By Jeff Jones in Gent
There were some happy team directors and some unhappy ones after the Het Volk team managers' meeting in 't Kuipke in Gent this afternoon. The all important drawing of lots to determine team car position in the caravan was made, and with 22 teams fighting for position, anything out of the top 10 was seen as a disadvantage. Thus, Phonak lucked out with the number 1 spot, followed by Francaise des Jeux, while Davitamon-Lotto, Quick.Step, Discovery and CSC were all between 13th and 20th.
Cyclingnews caught up with a slightly disgruntled CSC director Scott Sunderland after the meeting. Scott was fuming that he'd been given 16th, especially as he'd originally had a good position but the lots were redrawn after one team director complained that he'd missed it, seemingly by virtue of being asleep. "Well it doesn't look like I'll be seeing much of the race from back there," Sunderland mused as we asked him about the plans for tomorrow.
"Normally with Het Volk the race starts straight away," he explained. "There's no riding into it like Tour of Flanders or something like that. Het Volk and Harelbeke are really similar - they're full on all day, like the last 200 km of Flanders. And with the cold conditions, it makes Het Volk very difficult to see where the riders are and their physical level. You're fighting the cold, the kilometres, the cobbles...and you get a lot of guys who get to 170, 180 km and 'boom', the lights go out. There's always a surprise and that's the good thing about Het Volk. It's a barometer for everybody and for the next races.
"There are some really difficult points, like the Kwaremont, Mater, Eikenberg, Muur and so on, but they are always a bit too early in the beginning. What they do do is give a chance for an early escape. Because by the time you get to those points, you're 50 kilometres into the race, so if an escape goes away, the last 50 kilometres is relatively flat apart from the cobblestones. So there's only really 100 kilometres that they have to survive out there. Het Volk is always a good race for a group to be out the front. Even if they do get you back, you're in the front group by the time they catch you. In some cases, they've succeeded to stay away.
"What I'll be asking my boys to do is to have as many riders as we can in the front group with 50 kilometres to go. It's being defensive but being attacking as well. If a group does go away then we'd like to have one or two in it, but otherwise we'll just make sure we're there and keep up the front. There are a few extra sections of cobbles just after the Paddestraat. Instead of having that nice, wide run into the final sections of cobbles, they've got a few more twists and turns and a few more obstacles. It'll make it a little bit harder to get organised in a chasing group from behind, so if a group is away there, it should be a bit more difficult to come back."
"For the first race on the cobbles, we're just going to see how the legs are. We've got three or four guys probably on the same level, physically, but we'll just have to see how they handle the cobbles tomorrow. But the team in general is very strong and they'll be prepared to give it up to one of the other guys and ride for them if they're having a good day. The main objective is to get as many riders together in the last 50 kilometres in the front group. If you've got numbers in this type of race with so many cobbles at the end, you've seen it before, the tactics play a big role at the end. Even if your individuals aren't the strongest, you can actually overcome the stronger individuals from the other teams because of the numbers."
Finally, on the weather conditions, Sunderland commented, "It's going to be cold, but it shouldn't be too dangerous. It should be a good day's racing."
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