3 days of West Flanders ready to grow

By Brecht Decaluwé

The second edition of the 3 days of West Flanders - Johan Museeuw Classics was presented in Bruges, the capital of West Flanders on Tuesday. The 2.1 classified UCI stage race runs semi-concurrently with the Vuelta a Murcia and with some reports indicating the Spanish event was in financial difficulties there were hopes in Belgium of luring more big name riders. However, the Vuelta a Murcia seems to have recovered from its setback meaning that the Belgian race will likely feature a similar start list to last year.

The first Belgian stage race of the season grew out of two local classic races that decided to amalgamate in 1999. Ever since the new race existed it has known famous stage winners such Robbie McEwen, Jaan Kirsipuu, David Millar, Robert Bartko and Niko Eeckhout, who took the final stage and overall title in last year's edition.

In 2006, the Lion of Flanders, Johan Museeuw, connected his name to the race and despite the Belgian's recent doping confessions the collaboration hasn't come to an end. "I'm a man of my word and I wouldn't dream of stepping down as I just love cycling too much; still some people would love to see me walk away from the sport," Museeuw told Cyclingnews.

In addition, Museeuw announced he would organise a kids race for 8 to 11 year-olds about an hour before the finish of the big guns. "We have to work with the youth as within a few years Boonen won't be there anymore. If there's a benefit for us then I'll re-invest it into youth cycling. Museeuw bikes offers 25 bikes for kids without a license so they can get in contact with the sport. I got the idea from the Tour de France where Nestlé does the same," explained Museeuw, who won the race in 1995 in its previous incarnation as the Omloop der Vlaamse Ardennen.

The three-time Paris-Roubaix winner also announced that a big sponsor could be persuaded to invest in the stage race. "The company was a leading sponsor from one of my former teams," hinted Museeuw. "Even though the ProTour is at the verge of collapsing it's important that we keep investing in the sport, and especially in this area."

The organisers have five ProTour teams on their start list with Predictor-Lotto, Quickstep-Innergetic, Unibet.com, T-Mobile and Discovery Channel. American Professional Continental squads Team Slipstream and Navigators will be also be there in West Flanders. To date, the biggest names confirmed to race are Robbie McEwen, Baden Cooke and Belgian champion Niko Eeckhout. The course brings the peloton from Kortrijk on March 9 via the Belgian coast to the typical finale at the village of Ichtegem on March 11.

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