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Belgium set for season start

The Belgian cycling loving public is gearing up for what could be a cold and wet weekend alongside the Flemish roads for the opening races Omloop Het Volk and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. The media are following every move of the "Belgian" favourites and even though Davitamon-Lotto and QuickStep cancelled their reconnaissance rides, journalists are eager to find out what kind of substitute training is done.

Quick.Step's Tom Boonen trained 170 kilometres on the French Côte D'Azur, in the company of Nico Mattan, Kevin Hulsmans and Australian sprinter Baden Cooke. "The weather was fantastic: 19 degrees and sunny," Boonen was quoted in the VUM papers. "We rode alongside the coast but then went into the hills of the Corniche."

With Cooke training well in France and sickly Frank Vandenbroucke on the mend in Italy, it's not looking bad for the team for the weekend. Wild child Vandenbroucke is staying in Italy as long as possible to benefit from the better weather conditions.

Davitamon-Lotto's preparation for the weekend is also going well. Tom Steels is reported to be starting again, after a minor bout of flu kept him out of French Classic Haribo last Sunday. "It was the right decision not to start," team manager Marc Sergeant told HNB. "The weather was bad last weekend. On Monday, Tom trained four hours on the home trainer. He will be ready for the Omloop."

Davitamon's Gert Steegmans was on a roll in Portugal last week, winning two stages and missing out the overall victory on the very last day. "I'm expecting to be a protected rider in Het Volk," Steegmans commented. "I'm coming out of what was a perfect winter, without knee problems or other hiccups. It's only normal that it's starting to show now - but it's not the time for me to start dreaming and demand a leading role for this weekend. Even though I can't deny I'm riding really well, I'm not the only one in the team with sights set on victory in Het Volk: there's also Peter Van Petegem. But believe me, we'll be ready!"

Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen has been preparing for his first big goal of this season in the quiet of his home town area Everbeek (Flemish Ardennes), with wife Angelique due to give birth to their second child any day now. "It was expected for her to go into labour the 20th of this month, but the baby is keeping us waiting a little longer," McEwen said.

Courtesy of Sabine Sunderland

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