By Bjorn Haake
The Belgian teams Silence-Lotto and Quick Step are getting ready to tackle the classics season. The traditional opener, the semi-classic Omloop Het Volk, will take place this Saturday over a distance of 199 kilometres. Several teams rode parts of the course on Wednesday. The route will start in Gent and the finish line has also returned to Gent, after 13 years.
One man who will have good memories on Gent is last year's Tour de France stage winner Gert Steegmans (Quick Step). "But this time it will be different and I don't expect a big group to arrive at the finish," Steegmans made clear that the 11 hellingen will make the race very hard. As for the favourites, he named several teams, among them Française des Jeux with Philippe Gilbert and Gianni Meersman, Cofidis with Sylvain Chavanel and Silence-Lotto "of course," that will make for a competitive race day.
The only problem for Steegmans is his lack of race kilometres, following a crash in the season opener in Mallorca. Steegmans had been going well, finishing fourth and third before winning the final race. But a crash made him miss valuable time in his spring preparation. He told Cyclingnews that he had only "five days of racing so far." He tried to "simulate race situations in training, but it is just different. We will see on Saturday." Steegmans received stitches to his chin and the scar is still visible, but he has no pain. The only thing that hurts is the lack of competitive race days.
Several riders have had their crashes spoil the season so far. On the wet roads in southern Portugal, Robbie McEwen and Stijn Devolder went down, but reported as being OK for Het Volk. McEwen told Cyclingnewsyesterday that "he has been fine training on the cobbles." Neither McEwen nor his team-mate Leif Hoste make Het Volk their absolute priority. Hoste is looking forward to the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Both are happy with the Koppenberg back in the race, albeit for different reasons. Hoste said that "it's good," as there will be more of a selection earlier on. McEwen laughed that "I am going to watch it on TV, so yeah, it's all good that the Koppenberg is back in."
The team's manager, Patrick Lefevere, said that "Devolder crashed in the last stage of the Volta [ao Algarve]. In fact, the whole team went down. Devolder was very bloody," and the Belgian rider suffered problems with his wrist afterwards. But he is OK now, and Steegmans saw Devolder "go very strong this week."
It wasn't quite a crash that took out young neo-pro Jürgen Roelandts (Silence-Lotto) this week. "It must have been something I ate during the Volta ao Algarve." He started feeling bad over the weekend. "Sunday I didn't eat anything. And I rode 190 kilometres." He was not about to drop out of the race in southern Portugal, given his overall ranking. "I was in sixth place in GC. If I would have been down in the standings there was no way I would have ridden that last stage." He managed to finish the race in sixth and is feeling better now, but not at full strength yet. The team's ride over the Het Volk route on Wednesday didn't pose a problem, though. "We did about 170km, at an average of maybe 32km/h." As for Saturday, "I will just see what the team tells me to do." While this is his first year as a professional rider, he iterated that "I live near Brussels and I know the roads here very well."