The 76th Tour of Belgium runs between May 24-28, and will see the return of World Champion and defending champion Tom Boonen to racing. "I'm a bit tired of the long training rides I've done in recent weeks," said Boonen to VRT. "I yearn for competition. After the Scheldeprijs, I did nothing for eight or nine days. I had to recover, especially get my head clear again. I was still in reasonably good form, so then you come back to your level quickly. I built up calmly and I'm reasonably good again. Of course I'd like to win the Tour of Belgium again, but I don't know if that will happen immediately."
The five day race starts on the west coast in Oostende, and finishes in Putte. The race consists mostly of flat stages, with the first two being run around the coastal region (Oostende and Knokke-Heist), then a split day on Friday with a 15.9 km time trial in Buggenhout in the morning, followed by a flat 111.7 km stage between Buggenhout and Londerzeel in the afternoon.
The fourth stage, on Saturday, should be more decisive. It's the longest of the race at 203.6 km, and takes place between Londerzeel and Huy. The notorious Mur de Huy features in the route, although it comes with 17 km to go, and is not the finishing climb. However, with a total of six climbs in the last 80 km, the stage will not suit the sprinters. The final stage is between Nuy and Putte, and is again mostly flat.
Apart from Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) and teammate Nick Nuyens, the start list will see most of the top Belgian riders present. Davitamon-Lotto (Peter Van Petegem, Gert Steegmans) and Discovery Channel (Leif Hoste, Stijn Devolder, Jurgen Van den Broeck) are the other two ProTour teams present among the 17 total teams. The other teams include Chocolade Jacques (Eeckhout), Unibet.com (Cooke), Landbouwkrediet (De Waele), Jartazi (Abakoumov, Muravyev), Bodysol (Cornu), Bergasol (Streel), Yawadoo (Vanderaerden), Profel (De Champs), Panaria (Matveyev), Skil (Vierhouten), Ubbink (Slippens, Stam), Tenax (Baldato, Petito), Rabobank Continental (Nys, Boom, Groenendaal), LPR (Konyshev, Maccanti).
The race is ranked as a 2.1 category event on the UCI's European Tour, but the organisers hope to get it promoted to Hors Category.
Stage 1 - May 24: Oostende-Oostende, 180.9 km
Stage 2 - May 25: Oostende-Knokke Heist, 180.5 km
Stage 3a - May 26: Buggenhout ITT, 15.9 km
Stage 3b - May 26: Buggenhout-Londerzeel, 111.7 km
Stage 4 - May 27: Londerzeel-Hoei, 203.6 km
Stage 5 - May 28: Hoei-Putte, 182.7 km