FDJ backing Démare at first of 2015's cobbled classics
French national champion Arnaud Démare will be one of FDJ's leaders in the first classic of the season, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, having started his season at the Tour's of Qatar and Oman. Yet to open his 2015 account, Démare had two top ten finishes in Qatar to suggest he is approaching the condition that saw him record several impressive performances during last year’s classics campaign which culminated in twelfth place on his Paris-Roubaix debut.
Demaré was tenth at last year's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad which he backed up with 22nd at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne the following day. However Demaré won’t contest Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne this year with his attention squarely on Saturday. Paris-Nice will be Démare's next engagement, followed by Milan-San Remo and Gent–Wevelgem where he finished second last year behind John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin).
Supporting Demaré in Belgium will be William Bonnet, David Boucher, Mickaël Delage, Anthony Geslin, Mathieu Ladagnous, Johan Le Bon and Yoann Offredo.
The team remains largely unchanged for Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne with Sébastien Chavanel and Olivier Le Gac replacing Démare and Delage.
FDJ has won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on two occasions, in 2006 and 2008, via Philippe Gilbert on both occasions but has never tasted success at Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne.
Photo: Tim de Waele
Wiggle Honda aiming to be number one by end of 2015
At the start of its third season in the women's peloton, Wiggle Honda team manager Rochelle Gilmore outlined her goals at the team launch in Belgium where the 2015 squad was presented in an updated kit.
"Our aim for the season is to end the year as the number one team in the World," said Gilmore. "The main objective of this team is to win bike races, and every athlete in this room is capable of winning big bike races, and contributing to the huge success and our team goals.
"It is in our DNA, of all of us, to have that same goal of progressing the sport and making sure we go in the right direction in the next few years. These are the athletes that have made the commitment to that."
The team recruited heavily in the off season, bringing on board two time Giro Rosa winner Mara Abbott, omnium world champion Annette Edmondson, Audrey Cordon, Elisa Longo Borghini, Chloe Hosking, Belgian champion Jolien D'hoore and several young British talents to ensure success across the board.
"When we started out in the first couple of years - especially the first year - we had very much a single programme [and] we were committed to one type of rider, one type of race, and wanted to get that right for the experience," Gilmore said.
"In the second year we added a few more riders that we could support. Now we're at the point, in the third year, where we've got riders that can win all types of races; flat races, Classics, Grand Tours. So we've really developed in that regard and it's a lot to do with the athletes themselves, wanting to really create this team, so we can be dominant the whole year."
Wiggle Honda's next race is the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite Women where the team is eager to show its hunger to become number one.
"We started two years ago ranked outside the top ten, then we were inside the top ten the second year," Gilmore said. "We've started the third year ranked third in the World, and we have a very strong ambition - all of us - which we've had from day one, which is to finish our third year as the number one cycling team in the World."
Strong Orica-AIS team named for 2015 European debut
Orica-AIS line up at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite Women with two former winners in its team, looking to continue its run of never missing the podium in three appearances. 2013 champion Loes Gunnewijk will race the cobbled classic for the last time in her career having announced that she will retire at the end of the season.
"I think we can go in quite confidently," sport director Gene Bates said. "Obviously the first European race of the year is always interesting to see who is going well and who isn't going well but I think the riders coming out of Qatar with strong form will be the similar riders to feature on Saturday here."
While it will field experienced riders in Belgium, there will also be several riders less experienced with the conditions but Bates is confident the team have the right mix for a top result.
"We have a few greener riders who haven't really done much of this type of Classics riding before so it's been valuable for them to see the courses and to ride with the likes of Emma Johansson who really is an experienced rider at this stuff," Bates added.
In nine previous editions, Johansson is the only rider to have won the race on multiple occasions in 2010 and 2011.
Orica-AIS for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Elite Women: Gracie Elvin, Loes Gunnewijk, Emma Johansson, Valentina Scandolara, Amanda Spratt and Lizzie Williams.