Greg Van Avermaet, Thor Hushovd and Taylor Phinney have been named in the BMC team for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, while Rick Zabel is among the younger riders who will line up at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne the following day.
The team is without the services of 2008 winner Philippe Gilbert for Belgium’s Opening Weekend, as the former world champion focuses his attention on the Ardennes classics and will not ride any cobbled races this spring.
In the absence of Gilbert and the sacked Alessandro Ballan, Van Avermaet will be BMC’s outright leader at the Tour of Flanders. After beginning his season at the Tours of Qatar and Oman, this weekend’s races are an important early gauge of Van Avermaet’s form as he builds towards April.
"You have the speed in Qatar, a little bit of climbing in Oman and good weather in both," said Van Avermaet, who finished 5th at Het Nieuwsblad last year. "For me, it is the best preparation for the classics. We will see how it goes, but I feel I am in pretty good shape and happy with my form."
Van Avermaet has a redoubtable foil at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in the shape of Thor Hushovd, who unleashed a ferocious sprint to win in Ghent in 2009. Hampered by illness when he joined BMC two years ago, Hushovd finished last season strongly and said that he is buoyed by a solid beginning to the current campaign at the Tour of the Mediterranean and Tour du Haut-Var, where he was a solo attacker on the second stage.
"With that in mind, I go to Belgium to race for the win," Hushovd said. "We have a strong team, which should be present from start to end. My level is high now, but I just have to follow, and hopefully have something left for a good sprint in the end."
The BMC team for Het Nieuwsblad also includes Taylor Phinney, who was so impressive in winning the inaugural Dubai Tour at the beginning of the month, as well as 2007 Gent-Wevelgem winner Marcus Burghardt.
As with most teams, there will be a slight refreshing of the line-up for Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne the following day. While Van Avermaet is pencilled in for both races, Phinney and Hushovd are set to miss the second race.
Their absence opens a space at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne for neo-professional Rick Zabel, the German who won the under-23 Tour of Flanders last year in the colours of Rabobank Continental.
“This is a good chance for those guys, plus riders like Klaas Lodewyck and Rick Zabel, to get some good experience and have their own chances,” BMC directeur sportif Max Sciandri said of Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.
BMC team for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, March 1:
Marcus Burghardt (Ger), Silvan Dillier (Swi), Thor Hushovd (Nor), Klaas Lodewyck (Bel), Taylor Phinney (USA), Manuel Quinziato (Ita), Michael Schär (Swi), Greg Van Avermaet (Bel).
BMC team for Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, March 2:
Marcus Burghardt (Ger), Silvan Dillier (Swi), Sebastian Lander (Den), Klaas Lodewyck (Bel), Manuel Quinziato (Ita), Greg Van Avermaet (Bel), Danilo Wyss (Swi), Rick Zabel (Ger).