Greg Van Avermaet is the natural big-name favourite for Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The Belgian could join Bruyère, Sterckx and Van Petegem as a three-time winner and is keen to start his spring Classics campaign in the new CCC Team colours on the right foot.
Van Avermaet did a reconnaissance ride on the new Omloop Het Nieuwsblad course on Tuesday and returned to the country lanes and cobbled streets of Flanders again on Wednesday. The current mild temperatures in Europe are expected to last until the weekend and so help Van Avermaet after he recently returned from the warmth of the Tour of Oman.
"It would be really special to get a good result for CCC Team at opening weekend, so this is definitely the goal," Van Avermaet said after his recon rides.
"I am feeling really good ahead of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and am excited to start the Classics season. During the winter and early season races, this is what I am always thinking about, so it is nice to have the first race here."
The 2016 Olympic road race champion will only ride Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday and sit out Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, preferring to carefully dose his racing efforts before a long spring Classics campaign. Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne is expected to be dominated by the sprinters.
"The Classics season is long and it’s important to maintain good shape right through to April, which isn’t always easy," Van Avermaet said, confident after an early season win at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and several placings at the Tour of Oman.
"I think my shape is exactly where it needs to be and I was really impressed by my teammates in Valencia and Oman, which was a good sign for the Classics. Although this will be the first cobbled race for us, half of us train together every day in Belgium so we are comfortable as a team."
Van Avermaet will be backed by Michael Schär, Gijs Van Hoecke, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Francisco Ventoso and Łukasz Wisniowski, with Paweł Bernas, Kamil Gradek and Josef Cerny drafted in for Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, replacing Van Avermaet, Schär and Wisniowski.
"Greg will be supported more or less by the same riders who joined him at the Tour of Oman, with the exception of Francisco Ventoso who replaces Kamil Gradek," CCC Team directeur sportif Valerio Piva said.
"We have the local experience from our Belgian riders; Gijs Van Hoecke, Nathan Van Hooydonck, and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, all of whom train on these roads every day. Michael Schär, who is a valuable road caption, and Łukasz Wisniowski, who was second at the 2018 edition, completes the squad. We left Oman very happy with the teamwork throughout the week so we are looking forward to seeing these riders race together on the cobbles for the first time this year.
"Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is an important race for CCC Team as it is the first Classic of the season. We know that Greg is in good shape and is motivated to start the Classics well but there are a lot of riders who can win on Saturday. We will do everything we can to put him in a good position and see how the race plays out.
"Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne is more of a sprinters’ Classic so we have made the decision that Greg won’t race and instead the other riders will have an opportunity to go for a result. Paweł Bernas, Kamil Gradek and Josef Cerny will line up on Sunday to replace Greg, Michael, and Łukasz, so between the seven riders, we have good options for all race scenarios."
CCC Team for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: Greg Van Avermaet, Michael Schär, Gijs Van Hoecke, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Francisco Ventoso and Łukasz Wisniowski,
CCC Team for Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne: Paweł Bernas, Josef Cerny, Kamil Gradek, Gijs Van Hoecke, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Francisco Ventoso.