Who can knock Quick.Step off the throne?
By Jeff Jones in Gent
The Belgian cycling season officially opens with the Omloop Het Volk, which has been held on the last Saturday in February for the last few years. It's traditionally a very cold affair, with temperatures not much above zero, and rain, sleet, and even light snow common weather conditions. The Belgians love it, though, as it signals the end of the long off-season, and the start of the fabled northern classics.
The race starts in Gent and finishes 202 km later in Lokeren, which is only about 20 km east of Gent. The parcours winds its way through southeastern Flanders, taking in 10 climbs, the last of which is 64 km from the finish. Several cobbled sections in the last 30 km serve to break things up for what would otherwise be a bunch sprint, but the latter is still quite possible, of course.
The defending champions are the Quick.Step team, which boasts 2005 winner Nick Nuyens and the reigning World Champion and runner up last year, Tom Boonen. With an impressive lineup that also includes Steven de Jongh and Filippo Pozzato, Quick.Step will be the team to beat again. Boonen will be heavily marked, but he is in form and full of confidence.
As usual, the Davitamon-Lotto team will be doing its best to take the race to Quick.Step. These two big Belgian rivals have a lot of firepower, and Davitamon brings three-time winner Peter Van Petegem to the party, along with top sprinter Robbie McEwen. The Australian believes he can win in a bunch sprint, as long as he survives the climbs and cobbles that he knows so well.
Cyclingnews will be providing live coverage of the 61st Omloop Het Volk on Saturday, February 25, starting 14:00 local time (CET)/08:00 (USA East)/05:00 (USA West)/00:00 (Australia East).