AG2R La Mondiale's Oliver Naesen will line up for his first Strade Bianche in Tuscany, Italy, on Saturday, with a good chance of featuring at the front end of the race, but with one eye on also being ready for the following weekend's Milan-San Remo.
"I'm very happy to be racing Strade Bianche for the first time," Naesen said on his team's website on Tuesday. "This is the perfect opportunity. Usually the race takes place the day before Paris-Nice and I just watch it on TV.
"I have incredible memories of the 2018 edition, when Tiesj Benoot [then Lotto Soudal, now Sunweb] won ahead of [Naesen's AG2R teammate] Romain Bardet. Sitting in front of my TV, I was super excited, and I would have liked to have been in the race."
Classics specialist Naesen – who finished second at last year's Milan-San Remo, and will tackle the Italian one-day race once more on August 8, after also racing the mid-week Milano-Torino on August 5 – has had 18 days' racing so far in 2020, all ahead of the sport's shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, but said that he's feeling ready to race again, despite some reticence about the ongoing situation in Europe and around the world.
"The racing calendar as it is constructed suits me perfectly, even though I know that the coming months will be special and that the situation can still evolve," he said of the sport's changed racing schedule, with the likes of Strade Bianche and San Remo having been moved from their usual March slots to the height of the European summer due to COVID-19.
"I'm happy with the way I was able to handle this long break," the 29-year-old Belgian added. "I was lucky – I was able to train on the roads normally – which means that I have 20,000 kilometres on the clock since the beginning of January.
"With the health crisis in mind, I prepared conscientiously as a result of there being no racing," said Naesen. "I feel good, but there are a lot of uncertainties. For example, I don't know how fit my opponents are, in particular."
Naesen will line up at Strade Bianche on Saturday alongside younger brother Lawrence, 2018 Paris-Roubaix runner-up Silvan Dillier, French duo Julien Duval and Dorian Godon, the USA's Larry Warbasse – who recently signed a two-year contract extension with the team – and Italy's Andrea Vendrame.
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