Tom Boonen, Gert Steegmans and Sylvain Chavanel headline the Quick Step squad at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday and hope to win at least one of the two races. However the riders confirmed they were not planning to boycott the opening races of the Belgian season because of the race radio ban implemented by the International Cycling Union.
“We'd like to win one of the two races,” Chavanel said on Friday afternoon when the riders talked to media.
The three big-name Quick Step riders haven’t done any reconnaissance of the race route but shrugged off a possible lack of route knowledge as a problem. “I know we'll be doing the cobbles in Haaghoek three times and that's a section that suits me,” Steegmans said.
Boonen admitted that for some reason the Quick Step team had failed to win Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in the past five years. Once again the expectations are high but Steegmans played down the importance from the race.
“As a Flemish rider you're interested in this race because it's the first Flemish race. In foreign countries it's much less. Look at the absentees on Saturday. At Katusha there was huge interest too but at RadioShack it was a bit less,” he said.
The absentees Steegmans referred to are riders such as Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) and Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo).
However as part of a Belgian team, the three team leaders know that a lot is expected from them over the weekend.
“Of course the media will go crazy if we don't win the race but for us there's not that much pressure. If we didn't play an important role in the race then it would be different for us,” Steegmans acknowledged.
Boonen leads an open race strategy
Boonen is team leader but he explained that Quick Step will have an open race strategy.
“It's a race with many key points and so we're not starting with a strict plan, to make sure we can be ready if things change. Often it's one of the guys who have been under the radar who actually wins the race, so that's good for the guys next to me,” Boonen said, referring to Chavanel and Steegmans.
Surprisingly the Belgian has never won the Omloop.
“It's not an easy race to win but I’ve often come close. I have won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne twice. I do want to win the race and I’d be happy if I did it,” Boonen said.
Boonen prepared for his Belgian debut by riding the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Oman. For the first time this season, the Quick-Step riders will be racing in expected rain and cold conditions. He insisted the weather was not a problem.
“I'm actually looking forward to these races. I'm curious to see how some teams and riders will perform in the Flemish races,” he said. “I do know that those who were good in Qatar will be good here too; it was a tough race this year. Then again it's different to ride over the climbs here,” Boonen said, adding he was keen to see his compatriot and rival Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) in action.
Chavanel saw Gilbert in action in Portugal. “In the Volta ao Algarve he seemed to have made a lot of progress since Majorca. He'll be good this weekend. I've also seen a strong Sebastian Langeveld,” Chavanel said, hinting that the Rabobank rider would be a dark horse for Saturday.
Boonen on the radio protest
When asked about the possible race radio protest that might disrupt Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, Boonen said the Quick Step riders didn’t want to damage the race but he still took a strong stance against the UCI’s decision.
“If we do that (protest or boycott the race) we're annoying the organizers, the fans and ourselves, and the next day everybody races in Kuurne. The only way to harm the UCI is by boycotting the world championships,” Boonen said.
The world championships are the only races that are actually organized by the UCI.
“It's not only about the race radios but about the attitude of the UCI. We're never been asked our opinion. We're just told to behave and abide by the decision. I wonder why they do that? Is it because there hasn't been exciting racing in the past few decades? Did you know that in the past few races every breakaway attempt has been controlled to within four minutes, just to avoid the risks?”
Boonen ended his sarcastic questions with a provocative suggestion: “Maybe I should take my mobile phone with me, they didn't say anything about that, did they?” Boonen said.