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Belgian showdown for the 2011 edition
Belgian champion Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil - DCM)
Stijn Devolder will go into the 2011 Tour of Belgium looking to make history. As it stands no rider in the 93 years of the race's existence has been victorious more than twice - and that is something Devolder will be looking to change when he lines up for Tuesday's start in Buggenhout. If he is to be victorious, he will have to beat some of Belgium's top cyclists and teams and ride consistently though a diverse course.
Winding roads, cobblestones and plenty of wind make make racing in Belgium hard - and this year will be no different. Three flat stages, some cobbles, a hilly queen stage and a technical prologue time trial will favour the hard Classic’s men - but with only one decisive stage, the winner could come from almost anywhere.
The race which occurs as part of heavily-packed May schedule generally attracts a heavy Belgian contingent and 2011 is no exception. 12 of the 20 teams in attendance are Belgian and contain almost all of the stars of the Belgian racing scene, with the exception of Tour of Flanders winner Nick Nuyens. Tom Boonen, Phillippe Gilbert and last year’s winner Devolder are all lining up, as are Gert Steegmans, Jurgen Roelandts and Greg Van Avermaet.
Gilbert has only won three stage races in his career, but following a stellar 2011 so far it would be hard to discount the Walloon from winning his first Tour of Belgium. The parcours are probably the most favourable for him in years as well.
Organisers have subbed out the time trial in 2011 in favour of a short and sharp 5.6km prologue through the streets of Buggenhout. Specialists like Devolder or Dominique Cornu will need to get all the time they can in the opener if they want to feature in the overall.
A transitional flat 162.5km stage between Lochristi and Knokke-Heist will give the sprinters their first chance - Kenny Robert Van Hummel will no doubt be looking to back up his stage win from last year with another in 2011.
Classics specialists will savour the two lap loop on the Kemmelberg and Rodeberg, as the overall contenders look to flex their muscles on stage two. The Queen stage, a hilly 202km suffer-fest, has a real Ardennes flavour to it. Narrow roads and plenty of climbing will determine the winner as the final stage; at 169.4km is pancake flat - and will likely favour a bunch gallop.
In 2010 there were five different winners and with plenty for every type of rider this year, another unpredictable and exciting race awaits.