Omloop Het Nieuwsblad kicks off an intense six weeks for Boonen and is the most important moment of the season for his Quick-Step Floors team. It will no doubt be an emotional farewell with Boonen set to retire in April but results and victories in the biggest races are expected. 24 hours after Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Boonen and Quick-Step Floors will also target Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, completing the first weekend of racing on the Belgian cobbles.
Despite turning 36 last October, Boonen has worked hard during the winter and polished his form at the Vuelta a San Luis and then more recently at the Tour of Oman. He crashed during the opening sprint in Oman but insists he is ready to race. He is again expected to use a disc-brake-equipped bike despite the on-going debate about their safety and use in the peloton.
“I feel good coming back from Oman despite the crash on the first stage, which was actually my only objective for that race. But other than that, I had good days in Oman and was able to do the preparation that I was supposed to do. In that week alone I had 1,200 kilometres in the legs, so that’s perfect,” Boonen said.
“I’m happy to start racing in Belgium. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is always a special event, an important moment in Flanders: the first race, the first time people come out to watch the race, the first time we race in Belgium, the first time on the cobbles. I can’t wait!”
Boonen has surprisingly never won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, often eschewing early spring success on home roads for better form when it really matters in late March and April.
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad includes 13 climbs - including the legendary Muur-Kapelmuur, Kruisberg or Taaienberg, and 10 cobbled sectors, the last of which comes 20km before the finish in Ghent. Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne includes 12 climbs, the most important of which is Oude Kwaremont. It is 2200m long and kicks up at 11.6%.
A strong team
Boonen will be the centre of attention when Omloop Het Nieuwsblad rolls out of Ghent on Saturday morning, but Quick-Step Floors has named a strong team that includes a variety of options depending on how the race unfolds. Also in the squad are Philippe Gilbert, Iljo Keisse, Yves Lampaert, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin and Julien Vermote.
Tim Declercq and Dries Devenyns will replace Keisse and Terpstra for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne with other changes possible depending on what happens on Saturday.
“Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is always an important start of the classics seasons, sports director Wilfried Peeters said when Quick-Step Floors confirmed its squad.
“The guys coming from the desert and from Algarve, where we had nice weather and normal roads, will have to adapt to the different conditions in Belgium. Saturday and Sunday they’ll have to get used to riding on the cobbles again and the rider who finds the easiest way to adjust will get the best results.”
“In both Omloop and Kuurne we start with our typical Classics team, who is strong on the Belgian roads, so I guess we just have to be patient and see how things pan out.”
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