling News
Peloton faces first Belgian race in wintry conditions
For many observers, the cycling season really begins today with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium. The peloton will be taking on the first Belgian race of the year in wintry conditions, but that only seems to add to the attraction of the first race on the cobbles and helligen (hills). This year's race is wide open with a number of big-name contenders ready to fight for victory. Cyclingnews has gathered quotes from various riders as to their feelings about today's race and weather.
Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) won the race in 2010 and has also finished on the podium four other years: “I love the Omloop. It is the first race on the cobblestones, up the Flemish 'hellingen' and with a unique public that breathes cycling.” (Het Nieuwsblad)
Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) won in 2007, when the race was still known as the Omloop Het Volk: “I want to win the Omloop for the second time. As I won the opening Italian race Laigueglia last Saturday for the third time. It's time for more honours. My years of understanding have dawned.” (Het Nieuwsblad)
Jürgen Roelandts (Lotto Belisol) is coming off a stage win at the Tour du Med: “I'm just happy to be here. Last year I left the hospital at this time, and I start (...) as one of the favourites in the first Belgian race. I intend to make the best of it.” (Het Laatste Nieuws)
Other riders were more worried about the weather, as they tweeted before the start of the race.
Bernhard Eisel (Sky): “You know it's cold outside, when you see #belgiumfans in winter jackets, and not in t-shirts and a beer in their hands! Ready for the show!”
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha): “Getting ready to race in minus degrees here in belgium. Should be good weather for Norwegians ;)”
Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing Team): “Remember Taylor. You are a (self proclaimed) mountain man from the Rockies! Belgium cold ain't no thang. #OMLOOP”
Cyclingnews will cover the whole of Omloop Het Nieuwslbad live, with comments and photographs from the start and finish.
- Article published:
- February 23, 2013, 12:03
- Barry Ryan
The peloton gathers in Ghent for Opening Weekend
The temperature may have been hovering above freezing in Ghent on Saturday morning but there was a distinct sense that spring had sprung as the peloton gathered in Sint-Pietersplein for the start of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the race which heralds the beginning of the Belgian cycling season.
The peloton has warmed up all around the globe in recent weeks, from Australia to Oman, but any early-season indications of form will be given a rather more robust test over the 199 kilometres and twelve climbs that make up the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
A quick canvass of the riders edging their way to sign on suggested that Lars Boom (Blanco Pro Cycling) is considered the danger man this afternoon. The confident Dutchman’s stage victories at the Tour Mediterranéen and Tour du Haut Var have not gone unnoticed among his peers and he has a perfect foil in the form of defending champion Sep Vanmarcke.
While Boom is the riders’ choice for victory, Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) was the man highlighted in Saturday morning’s edition of newspaper Het Nieuwsblad as the number one favourite for the win. The Italian won in 2007 and, fresh from victory at Trofeo Laigueglia, he enters this year’s race on a high. “I hope that being picked as favourite doesn’t bring me bad luck,” said Pozzato, who, like many, wrapped up against the cold: “I’m not worried about it. It’s normal here, we’re in Belgium.”
The fans’ favourite in Flanders, however, is Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), and as always, the loudest cheer of the morning was reserved for Tommeke, who was one of the last riders to reach the podium to sign in. The reason? His progress from the team bus was blocked by television crew upon television crew, all looking for a word with the Belgian champion.
A relaxed Boonen was happy to oblige, although he insisted that he is not among the contenders for the win today given that he began his season later than planned due to an elbow infection. Even so, Boonen – and many other classics contenders – will have the first serious gauge of their spring form on twelve hellingen of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
For an exclusive start line picture gallery, click here.