Having once again conquered the flat straight roads of Qatar, Omega Pharma-Quick Step return to racing in Europe buoyed by early-season performances with Tom Boonen looking like recapturing his blistering 2012 form while super domestigue Niki Terpstra enters the cobbled classics having won the overall at the Tour of Qatar. The Belgian squad enter both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne with strong squads capable of winning both races.
In 2013 at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Stijn Vandenbergh made it into the breakaway but couldn't match Luca Paolini (Katusha) in the sprint and finished second. 2014 sees the return of the Muur-Kapelmuur to the race which has been excluded from the previous three editions which is likely change racing conditions.
The reintroduction of the climb to the Omloop Het Nieuwsbladit comes at the 81km mark in the 69th edition which features several short sections ranging from steep to false flat, and some are cobbled while some are on asphalt. The Wolvenberg is on asphalt which reaches 17% at its steepest. The challenge at the Haaghoek are the cobbles and the weather could add an extra challenge to the parcours.
"Omloop is first race of the season in Belgium," Tom Boonen said. "Everyone is excited about it. It's a race a bit different from the other Classics because it's the first one, but also tactically the teams tend to ride it differently than how they do the other cobbled Classics.
"There are a lot of riders in good condition and there will be a great fight to stay in the front. But we have a good and balanced team, and we are looking forward to this race to try and get a good result. As usual the wind will be a factor. It will influence the race for sure."
"It's the first time this year that we hit the roads of Flanders," Sport Director Wilfried Peeters said. "It's a really good team but it will be important to be in the final with the most riders possible. We will have a competitive team but also several other teams have good selections. There is also a chance for a few showers and it will be windy, so the weather will be important to determine what kind of race we will face."
Having been cancelled last year due to snow, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne is back in 2014 and will take place on Sunday with one of its more famous climbs prominent once again,the Oude Kwaremont which is 2.2km long with a max ramp of 11%. The race will also tackle the Cote du Trieu, which has several ramps of 13 percent although Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne is likely to be decided in a bunch sprint at the finale.
"We have a very good group," Peeters said. "Last year we didn't do the race due to the snow, but this year there will be no problem. In general our team is on agood level. All riders are good for this kind of parcours and we are ready for all scenarios. There could be a breakaway or a small group, or even a bunch sprint. We have the possibility to put good riders in place for any situation."
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Tom Boonen (BEL), Iljo Keisse (BEL), Gert Steegmans (BEL), Zdenek Stybar (CZE), Niki Terpstra (NED), Matteo Trentin (ITA), Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (BEL) and Stijn Vandenbergh (BEL)
Tom Boonen (BEL), Andrew Fenn (GBR), Nikolas Maes (BEL), Niki Terpstra (NED), Matteo Trentin (ITA), Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (BEL), Stijn Vandenbergh (BEL) and Martin Velits (SVK)