UAE Team Emirates test young guns in Opening Weekend

Philipsen, Molano, and Bystrom aim to impress

With Fernando Gaviria and Alexander Kristoff focused elsewhere, UAE Team Emirates have turned to their next generation of riders for Opening Weekend. Belgian neo-pro Jasper Philipsen - who won a stage at the Tour Down Under in January - will lead the line in both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

"It will be good to have top 10s on both days," team director Allan Peiper told Cyclingnews in Gent on Friday.

"Firstly, Philipsen is a young guy but he knows how to handle himself in these races. He knows all the climbs and he knows how to position himself. Sven Erik Bystrom is always in the role of a helper, so it would be good for him to try and have his own race. They're our two for Omloop. If one of them can ride top 10 that would be great."

Philipsen has one of the most sought after riders in the market ahead of 2019 and has made the transition to WorldTour look almost seamless. He won a stage in Australia's WorldTour stage race and then backed that up with a consistent run at the Volta ao Algarve. Peiper, who took the Belgian on a recon of the Spring Classics a few weeks ago, has been impressed with the sprinter's application.

"For a 20-year-old to win a stage in the Tour Down Under, and the way in which he rides his bike and handles himself at such a young age, he's almost like a road captain at 20 years old. He can fit in with so many roles and that's probably why he came to UAE, and not just do the typical thing of going to a Belgian team."

Philipsen will race on Sunday at Kuurne too, with another UAE new recruit, Juan Sebastian Molano, given the chance to shine. The 24-year-old recently won a stage in Colombia 2.1 but his last one-day race in Belgium came back in 2016.

"For Sunday, we have a couple of options. We have Molano, who won a stage in Colombia. He's fast and can make a position. He just doesn't know these races so well. Kuurne is a bit more straight forward than Omloop, so we could have another with him, other than Jasper. So we could have two guys riding for the top 10 on Sunday."

The fact that the team has ridden reconnaissance for the new finale at Omloop will certainly help their chances. The finish location has switched for the second time in as many years, with Ninove the new chosen destination.

"I think it will make a difference in the sense that the old finish was slightly uphill," Peiper said.

"With the new one you have a right-hand corner at the final kilometer, and then another corner at 500m to go. Then a left-hander with 250m. If you come out of there in first or second wheel and there's a tailwind you'll be very hard to beat."

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