Pro riders jostling for entries to first post-COVID-19 Belgian road race

LAGOS PORTUGAL FEBRUARY 19 Arrival Fabio Jakobsen of The Netherlands and Team Deceuninck Quick Step Celebration Elia Viviani of Italy and Team Cofidis Matteo Trentin of Italy and CCC Team Alexander Kristoff of Norway and UAETeam Emirates during the 46th Volta ao Algarve 2020 Stage 1 a 1956km stage from Portimo to Lagos VAlgarve2020 on February 19 2020 in Lagos Portugal Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
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Fourteen weeks into the coronavirus race stoppage, professional cyclists are itching to get back to competition so much so that 400 riders have applied for entries into the first Belgian elite men's road race since the lockdowns - the July 5 Grote Prijs Vermarc Sport.

The clothing manufacturer has planned a 167km circuit race around its factory in Rotselaar with 175 riders on the start line, still pending final approval from the Belgian federation.

According to the race website, WorldTour teams Deceuninck-Quickstep and Lotto Soudal are among 23 teams aiming to compete.

"I'm almost going crazy now. I could let more than four hundred riders start, but that's not allowed. I'm going to have to be selective," says organisers Marc Verbeeck. According to Sporza, Dutch champion Fabio Jakobsen and hour record holder Victor Campenaerts are among those aiming to start the race.

The start list will be prioritized by teams that wear Vermarc clothing - that includes Deceuninck-Quickstep, Lotto Soudal, Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, Bingoal-Wallonie Bruxelles and Telenet-Baloise.

"I will have about 90 pro riders at the start, supplemented by elite riders without a contract and promising riders. So far there are too many candidates, but we now give priority to the teams that also ride with our clothing from Vermarc Sport," said Verbeeck.

Verbeeck is leaving 15 spots open for individual professionals - Campenaerts, the only Belgian on the NTT Pro Team, has applied for one entry. Whether or not Mathieu van der Poel will start is still under discussion.

UCI rules generally do not allow for WorldTour riders to participate in national level events, however the GP Vermarc Sport is classified as a kermesse and open to any professional rider.

Teams have been scrambling to find competition to prepare riders for the first WorldTour races post-COVID-19: Strade Bianche kicks off racing on August 1 and is quickly followed by Milan-San Remo on August 8, the Criterium du Dauphiné (August 12-16) and Il Lombardia (August 15) before the Tour de France starts on August 29.

The first European professional race for elite men since the lockdown took place last week when Slovenia decided its national champions, with Primoz Roglic and Urska Pintar taking the elite titles.

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