Jens Debusschere will lead Lotto Soudal at the fourth edition of the two-day 2.HC Worlds Ports Classic this weekend with the recent winner of the Tour de Picardie, Kris Boeckmans providing another option for the sprint friendly race. Lotto Soudal's fast men will be up against the likes of Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Andrea Guardini (Astana) and Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), and sport director Herman Frison is aiming for his riders to land one of the two stages, following in steps of André Greipel who won the opening stage last year.
"Riders like Benoot and Debusschere, who took some rest after the classic races, returned to competition in the Tour de Picardie," Frison said. "The whole team performed very strongly there. Kris Boeckmans won two stages and the overall classification. He and Jens Debusschere are our sprinters for this weekend. We will decide during the race which of the two will do the sprint. We aim for a stage win. All that's extra is of course welcome. The GC always comes down to seconds in that race."
The race starts in Rotterdam and makes it way to Antwerp 195km later via the Eastern Schelde and through Zeeland with the second stage a shorter inland reverse of the journey at just 164km. With the race using some of the roads which will feature in the Tour de France later this year, Frison added it will be mix of racing and recon for the team.
"The first seventy kilometres of the first stage are the last seventy of the second stage of the Tour de France," Frison said. "It will be good to take a look at that course. How are the roads? That's important to know. There is danger for echelons in that area. The peloton can split at any moment. When you race in the Netherlands you have to be attentive all the time. We won't put all on a bunch sprint, we want to ride aggressively. There will definitely be opportunities to try something."
Debusschere, who won a stage of Tirreno-Adriatico this year, will continue his return to racing after the classics having enjoyed a break between Paris-Roubaix and last week's Tour de Picardie leaving the Dutch champion unsure of his condition on the eve of the race.
"As expected I wasn't top yet in the Tour de Picardie, because I hadn't taken part in any races for a few weeks since the end of the classic spring. Kris Boeckmans rode well and soon we decided he would do the sprint the first day, the rest is history," Debusschere said. "I felt better day after day in the race. Also this week I felt more fresh every day. Today I did a training behind the scooter. I expect this weekend I will do much better in the race. We'll see if it will be good enough to play a role."
With the chance that cross winds could wreak havoc on the race, Debusschere is eyeing off his opportunities at next weeks Tour of Belgium with greater certainty of success but will still look to make his mark on the race.
"I don't think we'll get two real bunch sprints, there is a big chance of echelons. Kris Boeckmans rides the World Ports Classic as well. During the stage we'll decide who will sprint. I'll be honest and tell it when I'm not good enough to sprint. Otherwise I'm happy to take my chance. Next week it's the Tour of Belgium, that's a goal of mine. I hope I can mingle in the sprints there. I'm pretty sure that will be the case if all runs smoothly this weekend and I can rest on Monday and Tuesday."
Lotto Soudal for Worlds Ports Classic: Tiesj Benoot, Kris Boeckmans, Jens Debusschere, Thomas De Gendt, Kenny Dehaes, Gert Dockx, Jürgen Roelandts and Marcel Sieberg.