Blaak to debut rainbow jersey at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Chantal Blaak will begin her season as the new world champion at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday. The Dutchwoman will lead a always-strong Boels Dolmans team in an attempt to win the classics opener.

"I love the spring races and I think the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is especially nice," said Blaak, who has never won the event. "I have performed well here before and I am looking forward to it.

"I am motivated, I have trained well and I am excited."

Blaak was second in last year's edition, on an all-Dutch podium between winner Lucinda Brand and third-placed Annemiek Van Vleuten.

The race came down to a select group, which split over the final climbs. Brand bridged up to the small lead group and then attacked inside the last 10km to solo to victory.

Blaak said she doesn't feel pressure to specifically perform to winning standards on Saturday, but she would like to race well to respect the fact that she will be wearing the rainbow jersey.

"I don't feel any pressure of having to perform," Blaak said. "Of course I have my goals, but not in a different way than previous years. I just want to show my rainbow jersey. I think it will be very special. My biggest goal is to race as a worthy world champion: race finals, work for my teammates and ride to win if that opportunity presents itself."

Blaak will line up with five teammates at both Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Omloop van het Hageland. Karol-Ann Canuel, Christine Majerus, Anna Plichta, Skylar Schneider and Jip van den Bos will join Blaak in the Belgian races.

Although she has not won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Blaak has taken victories at Ronde van Drenthe (Netherlands) and Gent Wevelgem (Belgium), both Women's WorldTour events in 2016.

"I know the cobblestones and the climbs of all Belgian classics pretty well, but there are so many ways the race can go," Blaak said. "I love that.

"The course for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is very selective anyway, and everyone is always very nervous and motivated as it's the opening weekend. It will definitely be a tough weekend."

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