Mathieu van der Poel will return to racing at Sunday's Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, his Alpecin-Fenix team has announced. He will not, however, take part in the first leg of the opening weekend, Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
The Dutchman was part of the team which left this week's UAE Tour following stage 1 after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Speculation about his chances of racing Omloop mounted almost immediately upon his exit from the race, which Van der Poel had led after winning the opening stage.
However, despite testing negative for the virus on Sunday and Monday – the first hurdles in a series of negative tests needed to take part – Van der Poel will not be racing on Saturday after being excluded from the seven-man squad and two substitutes required to be submitted to organisers no later than three days before a race start, per UCI regulation 2.2.005.
Van der Poel will instead ride Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday, his first outing at the race. He'll ride in support of Tim Merlier and will be joined at the race by 2018 Paris-Roubaix runner-up Silvan Dillier, Edward Planckaert, Lionel Taminiaux, Laurens De Vreese and Oscar Riesebeek.
"I will be at the start of Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne with a good feeling after my stage victory in the UAE Tour," he said in a team press release. "It's good to have an extra day of racing before I leave for Italy, but I’ll also start with confidence and expect a nice race.
"Obviously, I would have liked to finish the UAE Tour, especially because we had a nice lead in the GC with our group after the opening stage, and a good final classification could have been in the making. But I’m also happy that we got home fairly quickly and without any problems, and that our spring campaign hasn’t been jeopardized. We can be ambitious for Kuurne. I think I can be of added value to Tim, who for me is one of the fastest guys in the peloton, and at the same time we can bet on two horses."
For Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Alpecin-Fenix will be led by two new additions for 2020 in former UAE Team Emirates sprinter Jasper Philipsen and Dillier. The pair will be joined on the start line in Gent by Riesebeek, Dries De Bondt, Xandro Meurisse, Otto Vergaerde, and Senne Leysen.
Philipsen was able to leave the UAE along with Van der Poel and several other team members after testing negative for COVID-19 on Sunday and Monday. Jonas Rickaert and Gianni Vermeersch, who had been in quarantine after coming into close contact with the infected staff member, were given permission return to Belgium on Thursday.
"I’m happy to be at the start of the Omloop and to be able to race again," Philipsen said. "Of course, I’m not really prepared for this race. So I have to be realistic when it comes to my ambitions with only one race day in the legs. Riding the Omloop or sprinting in the UAE Tour aren’t quite the same.
"Being at the start here is also for the purpose of the races later on in the spring classics period. It’s good to get that classics feeling at the Omloop. Surely it will be a special day, I haven't seen any cobblestones yet this year. But I’m looking forward to it."
Alpecin-Fenix team for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Dries De Bondt, Silvan Dillier, Senne Leysen, Xandro Meurisse, Jasper Philipsen, Oscar Riesebeek, Otto Vergaerde
Alpecin-Fenix team for Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne
Silvan Dillier, Tim Merlier, Edward Planckaert, Mathieu van der Poel, Oscar Riesebeek, Lionel Taminiaux, Laurens De Vreese.
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