Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM) has reported himself pleased with his pre-season preparation and will target a strong start to the 2011 season, with victory in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad high on his agenda.
The two-time Tour of Flanders winner surveyed the course for the traditional Classics opener on Thursday alongside teammate Gorik Gardeyn and sports director Hilaire Van der Scheuren. Devolder's former rival Peter Van Petegem has been responsible for a redesign of the Omloop course, which the Vacansoleil captain expects will create a tougher race.
"This course is not comparable with last year's edition. Route designer Peter Van Petegem has made good use of his experience. The course has become much more selective," Devolder told Het Nieuwsblad. "The hills are divided neatly and there will be ongoing opportunities for action."
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad remains notably absent from Devolder's palmares, with his attention usually focussed later in the Classics season - specifically on the Tour of Flanders. However, this year he is paying close attention to areas of the Omloop course that may form a launching pad for victory and predicted that Van Petegem's alterations will prove key.
"In the past the race would begin on the wall [the Molenberg] then everything collapsed like a pudding. Then it was a wait until the strongest guys stuck their heads out in the cobbled areas deep in the finale," he said. "Now I expect that the race will really explode the third and last time through the [new] cobblestone sector at Haaghoek. Then you'll immediately hit the Leberg, Molenberg and then again the cobblestones of the Lipenhovestraat.
"The finale is the same. A lot will depend on the wind. Headwind or tailwind makes a big difference. However, it is always a case of attrition. The new route is essentially a 200km Tour of Flanders."
While his sights are set firmly on Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Devolder will make his racing debut for Vacansoleil on Sunday at the Grand Prix d'Ouverture La Marseillaise. His preview of the Omloop course will be the last time he sees the cobbles prior to race day on February 26.
"In February I'm only one day in the country [Belgium]. I ride the Marseillaise and then the following Sunday Etoile de Bessèges. Then I pull over to Spain for the Ruta del Sol to ride the ultimate run-up to Omloop. I’m look forward to it, I had a good winter. I would like to finally make something of the opening classic. "
Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) claimed the 2010 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, ahead of Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions).